(24 March 2022 — This essay was originally posted as part 1 of 2. Documentation for this post is found on this site in UMC Separation Primer part 2: It’s About Elephants)
If you are just tuning in to the UMC separation discussions then here is a quick primer. This is for those who are likely in the traditional/evangelical/orthodox alliance of the United Methodist Church (even though you may not be sure what those terms mean). First thing you need to know is it is not about cats or sex.
True story: Our youngest daughter, now twenty-four, has an obsessive concern for the wellbeing of animals. She gathers stray cats and takes them to spay and neuter clinics. As a toddler we found her trying to make a pet out of a corn worm. We would take her to petting zoos and the deer would walk up and lick her. Once, she gave me directions to a house by saying, “turn left at the house with three beagles, turn right when you pass the cows, and it’s the house on the right with a tabby in the front yard.” Ambulatory creatures make poor landmarks, but it’s the way she sees the world.
When she was about six or seven my wife put the movie Gone With the Wind in the VCR. Our daughter had been in the room when it played before and asked, “Is this the movie with the cat?” I have never seen a cat in Gone With the Wind, but if you watch the opening sequence carefully you will see one resting in the shade. I know because at that point in the film she called out, “See! There’s the cat!”
Most of us would not refer to Gone With the Wind as the movie with a cat in it unless we had a nearly unhealthy obsession with cats. That movie is no more about cats than the UMC schism is about sex. Most of us would not say the pending separation of the United Methodist Church is about sex unless we have a near unhealthy obsession with sex. If sex is one’s greatest motivator, primary daily concern, and if one interprets everything through a filter of sex then I guess the schism is about sex and GWTW is a cat movie.
This schism began with the beginning of the United Methodist Church in 1968 and has been widening ever since. It began before homophobia was a word and before today’s civil unions were an idea. It is about the person of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, and the nature and mission of the church.
We have arrived at a place where we have distinctly different religions trying to share the same structure, Discipline, and mission agencies. One expression of Methodism encompasses the following statements. As you read them please understand these are not fringe beliefs held by a few but are widely held, taught, and approved in the UMC. Within North America, nearly every bishop and most clergy either hold to these tenets or, if they disagree with them, they believe these are acceptable alternative expressions of the Christian faith which ought to be allowed in the church. Those who espouse these beliefs generally self-identify as Progressives. Those who disagree but believe they are permissible within United Methodist teaching generally self-identify as Centrists.
*Jesus is not Divine.
*We should not make an idol of Jesus.
*The Trinity is a false teaching.
*Jesus did not die for our sins.
*The Resurrection of Christ is not a literal historic event.
*Jesus had his own prejudices and bigotry which he overcame through his contacts with oppressed peoples.
*Much of what is in the Bible is in error and never represented the character of God because the authors were products of their own corrupt cultural and the ignorance of their age.
*While the Christian faith may contain the best available revelation of God it is nonetheless incomplete. All religions have a portion of truth and are equally valid. Therefore, any sacred text is useful for preaching from our pulpits and Methodists should not attempt to convert adherents of other religions.
*Tarot cards, Spirit Cards, and other means of divination are appropriate means of discerning God’s will.
*The central mission of the church is to promote justice in this world.
These ideas are in direct contradiction to the received Christian faith, and they produce missions that are in direct opposition to the received Christian faith. The United Methodist Church has doctrinal standards in our Discipline that deny each of these, yet they represent the dominant theology of our church in North America.
Many United Methodists have been contending for the faith for fifty years. We have tried reform. We have tried to work through persuasion, through appeals to our missional agencies, through General Conference, and through revisions to our Discipline, but the governance of the UMC has collapsed. United Methodists are no longer able to establish qualifications for clergy, standards for membership, or to direct the actions of our agencies. To say that only General Conference can speak for the whole church only means that General Conference is solely authorized to put words in a book. No one need abide by those words. No one need teach those doctrines. No one need pursue those missions. In fact, everyone is free to act in direct contradiction of them.
Now we seek to form a church with integrity that is committed to the teaching of the historic Christian faith and to mutual accountability within the church. We look for a church that can equip us to be better pastors, more effective preachers, and more committed to scriptural holiness. We have been patient. The grandchildren of the people who began this work are now approaching retirement age. We must establish that church outside of the North American version of the UMC.
