Editorial: Ducks in a Row

As I prepare to attend the sessions of my Annual Conference, I continue to find it intriguing that conservatives persist in alleging they are not for schism.  A well-known UM leader blogged last week that he does not believe the majority of evangelicals are for division, but only a small percentage are. I pray he is correct.

But the websites of two influential conservative UM parachurch groups, as well as actual resolutions being proposed in Annual Conference sessions, tell a different story.  Both sites have sample resolutions/petitions that individuals and groups (e.g. Annual Conference proposals) can use, either as is or with editorial amendment to make them context specific.

Let me be clear:  these samples are not innapropriate to post. Groups often post suggested legislation.  But the point is that as these groups do this, the message of their proposals tells a different story from the allegations of their mouths. They communicate a message which clearly shows they support and are promoting efforts that get ducks in a row for schism.  It would take a magician using smoke and mirrors to assert otherwise.

The samples congregate in two basic groups.  The first are outright proposals for separation–proposals that use the language of disaffiliation and exit.  These proposals provide conditions whereby congregations and clergy can leave the UMC with pensions and properties in hand. 

If the magician wants to allege that these do not forecast or promote schism, then why does there need to be a resolution brought to any Annual Conference floor about unreality?  People do not present resolutions about things they do not expect to happen.  If these separation statements are merely “protective” in nature, what need is there to protect anyone or any church from something that is not going to occur?

This first batch of samples applies to conservatives who would leave, but if no one is planning to leave, why the need to get these ducks in a row?

The second batch of samples revolves around a host of tightenings of existing policies and language in the Book of Discipline.  The topics vary beyond my ability to comment on each one in a blog-length writing, but they cluster around more restrictions with respect to ministry and mission–restrictions that have missional, geographical, and institutional ramifications.

If the magician wants to allege that this second batch of resolutions forces no one to leave, then why do the statements create scenarios where there are fewer chairs at the table and people are given less freedoms than current church policies allow?  Why draft samples that you know some will find unacceptable if you have no desire for them to go elsewhere?

This second batch (while surely representing additional conservative views) seems more designed to create a UMC that progressives would leave.  But again, why the need to get ducks in a row for a group that the conservatives do not belong to?  Why create a scenario for others to follow?  Why not just produce batch #1 and leave it at that–unless your strategy is to get power coming and going?

Putting both batches together, they reveal a two-coin strategy.  “Heads, we leave”—“Tails you leave.”  Either way, the conservatives represented by these parachurch movements (and their local affiliates) promote schism.  The only reason any get their ducks in a row is because they want the ducks to go somewhere else.

What is unfair is for conservatives to claim they are not the authors of schism, when their online samples that promote it (either in prospect or reality) are written by them.

But even with the magic act exposed, I carry forward the sentiment of my blog yesterday and ask, “Can we not talk about this?”  Calls for votes are not conversational if they are where things begin.  Calls for vote before conversation are institutional presto-chango, and such calls must be rejected both because they are out of time and out of line when compared to conciliar processes given life by the means of grace we call Christian Conferencing.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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4 Responses to Editorial: Ducks in a Row

  1. Tom Pope says:

    At least one of the resolutions would allow the so-called “reconciling” churches to withdraw with property and integrity intact so that they do their own thing without having to be in violation of the vows they took regarding the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

  2. Jay Therrell says:

    Steve, not every so-called conservative is for schism. I’m not. In fact, I’m adamantly opposed to it. I hope you’ll be careful when using that term not to lump everyone together. Those kinds of labels push people away from the round table, too.

  3. Lee Adams says:

    I have mixed emotions about this. I love my UMC, but this isn’t a new conversation. It’s been ongoing since the early 1970’s, even before TEC, Lutherans, and Presbyterians (who have all already divided in quite disturbing and ugly fashion) were having the conversation. The majority of Methodists have determined over and over that the Book of Discipline shouldn’t be changed to appeal to a small, but very vocal minority, in terms of the issue of human sexuality. I think my question here is, why would one want to remain in a denomination whose Book of Discipline did not agree with their philosophical stance on cultural issues? To keep bashing their heads against the Book until they get their way? I love Eugene Peterson’s take on infighting from James…paraphrased, “The root of all conflict is that someone isn’t getting their way.” I pray for unity within the UMC, but my heart breaks for lack of hope in this matter. If there is discussion that the UMC would let dissenters go with property and pensions, praise God for that. It’s a much gentler and more merciful stance than TEC took. If some must part, and some must say goodbye, then let them do so in love.

  4. Pamela Bruns says:

    Division already exists, Steve. There is a lot hidden in your choice of pronouns.

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