Moses the United Methodist

“Resist” is the new buzzword among some moderates and progressives to describe their response to the results of General Conference. This has been the mantra of progressives for years that explained their protests at previous General Conferences. Now, many moderates have joined their righteous indignation.

There is something romantic about it. Being a part of “the Resistance” is cool like Luke Skywalker. It is a Rebel Alliance of moderates and progressives plotting to destroy the Death Star of the Traditional Plan.

I urge my fellow non-traditionalists to take their ques from Exodus rather than George Lucas.

God never told Moses, “Stay in Egypt and form the resistance. Create sleeper cells to overthrow the Pharaoh.” No. God told Moses to get out of Egypt as soon as they had the chance. Pretty soon, the Pharaoh will change his mind and the Red Sea will only stay parted for so long.

Also, I don’t recall Jesus forming a resistance in Gethsemane. He did not tell Peter to keep swinging his sword. He did not hire a team of attorneys to defend him in Pilate’s court. Yes, he did confront the Pharisees and he protested in the Temple. But there is a time for everything, and when it came time to carry the cross he did it without protest and he did not resist when they started pounding the nails.

There is a season for everything, said the Preacher, and the time for protests and resistance is coming to an end. Now is the time to get ready to leave Egypt. Now is the time for progressive United Methodists—and any moderates who want to join them—to leave the United Methodist Church. Let the Traditionalists have it. A denomination that has ratcheted down on its traditional ethics for nearly 50 years is rightly theirs to keep.

Remember the rest of the story. They had a short window to get out of Egypt and they had to move fast. There is a window of opportunity at the next General Conference to make this transition peacefully and to minimize the damage that could be inflicted on all congregations and annual conferences. If we stay in resistance-mode we will lose that opportunity for a truly gracious exit. Don’t waste your energy on perpetual acts of resistance because we will need that good energy to create the future.

Also remember God’s last instructions before they walked out of Egypt: Take as much of the riches of Egypt as you can carry. We must carry into a new Methodism the best of the old United Methodism. This is an opportunity to rectify the long-standing problems of the United Methodist Church while preserving the good things that have been created since 1968.

If you don’t agree with my interpretation of Exodus, then consider the cross. Now is the time for progressives to take up the cross of forming a new Methodist denomination. The temple protest ended a long time ago; now is the time to start carrying our cross to Calvary. Remember, resurrection only comes after the crucifixion.

An Idiot’s Guide to the Recent Judicial Council Decisions

The results of the Judicial Council’s Spring meeting (April 23-26, Evanston, IL) are both momentous and monotonous. To break it down for idiots like me, I offer this guide.

(Feel free to correct me, I might get something wrong. True confession: I worked on this while watching the Mets-Brewers game—Mets 5, Brewers 2. #LGM).

Judicial Council Decisions (JCD)

  • 1366—Council of Bishops (COB) asked for a declaratory decision on the 3 plans that came out of the work of the Commission on a Way Forward (October 26, 2018).
  • 1377—Legislative Committee of General Conference asked for a declaratory decision on petitions related to the Traditional Plan (February 26, 2019 during the St. Louis General Conference)
  • 1378—General Conference asked for a declaratory decision on everything they adopted in St. Louis; this decision reviews all legislation known as the Traditional Plan (April 25, 2019).
  • 1379This decision reviews the legislation for local church disaffiliation that General Conference adopted in St. Louis, which is also known as the “Taylor Plan” (April 25, 2019).

Judicial Council Decision 1378

By and large, the Judicial Council reaffirmed in this decision what they had determined in JCD 1377. They upheld everything they had previously ruled constitutional and unconstitutional. There were four petitions that had been amended in St. Louis. They ruled that these amendments were insufficient to make the petitions constitutional. As for what they had previously deemed constitutional, they said, “We have ruled twice on those issues and dismiss them here as res judicata (“a thing or matter settled by judgment”).

The one sliver of hope that everything would be overturned rested on the “severability test”—the test to see whether the unconstitutional pieces of legislation could be omitted (“severed’) from the Discipline without affecting what was left. They ruled that the invalid parts can be severed from the rest.

