Definition of schism (n)
Schism [ skízzəm ]
1. division in religious denomination: a major split within an established religious denomination, usually on the grounds of differences in belief or practice, leading to the setting up of a separate breakaway organization, or the offense of causing such a split
2. divisive unpleasant split: the division of a group into mutually antagonistic factions
3. faction: a faction formed as a result of a schism
The United Methodist Church is in semi-schism. That is, the covenant that binds us together is, practically speaking, no longer fully in force. From the left, some pastors, bishops, conferences (and even entire jurisdictions) have formally chosen to act as if our Book of Discipline does not say what it says. Those supervised by a bishop willing to protect them are able to defy church law without negative repercussions. Clergy elsewhere are selectively subject to anything from “slaps on the wrist” to defrockings. From the right, there is talk about complete separation, amicable or otherwise.
The point of this series of posts is not to re-hash whether homosexuality is compatible with Christian teaching, how to interpret scripture, or who is right or wrong. The point here is to offer measures with which to assess the quality of the options now available for The United Methodist Church.
Let’s assume that, whatever is done, it will need to be done at General Conference 2016 since there is no other mechanism for our denomination to act in concert. We all hope for constructive leadership before and during GC 2016. I am among those who continue to pray for a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit to take our church in a unified direction. I have great sympathy with recent calls to make General Conference an emersion in prayer, fasting, and worship. As a student of history, however, I realize that the Spirit will most likely flow amidst the current of human events, including those in the political sphere.
Not all options are created equal. In fact, as I review the landscape, some are really, really bad. All prescriptions are really about mitigating the damage that is already happening, so I have chosen to score them based on “levels of badness”. Imagine each of the following categories falling on scale of one through ten (one being least bad and ten being cataclysmically bad):
- Leakage: To what extent does this option cause existing United Methodist laity, pastors, and congregations to cease being United Methodist? My scale assumes we want to prevent the fracturing of American Methodism into smaller groupings like American Presbyterianism has experienced over the years.
- Lawsuits: To what extent does this option leave open critical questions related to church assets, exposing us to ongoing litigation and the negative social witness associated with that? I assume we want to avoid the pain and embarrassment the Episcopalians/Anglicans have known. (A report from February put the number of lawsuits filed in this schism at ninety with a price tag in the multiple millions).
- Loose Levers: Is this solution is keeping with our church polity and do we currently have the mechanisms to actually implement the solution? A bad solution would be one that is foreign to our form of church government and difficult to actually accomplish.
- Lingering Stench: To what extent will this solution actually fail to bring resolution to the problem and leave open further opportunities for conflict? A bad solution is one that really doesn’t solve anything or exacerbates our current issues.
I realize that some would want to add categories like “offending God”, “violating orthodoxy”, “causing accelerated decline”, “driving away young people” or “social injustice”, but the categories I have chosen are an attempt to speak on a very basic organizational level and avoid entering into the core debate that has led us to semi-schism in the first place.
What do you think about these four measures? What would you add? In future posts I plan to bring these metrics to bear upon some of the options now before us.
“Buy a Field and Plant a Vineyard Instead”: Jeremiah 32:6 – 25 (AKJV)
Discern what it is you will from this passage. But for me, and my ‘house’ will continually serve the Lord even from the midst of the desolation that is to come.
“6 And Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 7 Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it. 8 So Hanameel mine uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the Lord, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. 9 And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. 10 And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances. 11 So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open: 12 and I gave the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, in the sight of Hanameel mine uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed the book of the purchase, before all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison.
13 And I charged Baruch before them, saying, 14 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open; and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days. 15 For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.
16 Now when I had delivered the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed unto the Lord, saying, 17 Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee: 18 thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them: the Great, the Mighty God, the Lord of hosts, is his name, 19 great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings: 20 which hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, and in Israel, and among other men; and hast made thee a name, as at this day; 21 and hast brought forth thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs, and with wonders, and with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with great terror; 22 and hast given them this land, which thou didst swear to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey; 23 and they came in, and possessed it; but they obeyed not thy voice, neither walked in thy law; they have done nothing of all that thou commandedst them to do: therefore thou hast caused all this evil to come upon them: 24 behold the mounts, they are come unto the city to take it; and the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans, that fight against it, because of the sword, and of the famine, and of the pestilence: and what thou hast spoken is come to pass; and, behold, thou seest it. 25 And thou hast said unto me, O Lord God, Buy thee the field for money, and take witnesses; for the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.”
The Word of God for the people of God. AMEN