There is a quick primer on the schism. Now, it is true that almost everyone in the Progressive/Centrist alliance aligns in one position of the same sex marriage argument while almost everyone in the Traditional/Evangelical/Orthodox alliance is in the opposite corner. The same could be said about many other aspects of marriage, or abortion, or public prayer, or scriptural holiness, or the imperative of evangelism, or the efficacy of the Sacrament, or a host of other issues. Like the cat in Gone With the Wind it is present, but our schism doesn’t have a thing to do with cats or sex unless that’s just how you see the world.
31 thoughts on “UMC Separation Primer: It’s Not About Cats or Sex”
So so sad how churches of various denominations are choosing to
Change Gods word to the present day thinking of many
Of our younger generation.
It not respectful at all to people who believe Gods Holy word
As it is written.They are hung up on their theory
That if true believers disagree with their sexual
Preferences etc that believers hate them.
No it is not hate at all, it is simply that a true Christian
Believer in Gods Holy word is standing up for the truth
That sin is sin.
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Where are you getting the quotes that supposedly so many of us out there believe and teach? I consider myself somewhere between a progressive and centrist but those statements make no sense to me nor have I heard my progressive brothers and sisters use them. I really like your analogy about the cat in the film (can I use it next Sunday in my sermon?) and if we extend the analogy it would be incorrect to take a detail (like a cat in the opening scene) and assume the whole movie is about that. (That is not the point I’d like to make if I use your illustration– For Sunday Transfiguration I’d like to make the point that God is in the world and we can see Glory if we go looking for it and if we train our eyes to see.)
Thank you for the inquiry.
As to the illustration, I consider everything I write or speak regarding the church to be public domain.
I am puzzled (not necessarily in a negative way) that one can reach ordination without being aware of these tenets. I hear them preached and discussed in my travels in my own supposedly traditionalist Conference.
I can refer you to Bishop Sprague’s 2003 heresy acquittal
(https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2003-02-19-0302190091-story,amp.html) or to this article by Wesley Foundation director Roger Wolsey (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/author/rogerwolsey/) .
I can provide examples for every instance cited if there is one you doubt. These things are not done in a corner. Some have been challenged and approved by committees on investigation and the Judicial Council. Some are in public writings.
When bishops and BOOMs approve, appoint, and advance clergy who advocate these things then whether or not they hold the ideas themselves that admit this is within the theological diversity of the UMC.
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If you read the Methodist Blog Insight you will see what he mentions is correct. One blatant example is a recent promotion of the “educational” video I have linked in this text. It clearly states that the bible is not inerrant. https://um-insight.net/in-the-church/local-church/hundreds-nationwide-viewing-dvd-series-about-bible-sexuality/ There is plenty of material about how Progressives are the future and Jesus is not the only way the truth and the light https://um-insight.net/perspectives/why-%27confessing%27-united-methodists-think-pastors-like-me-are/
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The first question in the Bible echoes today:
“Did God really say…?”
Thank you for an insightful assessment of things in the UMC. Though I am SBC, I understand to some degree the issues of authority [Scripture, tradition, etc.] the UMC is facing. I know folks on both ends of the spectrum serving in UM churches — been praying and will be praying for you all through this turmoil. Blessings abundant!
revsweat: Thank you for your insightful emails. Yours is a voice of reason that I truly appreciate. What would you say to a 70yo retired elder (myself) in a distinctively liberal annual conference (Minnesota) who is on the cusp leaving the UMC because of this unending train wreck? You are exactly correctly that winning votes at General Conferences past has changed nothing as our polity does not abide by the Discipline. Perhaps GC2020 will vote in favor of the “Protocol” or some other kind of separation which I would indeed applaud. But, at this point, I am distrustful of those who would implement such a separation and I am frankly tired of waiting. If I felt that the WCA or someone else would give us a viable option for transferring our credentials within months of a separation, I’d have some hope. But I’m tired of waiting. As a matter of personal integrity, I don’t want to have my name on the clergy roster of a conference that does not live according to the Discipline or in a denomination with no accountability. Thank God, as a retiree, I do not have to guide a church through this mess. Do you see any hope for any good options for us who would rather not die as clergy in this denomination as it is presently configured.?