Here is a list of the legislation grouped according to topic with the petition numbers in [ ].

Unconstitutional:

  • The creation of a three-member council relations committee within the COB to investigate and recommend involuntary retirement or leave of absence for bishops. These petitions had been amended to prohibit committee members from voting on their recommendations in the full meeting of the COB. The petitions violated the right to trial and made the COB prosecutor, judge and jury. [90033, 90034, 90035]
  • Greater accountability of members and potential members of conference boards of ordained ministries (BOOM). Bishops were mandated to certify that those whom they nominate to serve on BOOM will uphold what the Discipline says about “practicing homosexuals.” BOOM was mandated to examine candidates for ministry to determine whether they are in compliance with the newly expanded definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” The petition regarding bishops’ nominees to serve on BOOM had been amended to broaden the scope of verification. Instead of narrowly focusing on homosexuality, a bishop was supposed to certify that the nominee would uphold the Discipline “in its entirety, including but not limited to all qualifications for ordination.” The Judicial Council ruled that this was “devoid of specificity and clarity with respect to the scope of the certification” and would create a “dangerous slippery slope” that could lead to “arbitrary and capricious” accusations against a nominee. The examination requirements of candidates for ministry were also deemed to be singling out homosexuality rather than a full examination of a candidate. [90037, 90038, 90039,90040]
  • Required persons who had been found in violation of the Discipline to pledge not to repeat the offense in the future. [second sentence in 90045]

Constitutional:

These pieces of legislation had been ruled constitutional in JCD 1377 and JCD 1378 reaffirmed that previous ruling.

  • An expanded definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” that includes “living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union or is a person who publicly states she or he is a practicing homosexual” (Previously, “self-avowed” had been limited to openly acknowledging oneself to a bishop, DS, BOOM or district committee on ordained ministry). [90032]
  • Minimum penalties for clergy who perform same-sex weddings (first offense—one-year suspension without pay; second offense—defrocked). [90042]
  • Prohibiting bishops from commissioning and ordaining elders and deacons and consecrating bishops who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” even if they have been recommended by BOOM or elected by a jurisdictional conference. [90036, 90043] [See update below]
  • Gives complainants a role in the complaint process. [90044,90045 except the second sentence,90046]
  • The church has the right to appeal findings of a trial based on egregious errors of church law or administration. “This is not to be double jeopardy.” [90047]

In sum, they upheld what they had ruled in previous decisions. These changes to the Discipline eliminate most (but not all) of the loopholes.  It imposes severe penalties for violations and greater scrutiny of allegations.

Judicial Council Decision 1379

This decision reviewed the “Taylor Plan” for the disaffiliation of a local church from the denomination that was approved in the last minutes of the General Conference [90066]. The original version had been ruled unconstitutional because it did not contain a role for the annual conference.  Later, it was amended to give the annual conference a role in the disaffiliation process.

The Judicial Council ruled that, in its amended form, it did provide a sufficient role for the annual conference when it is combined it with another paragraph in the Discipline [¶ 2529.1(b)(3)].

They concluded by saying, “In deference to the legislative branch, we reluctantly declare amended Petition 90066 constitutional but stress at the same time that the General Conference bears the responsibility to legislatively address the deficiency identified in ¶ 2553 [the new paragraph number for the Taylor Plan].”

In short, we now have a process in the Discipline for a local church that disagrees with the denomination’s position on homosexuality to be released from the trust clause. However, there is no process for the creation of new denominations.

