A Letter to Centrists

Dear Centrists,

     As a progressive, I celebrate that you are standing up and speaking out against the Traditional Plan.  You have amazed me with your success in getting centrists and progressives elected to General Conference. What we progressives tried to do for years, you have made real progress this year. It has been a successful political coalition.

     But our coalition is not tidy. We are in a time of transition and even the labels we use reflect the messy ambiguities of the moment. The traditionalists scratch their heads and wonder what the difference is between a centrist and a progressive. So do I. In fact, by the end of this letter I might need to use another label such as “liberationist.” And I have no problems being called “queer.” None of us like being called “incompatiblist.” So, you can call me almost anything—just as long as you call me for supper!

    As I have listened to you talk—and you talk a lot—here are some things I want you to stop doing and start doing:

  • Stop using the slash in “Centrists/Progressives.” It implies that we are more united than we really are. What happens is that the distinctive perspective of progressives is drowned out by centrists. I know you are not doing this on purpose, and it is so easy to do because our focus is on our shared opposition to the Traditional Plan.
  • Start giving us time and space to develop our vision and strategic interests. Just because we have a common opposition to the Traditional Plan does not mean we share a common vision for the future or even the same reasons for opposing the Traditional Plan. We progressives need more time to organize among ourselves.
  • Stop characterizing progressives who feel called to leave and start a new denomination as intolerant extremists and ideological purists. For me, the progressive non-negotiable is the immediate full inclusion of LGBTQ believers. What is unclear is how the 2020 General Conference should do this: immediate and uniform changes in the UMC; give birth to a new progressive denomination; create safe space within the UMC for the evolution of such a denomination; or create safe space for progressives within the UMC until the rest of the denomination is ready for full inclusion. Regardless, my desire is not driven by ideological purity but my missional pragmatism. My appointment is to North UMC, a large urban multi-staff church, and East Tenth UMC, a small urban neighborhood church. North’s membership includes many LGBTQ members for whom the fight is over and they want to get on with envisioning a new Methodism. North’s mission field is Indiana Youth Group, a city-wide LGBTQ youth program, and Trinity Haven, a soon-to-be transitional housing ministry for homeless LGBTQ youth. Every day that passes with us being identified with this denominational battle hurts our outreach. As for East Tenth, I have deployed a pastoral team to serve them, but I lost a team leader because he is a gay millennial who is unwilling to endure the ambiguities and abuse of the UMC. My “extremism” is driven by missional necessity.
  • Start listening closely to progressives. Many of you scoffed when you read what UM Forward said about you in  Loved and Liberated: “The greatest threat to queer liberation is centrism, not conservatism.” You don’t have to agree with that assessment, but do not dismiss it as irrational anger. I did not have a hand in writing the proclamation and I would not have used its rhetoric, but I agree with the fundamental ideas of UM Forward’s proclamation and there is much truth in their analysis.
  • Stop assuming that for progressives the problem is only 8 paragraphs in the Book of Discipline.  The issue of sexuality is inseparably intertwined with a host of other problems in the denomination such as racism, clericalism, corporatism, and size. You cannot solve the problem of sexuality without revamping other parts of our polity that perpetuate these other problems. For example, the problem is not ordination alone, but the combination of ordination and guaranteed appointment and an itinerant process that is trapped in a clergy-centric bureaucratic structure. For progressives, it is not good enough to have a United Methodist Church with a few tweaks. Could it be that the underlying difference between centrists and progressives is that centrists are more institutionalists and progressives are early adapters?
  • Start focusing on a new vision for Methodism. “Stay and resist” has served us well, but now is the time to focus on the good fruit that should yield. Envisioning new expressions of Methodism is the right conversation we should be having.

XOXO,

Darren

Published by

Notes for a New Methodism

Rev. Darren Cushman Wood is the senior minister of North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana and is an elder and full member of the Indiana Annual Conference. He is a graduate of the University of Evansville and Union Theological Seminary (New York). Darren was a delegate to the 2004 & 2008 General Conferences and a delegate to the 2000 & 2016 Jurisdictional Conferences. He is the author of "The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops" and "Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Workers' Rights."

7 thoughts on “A Letter to Centrists”

    1. Yes, we believe that all persons are created in the image of God and must be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of whether we agree with their beliefs or not. Progressives believe that the love of God in Jesus Christ should be our sole motivation and desire. For us, that means recognizing that the Holy Spirit dwells in LGBTQ believers and therefore can be called into marriage and ministry to live fully into the God’s sacrificial love. But it also means that we must treat traditionalists with compassion and respect as we disagree with one another. Progressives have not always done that and must humbly seek God’s love to become more loving of all people. In these strange and stressful days in the denomination it is tough to love our LBGTQ siblings and at the same time love our traditionalist straight siblings. That balancing act is only possible when the Spirit of Christ dwells in your hearts and has total control over your actions and attitudes.

      Like

  1. Well, let me respond. 1. I have no problem dropping Progressive from my communication going forward. But don’t whine when the far left is sitting again crying and wringing their hands on the front of the Reporter from Minneapolis. Its called a common table rather than a tv tray for a reason. 2. We have given the left 40 years to come up with an idea and nothing has worked out! In fact, we have given countenance to the far right to basically highjack the denomination and we all see how well that worked out! Exactly how long do we have to wait before action is taken? I think the clock has run out. 3. Look I am all in favor of breaking the UMC into tiny pieces and starting over. But Progressives and Traditionalists seem to think its their way or you go away. Everyone isn’t on one side or the other. I have a right to reject both arguments. But look if you don’t compromise its a purist theology. Nothing wrong with it if it meets your needs so long as it doesn’t hurt people around you. The harm caused is where Traditionalist lose me. I hate discrimination. But Progressives sometimes lose me based on pride…yes that is an ironic word to use this time of year. 4. I am tired of listening to both sides on this matter. We know where both sides stand! And I am baffled that adults can’t find a middle way. 5. There is SOOOOOOO MUCHHHHHH WRONNNGG with the Book of Discipline and our polity. I highly doubt Wesley would recognize us. I always wondered why Wesley hauled it back to the UK. Now I understand. I wonder what were would come up with if we only had 10 lines available? What would be most important to us? 6. We are trying to focus on a New Model Methodism! Everyone is! The problem is that our so-called elected, appointed, caucus and consecrated leadership seem incapable or just out and out incompetent when it comes to basic sandbox etiquette. Look everyone should be fully invested in a Christian community. Yet we are a people of Discipline. The question is how do we find that balance. How does EVERYONE get a place at the table that is equal and overflowing with love? Or has the message of Christ failed? I pray we don’t prove him a liar with our actions.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.