Good News Magazine released a statement today from 80 United Methodist pastors and theologians who agree it’s time to formalize a schism that has long been informal. Quoting from the press release, Rev. Maxie Dunnam says,
“We can no longer talk about schism as something that might happen in the future. Schism has already taken place in our connection,” said Dr. Maxie Dunnam, retired pastor, author, and seminary president. “There are conscience-bound persons who find it impossible to live in The United Methodist Church as we presently define ourselves in relation to human sexuality. Others could not live in The United Methodist Church if the present position of the church on human sexuality were changed. Forty years of wrestling with the issue is enough, and has proven the solidity of the belief systems of the two groups.”
I believe he is right. Schism has already taken place in our connection. We have not been of “one mind” for a long time and this division within our ranks is what is hurting our witness. Codifying what is already obvious to all will allow both sides to move forward with integrity rather than waste more time and money in caucus wars.
Steve Manskar disagrees. He thinks this statement is “irresponsible” and “selfish” and contradicts our Wesleyan way, as he states on the Wesleyan Leadership blog. I can understand why people would feel that way when they describe our differences as mere matters of “opinion” rather than “doctrine,” as Manskar does and many others who advocate for some “middle way.”
But this is just the problem, isn’t it? We can’t even agree over the seriousness of the matter which threatens our unity. Are we not talking about sin? If it is true that God has declared the practice of homosexuality as sinful, then surely this is of great importance, yes? At the heart of our divide is a difference of opinion, it would seem, and it’s much deeper than human sexuality. It’s the authority of God’s word regarding said sexuality.
Is it not still true that our ability to grow in holiness and to call others to do the same rests in no small part on our ability to articulate what we need to die to and what we need to live for? How can we be united in our mission of making disciples if we cannot even agree on what a disciple must sacrifice or accept?
We are talking about sin, and what separates one from the kingdom of God or not. If that ranks low on our list of doctrines or matters of importance than something is terribly wrong and we need to reassess our priorities.
I believe those who are calling these calls for schism irresponsible or selfish would do better to realize that we are already divided and call those who have brought this division upon us to repent and be of “one mind” under God’s law regarding human sexuality. It is only through repentance that we can be even remotely close to the sort of unity both Jesus prayed for and John Wesley wanted for his Methodists. Anything short of massive repentance and revival will be a false unity, one which neither Jesus nor John would endure long.