My Assessment

I see five take-aways from these decisions:

  1. The decisions illustrate that the Judicial Council exercised judicial restraint and emphasized that the future of the denomination is vested with the legislative authority of General Conference. JCD 1379 is an improvement over JCD 1377 (JCD 1377 was flawed in its interpretation of the Taylor Plan in regards to ¶ 41 of the constitution).
  2. The decisions demonstrate that the core of the Traditional Plan is constitutional. I believe the real meat of the plan is the expanded definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” the mandatory sentencing, and the expanded role for complainants. These features have now passed judicial muster three times. The other parts which were ruled unconstitutional are not as important and in many cases are overkill.
  3. The decisions indicate what the 2020 General Conference needs to fix. Improving the disaffiliation process and creating a transition plan into new denominations is the work that awaits General Conference next year.
  4. The decisions show that there are limits to what can be legislated. The rest of the Traditionalist agenda can only be accomplished through election of bishops. The unconstitutional petitions mandating the selection of BOOM members can only be solved by who is elected to the episcopacy. This has been a frustration for conservatives. For example, my jurisdictional conference (North Central) has a tradition of electing moderate-progressive candidates because conservatives never had a big enough voting block to get their candidates elected. In 2016, three out of the four who were elected had declared their opposition to the Discipline’s rules on homosexuality (The three affirmed that they would uphold the Discipline). Needless to say, this must be frustrating for a conservative delegate. They were successful at General Conference,  but two months later at jurisdictional conference see the election of bishops who oppose what General Conference had adopted.
  5. The decisions outline the contours of the battlefield if moderates and progressives choose to stay in and “resist.” Because judicial and legislative solutions are limited, the conflict will intensify around the election of bishops and nominations to boards and agencies. The fight will trickle down to the annual conference level, especially on boards and district committees of ordained ministry. What little comity we now have will be replaced by bitterness. In the end, there will be no transformative progressive leaders, only disruptive ones.

[Updated 4/30/2019] Scott E. Manning pointed out to me that the petition regarding bishops commissioning, ordaining and consecrating elders, deacons and bishops does not contain the word “practicing” but rather prohibits such actions being performed on “self-avowed homosexuals.” The omission is significant (regardless of whether it was intentional). Read Rebecca Miles perceptive commentary on this flaw.

Here is the original petition 90036:

“Amend by addition ¶ 415.6:

To consecrate bishops; to ordain elders and deacons; to commission deaconesses, home missioners, and missionaries; and to see that the names of the persons commissioned and consecrated are entered on the journals of the conference and that proper credentials are furnished to these persons. Bishops are prohibited from consecrating bishops who are self-avowed homosexuals, even if they have been duly elected by the jurisdictional or central conference. Bishops are prohibited from commissioning those on the deacon or elder track if the Board of Ministry has determined the individual is a self-avowed homosexual or has failed to certify it carried out the disciplinarily mandated examination, even if the individual has been recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry and approved by the clergy session of the annual conference. Bishops are prohibited from ordaining deacons or elders if the Board of Ministry has determined the individual is a self-avowed homosexual or has failed to certify it carried out the disciplinarily mandated examination, even if the individual has been recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry and approved by the clergy session of the annual conference.”

For more perspective order my book The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops

Can You be A Compatibilist & United Methodist?

It has become the standard United Methodist worldview that the denomination is made up of five major groups—traditional incompatibilists, traditional compatibilists, moderate compatibilists, progressive compatibilists, and progressive incompatibilists—and that the vast majority of United Methodists are in the middle three groups, but the incompatibilists on both ends are pulling us apart.

It is true that the composition of the denomination is complex and there are multiple positions. A color photo is often better than a black and white snapshot.  

But take a moment and question whether this standard view is in focus.

First, the panoramic description has a quasi-scientific feel to it, which gives it an authoritative glow. But the research on what United Methodists believe is limited and more complex than the label “compatibilist” suggests. Over the past few years there has been some shifting of views among North American United Methodists on the issues of sexuality. However, the majority hold “traditional” and “moderate” views on other religious beliefs.

The label “compatibilist” implies that the typical United Methodist congregation or member has a well-formed opinion. Most have not. Indeed, most of our churches have never talked about the issue. And most members see the issue solely in terms of their local church. It might be that the label “compatibilist” gives the appearance of a coherent position when, in reality, it reflects a mish-mash of ideas and a predilection for avoiding the logical consequences of one’s beliefs. So, other descriptors are just as apt: “contradictory,” “undecided,” or even “polite.”