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I am so blessed to belong to a UMC congregation that doesn’t agree with any of these “acceptable alternative expressions of the Christian faith.” We aren’t progressive or even centrist. PTL!
Very interesting points. I always try to look for the simplest answer as to why progressives are adamant on this whole issue. Does it really have to do with same sex relationships, Biblical interpretations as mentioned above or is it something else? I have distilled the answer to the “why” question down to that progressives simply want to destroy. The destruction of the beliefs behind long established traditional institutions is crucial for the progressive movement to “soften up” society and make it willing to accept the flood of other agenda items.
This is blatant stereotyping. It may serve your purposes of painting people who disagree with you on the issue of homsexuality as being heretics all the way through, but it is an inaccurate description of many who identify as centrists or progressives. Your whole post is nothing but a strawman argument–you mischaracterize your opponent’s position so you can easily discredit it. The law of love would seem to require a different approach.
First, I admire your passion and do not criticize it.
Let’s see if we can have this discussion. I hope it might be beneficial.
Without imputing ill motive or intentionality, I believe the mischaracterization is in your post. I propose that most people who hold these tenets, advocate these positions, and follow these practices self-identify as progressive. That is demonstrably true. You rewrite the post in your mind so that I identify all progressives as holding these tenets etc. That is demonstrably not true. I did not. To propose that most X is Y does not permit the conclusion that all Y is X. You have, perhaps unintentionally, created the straw man.
You also impute a motive that I do not have for the argument that I never made. That I want to treat “people who disagree with (me) on the issue of homsexuality as being heretics…” You can read every post on this site and not know what I think about homosexuality because I do not write about sexual ethic. It is to me the lowest priority of the problems before us. (Though you may be interested to know that I believe there is an orthodox position that is much more permissive than our current stance. I will offer no more on the subject. There is just no sense pursuing it until we agree on the nature of the God we serve.)
Finally, for now, why is it that Progressives seem so offended by being associated with these beliefs and practices? None of it is fabricated. I expect you are aware of their authors and how they include people at the highest level of authority in the UMC. Every one of them is permitted within the theological diversity that is United Methodism in North America. Are you suggesting that a more Progressive/Centrist post separation UMC will narrow that diversity to eliminate them? Do you believe that there are sufficient Progressives to join with Traditionalists to end this nonsense now? Why has it not been done already?
If I clicked the right buttons then your future replies will automatically come through un-moderated.
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Keith Sweat, thanks for your clarion voice rising up above the din of our Methodist traffic. “Fear not.” Keep up your courage and continue to speak up! The delegates are reading!
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Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He lived, died, and rose again to give us eternal life in God’s presence. If that is not the central theme to any Christian denomination, then what exactly is the point at all?
Looks like my comment from a day or two ago didn’t make the cut.
I don’t have anything from you in my que. I only trash comments for one of two reasons: 1. Profanity 2. The type that scream something like liar or hater and do not address any specific point of disagreement. I get very few of those. They contribute nothing to a discussion. I have adjusted the setting to allow you through un-moderated. That’s a trust. Use it well.
Thank you. I’ll recreate it and post again.
“This schism began with the beginning of the United Methodist Church in 1968 and has been widening ever since.” This schism, yes. But there have been schisms and splinterings ever since Paul and Barnabas parted ways. The Great Schism of 1054 resulted in Eastern and Western Christianity. Although we usually think of Luther as the great Protestant reformer, others predated him and others have come since. Wesley came 200 years later as a reformer within the Anglican Church, but never left that faith tradition. Almost as soon as the Methodist Episcopal Church was instituted, groups splintered off for various reasons. The big schism in 1844 split Methodism into the North and the South, although a number of “North” churches either remained or sprang up in the South. In my opinion, GC2020 won’t result in simply a binary choice. Some progressives may feel the post-separation UMC won’t be progressive enough. Some who claim traditionalism and orthodoxy may think the new denomination doesn’t go far enough. Every splinter group throughout the ages seems to feel they have a unique interpretation of inerrancy and infallibility, which leads them to incompatibility with the group they’ve left. Today there are more than 20 denominations that include “Methodist” in their names, or are direct off-shoots of U.S. Methodism. How many more do we need? And who’s right?
