What's Going on with the Methodist Church?
Dear Arlington District United Methodists:
Philippians 4:9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul famously wrote Philippians from a jail cell, surrounded by controversies and conflict, yet he could be comfortable in reminding the receivers of his letter to keep on doing the good things they have been taught, and that God would be with them. His perspective was a jail cell, and yet he could focus on his mission and their mission. Amazing!
In our current time of controversy and conflict, we have entered a new season. Our denomination is at a crossroads, and we’ve made the news headlines in ways we might not have expected. “What is going on with the Methodist church?” many outside our world are asking. “They are splitting up!” was the media answer. The headlines are wrong, and our process is much more complex than this.
First, and probably foremost – nothing has been decided, something new has simply been proposed. A diverse group of people from different interest groups voluntarily came together and with the guidance of a professional mediator, came up with the Protocol to help us move forward. Legislation is being written in accordance with the Protocol, to send to the General Conference. If that legislation makes it onto the docket, it could be voted on at General Conference. Those are some large hurdles, but this group feels they have a good plan to do this work. So ignore the big headlines of “They are splitting up” and understand that there is still a journey ahead.
As a former attorney, and also as someone who has been through the agony of being a party to forging a property settlement agreement in a divorce, I understand pretty clearly what has been done here. The best mediation of an irreconcilable situation has been brought forth. This usually means, there are not winners/losers, but that each party hates some things and loves some things about the settlement. This is the way our world works, in its brokenness, its sin, and also in light of God’s mercy and grace. Not perfect. Maybe this is something that will allow the impasse to clear and continue a separated journey?
To me, the miracle of this proposal is that so many of the conflicting, even warring factions of our big tented church came together. A diverse group of theological viewpoints was considered and given voice. It wasn't perfect but no multi-party mediation ever is. We should pay attention to this fact, perhaps it is a miracle! So far, this sets the Protocol apart from the various plans that have been proposed. This is especially true in light of the Protocol’s agreement by the signers to set aside precious other plans they have written or been in support of in order to help the Protocol and its subsequent legislation move forward.
Many of you have seen what I have seen over the years in divorces among our family and friends — fights down to every last nickel, every pain rehashed for years and years, lots of money spent on legal fees and doctors and experts — and there is a clear truth I have seen and experienced in all these extended conflicts. Nothing was ever resolved emotionally or spiritually in a contract or agreement or a protocol. It was simply resolved for that time and place, so that the journey of healing and re-creation can begin in separation, rather than together. We can’t make all things new – that is God’s work through us. We can only do the best we can, with God’s help.
So while we are not in a prison cell like Paul, we can receive his reminder in our own conflict. What have we learned from our inheritance from those early apostles and missionaries? We saw them make disciples under the most difficult circumstances and persecutions. The light of God showed through, and the world was changed. This work continues, despite plans, protocols and possible separations. Despite votes and conflicts, and hurts. God’s comfort is with us all, and God’s work is ever before us.
I’m enclosing with this note the actual protocol, and some articles that were a little closer to the actual truth of what happened. Our novaumc.org and vaumc.org websites are also posting information as it becomes available. I’m also posting things I see that make some sense on this subject, as well as information as it is available on my Facebook page, so don’t be afraid to friend me if you’d like to see those.
I pray we all lead with love, God’s love, and our own imperfect versions of that love, so that others may know and see, and find comfort and peace as we have done. As always, I urge us to stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course on our mission to share that love.
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