(For more, read about a 2015 poll on sexuality and a 2019 poll on general theological perspectives among United Methodists. See also, sociologist James Wood’s analysis of General Conference delegates in his excellent but dated book Where the Spirit Leads: The Evolving Views of United Methodists on Homosexuality)

Second, the accepted view of reality implies that the denomination has been compatibilist up until St. Louis. Like it or not, our official stance has always been “traditional incompatiblism” that for 47 years has been eliminating the loopholes that allowed for a defacto compatiblism. St. Louis just exposed the ugly truth of our incompatibilism. All statements of inclusion to the contrary may unwittingly serve to mask the legal reality. In short, our system is incompatible with compatibilism.

All this raises two fundamental questions for those who claim to be “compatibilists:”

  • With what are you compatible? Progressive compatibilists must compromise their belief that LGBTQ believers should be treated equally in the church. If the shoe was on the other foot, traditional compatibilists would have to compromise their belief that biblical prohibitions on homosexual behavior must be followed. These beliefs are paramount, not things that one should compromise.
  • For what are you compatible? Those in favor of keeping the denomination intact make the argument that “we are better together.” They are willing to compromise their principles of human rights or biblical authority for something they believe is more important. What is that? Organizational loyalty? Missional effectiveness? Have these become buzzwords that have lost their integrity?

Third, the perceived reality serves a purpose for moderate leaders. It allows them to think that they are above the conflict and thus are the only ones who can lead the denomination. This can be rather patronizing and dismissive (Who wants to be called an “incompatibilist”?).  For moderates who want the denomination to stay intact, the idea of “compatibilists” is a powerful argument.

Thomas Lambrecht recently called out moderates who claim to be “compatibilists” but now advocate for inclusion of LGBTQ persons.  He accurately pointed out that they are talking out of both sides of their mouths.

All this raises a question for moderates: What exactly do you mean by inclusion?

Sometimes, I get the impression that for some moderates the only reason they want queer folk in the church is to reassure themselves that they are not bigots.

Tokenism is no substitute for true inclusion.

An Open Table Post-GC 2019?

“Open table”—the belief that everyone is invited to receive communion—is a very popular United Methodist belief. It is a favorite rationale of moderates and progressives to argue for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. Yet, it has a different meaning for traditionalists who also believe that the table is open to all who repent of their sins, including the sin of homosexual behavior.

This Maundy Thursday post-St. Louis, we are confronted by our differences in the sacrament. Spread out on the table are the central questions facing us: What is inclusion? What is sin?

As a progressive United Methodist, I believe in the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons and I believe our understanding of the Lord’s Supper supports it. But the sacrament supports inclusion in ways that my fellow progressives do not understand.

Progressives have arrived at the right conclusion based on the wrong interpretation of Wesley. “Open table” does not mean that anyone can or should take communion regardless of their intentions, beliefs or desires. Wesley was not making a sacrament of modern liberal ideas of tolerance and equality.

Yet, Wesleyan theology works on a deeper, richer level that can enrich and reform our progressive convictions.

Listen in a new key to Charles’ hymn, “Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast”:

“Come, sinners, to the gospel feast, 
let every soul be Jesus’ guest. 
Ye need not one be left behind, 
for God hath bid all humankind.”

First, we ALL come to the table as sinners in need of grace. Straight and LGBTQ alike are sinners, persons alienated and rebelling against God. On that, all United Methodists can agree. But, the sin is not in one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. More so, it is not a sin to express romantic love to someone of the same sex or gender. This is where I and my traditionalists brothers and sisters disagree.

The sin is not in who we love but how we love. Straight and LGBTQ believers are held to the same standard of bearing the fruit of the Spirit in all relationships. And the gift of the Holy Spirit empowers both LGBTQ and straight believers to produce that fruit in all their relationships, romantic and otherwise.

Just as we share the same sins, we express the same desire for Christ. This is the only criterion for receiving the Lord’s Supper. Do you want Jesus in your heart?

Second, we ALL receive God’s grace at the table:

“Let every soul be Jesus guest…the invitation is to all.”

