Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Elusive Promise of the Global Methodist Church

 "I just want the fight to stop."

How true. Don't we all want to be part of a church that doesn't fight? It is one of the major impetuses for the formation of the Global Methodist Church (GMC). We have fought about human sexuality long enough. Let's move on so that the fight can stop and we can all go about making disciples. 

Unfortunately, the church that doesn't fight doesn't exist. It never has. 

I sometimes hear people longing for that original church to come back - you know, the church of Acts that was caught up by the Spirit and was making thousands of converts a day. The Church of Acts 2.The problem is the Church of Acts 2 is the same Church that we find in Acts 6 when we have the first church fight. The Church will never be void of conflict as long as imperfect humans are part of it.

The GMC  has offered a denomination of doctrinal peace. It will not stay that way for long. 

Women in Ministry

At the 2016 General Conference, the lay leader of a conservative annual conference in the U.S. told me unapologetically, "90% of our churches won't take a woman pastor." Based on their 2020 Journal, only about 85% of clergy in that conference are men - remarkably consistent with the lay leader's statement. Conversations with women both currently in and who have left the conference anecdotally confirm this. I'm aware of a church in a different conference that left the denomination in 2020 instead of receiving a woman as pastor.

I believe the leadership of the GMC when they say they intend for women to remain in ministry. I also believe in the law of unintended consequences. In the past, I've compared the traditionalist movement in the United Methodist Church with the Anglican Church of North America. That denomination did not begin with the intent of not allowing women to be ordained, but they do now allow their equivalent of our conferences to make that decision on their own. 

This is not a prediction that the GMC will at some point change their doctrine to disallow clergywomen or to make their ordination optional. It is a prediction that there will be a conversation and likely at some point a vote. The denomination will not have doctrinal peace.

This shouldn't surprise us when we look back at Acts 6. The first church fight was about othering. Greek speakers believed they were being treated unfairly. We still do it today. We just choose different categories of people. Who will the GMC choose?


It's an open secret that some United Methodist churches and pastors practice rebaptism and/or adult only (or adult preferred) baptism. It's hard to get to something more fundamental in our faith than our understanding of baptism, yet the discrepancies are real. A few years ago a parishioner asked me why their grandchild was rebaptized at confirmation. I said they couldn't have been. She said every teen confirmed at that church was baptized as part of the liturgy regardless of whether they had been baptized previously. This was backed up by the parents. 

Don't believe me? Here's a direct quote from a United Methodist Church's website regarding baptism that I accessed today.  

"Do you baptize children?
As parents, we can help point our children to Jesus, but they are the ones to decide if they will commit their lives to Him (Romans 10:9). At [Church], we baptize children when they are old enough to express their own decision to follow Jesus and understand the meaning of baptism."

I have other examples, too, but my point is not to chastise churches or their pastors. My point is simply that at a very fundamental level there will be significant doctrinal differences in the new GMC. Perhaps, as many of us tried to do with the One Church Plan two years ago, the GMC will "agree to disagree." That's fair. But it's not what the GMC is selling.

The Myth of Doctrinal Purity

There are plenty of other examples of doctrinal, social, and polity related disagreements. I just wanted to pick the two most obvious big ones so that you know what you're getting into if you choose to join. I won't pretend like the post-separation UMC that I'll be part of is going to be void of conflict.

Since at least the Great Schism in 1054 Christian churches dividing because of differences in belief has been part of our lived reality. It is not helpful for us to pretend that 2021 will be any different. The United Methodist Church will split. So be it. The Methodist Church split before over how we treat African-Americans. Now we'll split, from a historical perspective largely along the same geographic lines, over human sexuality. Then, as has always happened in the past, the new "pure" denomination will find something or someone else that needs further purification. 

As for me, I'm not going to be part of a perfected, pure denomination. I will rely on a perfect and pure Savior that allows people of all genders to preach and people of all ages to be baptized instead.

No comments:

Post a Comment