You are correct on every point of your history. Your question is valid. Many uf us resisted the call for separation a long time before being moved.
As to how many denominations we need, I am not being flippant when I say I honestly don’t know. Chris Ritter (who has done a lot of work on this subject and does better than most of us at being fair to both sides) has a post on the subject you might like.
I only know the denomination we have is too dysfunctional to work and too broken to repair. We don’t have diverse ministries. That would be a good thing. We have opposing ministries. We spend much time trying to stop each other from doing something. The longer we remain tied together the colder our love for each other becomes. And what good is unity then.
Two cats with their tails tied together and hanging from a clothesline have unity. Separating them is an act of love.
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Thank you for your thoughtful reply and for the reminder about Chris Ritter’s article that I read when he first posted it. I still feel there’s a possibility of several post-separation denominations, not just two. How sad.
Eventually, two or more denominations is a given. TEC split produced two conservative churches: AMiA and ACNA. Some parishes moved between them and a few went to existing Anglo Catholic church. There is a sorting period.
Our theological diversity has produced several churches within the church that will need to sort out, which is why I refer to them as a Progressive/Centrist alliance and a Traditionalist/Evangelical/Orthodox alliance.
Then, of course, there is the large group for whom as long as there is enough sweet tea for the covered dish and a spot for their grandchildren in the Christmas pageant then all is right with the church.
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“…as long as there is enough sweet tea for the covered dish …” Oh my, another schism in the making. We can’t have covered dish suppers anymore due to state health regulations. What camp does that put us in?
We are always learning. The church endures in so many contexts. That is one I was not aware of.
Maybe an American middle class version of the persecuted church?
On a serious note, the point is the church always includes a substantial number of people who do not concern themselves with much beyond their immediate environs. They will move in whatever direction is the least trouble and most comfortable.
…And I do not mean that in a necessarily negative way. It has some validity.
As a quasi-protestant outsider than has in the past participated in Methodist Church services (I don’t know which versions…there are so many!), I feel compelled to encourage the participants in the intelligent discussions in this post. Please keep this high level of civility, as there are many that are watching, interested, and may end up joining one of the resultant versions of Methodism because we are searching for something that speaks to our heart, and are attracted by these interactions during this important struggle.
Perhaps it’s a different understanding or usage of the word “idol” here, but where do you find in Scripture or in Orthodox teaching that it is OK to make an idol of Jesus?
This was my only “pause” moment in reading this…that a belief held by centrists and progressives is that it’s NOT OK TO MAKE AN IDOL OF CHRIST, which I agree with, that it’s not OK to make an idol of Christ. Christ is a person in the Trinity, not a statue or unmoving figure without life and breath that can be separated from His work on our behalf. He is not something that can be simplified to a figurine on a shelf. Moreso–Christ Himself teaches that He is the revelation of the Father. Paul teaches that Christ is our mediator, and He prays on our behalf to the Father. None of which are very “idol” like. Or am I missing something?
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We’re on the same page except that I would say people who advocate this position tend to identify as centrist or progressive. Not that all those who identify as centrist or progressive advocate these beliefs. Nonetheless, that is where these ideas find refuge and nourishment. Certainly not in the orthodox camp.
Idol, by any definition, is a false god. Referring to him as an idol is to refer to him as a false god. It is not possible to make Jesus a false God.
Right…you say above that Centrists and Progressives would agree with the statement that “We should NOT make an idol of Jesus.” So Conservatives (or whatever other label) would agree with a statement that we SHOULD make an idol of Jesus? That doesn’t seem accurate. Or am I just not understanding negative statements here?
Conservative (traditional/evangelical/orthodox) would not use the word idol at all when referring to Jesus. It does not apply.
I may be using overly complex sentences in search of brevity. The point I was trying to make is that not all centrist/progressives would refer to Jesus as an idol, but almost all people who use that term in relation to Christ consider themselves to be centrist/ progressive.