LGBTQ persons receive God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ without having to deny their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Lord’s Supper is  “the grand channel whereby the grace of his Spirit was conveyed to the souls of all the children of God” (Sermon 26: “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount VI”, §III.11) and LGBTQ believers are children of God. As God’s children, the Spirit dwells in them without them having to be straight, act straight, or be celibate.

The mark of discipleship and new life in Christ is not the suppression or denial of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity but love. Both LGBTQ and straight believers alike express the love of Christ to their spouses. We violate belief in salvation by grace through faith when we make heterosexual behavior or celibacy a necessary mark of the new life. The hymn’s promise applies to all believers:

“Jesus to you his fullness brings,
A feast of marrow, and fat things:
All, all in Christ is freely given,
Pardon, and holiness, and heaven.”

You don’t have to be straight, act straight, or be celibate to be a Christian. We are save by grace through faith in Jesus Christ—nothing more, nothing less.

This Maundy Thursday, Christ pleads with LGBTQ seekers to come to the table:

“Do not begin to make excuse; 
ah! do not you his grace refuse;”

Don’t let the hypocrisy and hatred of some Christians turn you away from Jesus:

“your worldly cares and pleasures
leave, and take what Jesus hath to give.”

Leave behind your misdirected desires and malfunctioning anger that keeps you from God’s love. Stop resisting God’s embrace because the church has rejected you:

“Come and partake the gospel feast,
be saved from sin, in Jesus rest; 
O taste the goodness of our God, 
and eat his flesh and drink his blood.”

The Church is constituted at the table. Both straight and LGBTQ believers gather at the table because Christ has called all to repent of their sins and promises to give pardon and holiness and heaven to all believers without requiring them to sacrifice who God made them to be.

The Shape of a New Tent

I wrote in my last post that the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons is a non-negotiable for a progressive vision of a new Methodism. And this non-negotiable may put progressives at odds with moderates. If the church is a big tent and fidelity to Jesus Christ is the pole that holds up the tent, then following Jesus means offering the rites of marriage and ordination to his followers who are LGBTQ so that they can live out their discipleship under that tent.

I serve North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. North believes

that through God’s redeeming love, all are one in Christ. YOU are welcome at North.

North United Methodist Church is an inclusive and reconciling community. We welcome all regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, domestic or marital status, physical or mental ability, economic status, political affiliation, faith history, education and all other ways in which we are human.

We believe that all have received God’s love and grace. We seek to transform our church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love. We celebrate the diversity of North Church.

We respect the inherent worth and valuable contributions each member makes to the Body of Christ.

As we journey toward reconciliation, we proclaim this statement of welcome to all who have known the pain of exclusion and discrimination within the church. We welcome all persons to full participation in the life and ministries of North United Methodist Church [North UMC Welcome Statement].

Over the course of thirty years they made steady progress in the practice of inclusion that culminated in becoming a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network. November 9, North will offer a conference for churches wanting to learn how to become inclusive.

However, I have served other, more conservative congregations over the past 29 years. I know that most congregations are not at the same place that North is. Indeed, the great irony is that we are on the verge of separation over an issue that probably 90% of our local churches have never discussed. If full inclusion is to be a non-negotiable, what are we to do with those congregations?

Two things.

One, there must be a window for discernment after the 2020 General Conference for each local church to decide with which denomination to affiliate. That window should be left open for an ample number of years. This will take time because it is a formational issue, not a political one.

Two, in a new Methodism that practices full inclusion, appointment-making must include the empowerment of the local church to determine whether an appointment is appropriate for them. It means that local churches will have more than a consultative role. It means that we will trust the laity and share the decision-making authority. Quite frankly, I have more trust in the laity to do the right thing than my fellow elders.

Some will say that this will be the end of itinerancy. Yes, as we know it. But there can be other forms of itinerancy that do not mistreat local churches by imposing ineffective clergy on them and mistreating pastors with ill-fitted appointments. Regardless of the issue of sexuality, our system does not work very well. The wedge issue of homosexuality diverts our attention from the dysfunctions that transcend the ideological divide. We must create a connectionalism that is functional.

Some will say this will be the end of connectionalism. Yes, as we know it. But there are other forms of connectionalism—within the larger Wesleyan family and in other denominations such as the Presbyterian Church USA. It is time to do away with our hierarchy and our corporatist practices. That does not mean an end to the episcopacy, but it will certainly entail a radical redefinition of what the title “bishop” means. We must create a connectionalism that is conciliar.

Some will say that this will create a backdoor of discrimination against LGBTQ pastors. That may be true. However, the process of living into full inclusion is as important as the policy of full inclusion. That process must include the difficult work of spiritual formation, pastoral leadership, and trusting the Holy Spirit. It takes more time, but it creates a stronger denomination in the long run.

It is the only way to keep from creating a progressive version of the same kind of coercion operating in our current polity. Beware: A new Methodism could degenerate into cheap identity politics that protects narcissistic and incompetent clergy. The only difference would be that a new Methodism would include both straight and queer ineffective pastors! We must create a connectionalism that is collaborative.

(Of course, a new Methodism can only be birthed–within the United Methodist Church or outside of it–depending on what the 2020 General Conference does.)

Even big tents need tent poles. It is time to stop impaling our LGBTQ members to hold up the United Methodist big tent.

The Progressive Non-Negotiable

There is a lot of talk lately by moderates about being inclusive while at the same time being “compatibilist.” Social media is awash with rainbows and declarations of “I stand with LGBTQ United Methodists” while at the same time spitting and cursing the destruction of the big tent of United Methodism.

It raises a question for Moderates: What is your vision of an inclusive church that includes traditionalists? They want a big tent but even big tents need tent poles.

We all agree that Jesus Christ is the center of the church. But what does that mean in this historical moment?

As a progressive, I believe that our allegiance to Jesus Christ demands our full inclusion of LGBTQ believers. This is a non-negotiable. Here is how I explained it in my sermon on March 3 [hear the full sermon]:

Because the Holy Spirit confirms queer believers, we must embrace them fully and completely. They must be offered all the rites of the church—the rite of marriage to live out their faith in covenant relationships and the rite of ordination so they can fulfill what God has called them to do.

In the new Methodism, the debate is over. There is no place anymore for equivocating on this issue. For forty seven years we have argued and studied and fussed about this. For forty seven years General Conference has turned against this notion. And for forty seven years our LGBTQ kin have been inflicted with that pain. In a new Methodism the pain ends. It is beyond debate.

Now that may sound like I am violating the very notion of inclusion because the argument goes that if you are going to be inclusive you should include people who do not agree with you.

Let me draw this analogy: In 1968 when the United Methodist Church was founded it became a church that was explicitly, officially opposed to racism.  In our [denomination’s] Constitution it says that persons of color are full members of the church. It is the official teaching. We are clearly an anti-racist denomination.

That does not mean that there are not individual members who are racist. There are—I’m related to most of them! But we did not leave that to be a local option. It was beyond debate. And we have lived with that.

No, it needs to be clear, unambiguous, non-debatable: LGBTQ persons will be fully included in membership and leadership. We welcome folks who may be struggling with the issue of accepting LGBTQ persons, but we are going to help them along and be patient with them under the umbrella of a church that practices the full inclusion of our queer members.

A democratic society is about balancing power and competing interests. Equality is the basis for inclusion that is the unity of a donut. But that is not the church. The church is not society. The church is the community of Divine Love. And in Divine Love those with more power and comfort make a way for those who have been rejected. Love is the basis for inclusion in a unity of the Spirit of Christ.

I am a straight white man. And issues of sexuality make me feel uncomfortable. That’s a need that I have; I have a need to be made comfortable. But my need is secondary to the greater needs of LGBTQ persons who have been rejected from the church. Specifically, what comes first are the needs of millennial LGBTQ persons who have contemplated or attempted suicide. My need to be comfortable takes a back seat to their need to live!

My need to be comfortable in the church, for you to not disturb me with something that might make me feel uncomfortable, is secondary to the needs of people who have been turned away from the church for decades because they have seen what has happened and they say, “I’m never going to church ever again.”

Yes, I have a need, but my need comes second in the community of Divine Love. And I can scoot over in the pew. You know what it’s like to sit in the pew. You have those nice pew pads and you create a groove because you have been sitting there for years. And it fits just right. You know that if you scoot over you will have to sit on the hump. Nobody wants to sit on the hump. Well, scoot on over. Sit on the hump because there are some folks who have never had a place in our pews.

In the new Methodism there will be full inclusion of LGBTQ persons into membership and leadership and that debate is over. Because what did Paul say about love? “Love does not insist on its own way.”  

While my other posts represent my own views, this affirmation represents the church I serve, North United Methodist Church. November 9, North will be offering a one-day conference for churches wanting to learn how to become inclusive.

However, I have served other, more conservative congregations over the past 29 years. I know that most congregations are not at the same place that North is. Indeed, the great irony is that we are on the verge of separation over an issue that probably 90% of our local churches have never discussed. If full inclusion is to be a non-negotiable, what are we to do with those congregations?

….Read next week’s post.

Only a Trademark?

In his post-General Conference podcast, Adam Hamilton recounted his spiritual journey from the Holiness Tradition of his undergraduate days at Oral Roberts University to finding a home in the United Methodist Church. For him and many of us, United Methodism has been the sweet spot that combines personal piety and social concern. It brings together conservatives, moderates and liberals as a big diverse family.

The outcome of St. Louis is truly the demise of the denomination as a big family. Rightly so, moderates and progressives are going through the stages of grief of the denomination as the matriarch.

But maybe we need to see the United Methodist Church through a different metaphor. Instead of familial images, we should see the denomination as a corporation.

The corporate metaphor echoes what our leaders have been promoting for years. We have talked about “making disciples” like a corporation markets its services to consumers. We have assessed our “fruitfulness” with quantitative metrics through “vital sign” reports. This is no accident. Our leaders have consciously, enthusiastically adopted the tactics and strategies of Corporate America without a hint of critical self-reflection.

The metaphor fits our size and practices. Increasingly, itinerancy and the covenant of ministry reflect a corporatist approach. For example, my district has over a hundred churches. Due to an economy of scale for appointment-making, pastors are known, good or ill, by truncated descriptions. Our anxiety over numerical growth is a religious version of a corporation’s market share.  Like corporate marketing, buzz words, like “missional,” abound. We confuse mere rhetoric for real transformative ministry.

We are the victims of our own marketing because our real problem was never effectiveness but authenticity.

One prescient way to understand what happened in St. Louis is to think of “United Methodist Church” as a trademark. For progressives, the trademark was tarnished beyond repair. The brand is now inseparably linked with the traditionalist agenda.

If it is only a trademark, then let the traditionalists have it. Let them have full reign over the rebranding process.

The trademark problem may largely be an American issue. Outside the United States the label “United Methodist” is more than branding. In the former Soviet Union countries, the organizational lineage has legal ramifications. In parts of Africa it has vital poignancy. All the more reason, traditionalists should probably keep the title.

To be sure, vast parts of the denomination will not follow the traditionalists, regardless of the trademark. For example, most of our colleges, universities and seminaries will refuse to be defined by the brand. In the next few years, the various parts of the denomination could realign with a yet-to-be named denomination.

In other words, even though the trademark “United Methodist Church” will be traditionalist, “United Methodism” as an ethos that Hamilton and others love will continue. It will just be under a different name. For the sake of creating closure at the 2020 General Conference, it is prudent that moderates and progressives start seeing the difference between the trademark “United Methodist Church” and the ethos of United Methodism.

It may be that the unintended gift of separation will be the opportunity to disentangle the spirit of United Methodism from the spirit of capitalism. A new Methodism will carry the best of United Methodism with it while leaving the worst of it behind. What needs to be left behind is the corporatism, which is a problem that goes beyond the issue of sexuality. Quite literally, we will not be able to afford it.

And that’s a good thing. The hope is that a new Methodism can become a real church family of God’s grace.

For more perspective order my book The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops