I see a lot of people posting that they are “centrists” in the UMC. I read articles and blogs written by “centrists.” I read UMNS news stories about “centrists groups” in the UMC. I see I posted a question awhile back on Twitter that met with a lot of pushback both online and offline. I wanted to know what is a centrist in The United Methodist Church. Define Centrism in the UMC context I asked. Many replies came back proclaiming that they were centrist, to which I replied none of us are truly centrist because we have definitive opinions about things. We all have preferences around things like abortion and human sexuality. To deny that we have a preference is a fallacy. To be a true centrist is to be devoid of any preference or any belief on any issue. That’s not possible.
For instance let’s look at me. I have long since claimed to be a moderate or a centrist or extreme center. I want people to get along. I want things to be fair. I want people to work together. However, when pressed on anything I would still have an opinion. I still have preferences. When I go to a Mexican Restaurant, I ask for guacamole instead of sour cream. I love guacamole. I can’t stand sour cream. My wife loves sour cream. She can’t stand guacamole. We prefer this to that. This is what makes us human. So while I can claim the title of a centrist, I still have strongly held beliefs. That is okay!
So after thinking critically about this question of what it means to be a centrist in the UMC in our current debates I have thought of three things that centrists (of all backgrounds and preferences) can do.
Advocate FOR both sides instead of AGAINST the side we don’t prefer. I would say that my personal preferences put me on the traditionalist side of the question in the UMC today, but this doesn’t mean I cannot support people and clergy on the other side as well. I want traditionalism to flourish in Methodism but I also want to see progressivism free to flourish as well. I am not against you and I pray that you are not against me. My ministry doesn’t look the same as yours. Yours won’t look the same as mine. Can we stop with the name calling, the labeling, the conspiracy theories, and the fighting? Can we stop saying that the WCA is bad and the RMN is good and vice versa? People in both of these groups can be good faithful people who are seeking to do ministry and follow their calling in a different way. Can we say there are good faithful people in the RMN and there are good faithful people in the WCA?
Advocate for COMPROMISE instead of CONTROL. I am personally tired of fighting battles with winners and losers. We went from fighting every four years at GC to fighting every year at AC. Everyone that I have talked to about our past Annual Conference left with a queasiness in their heart. Whether you are in an Annual Conference where the traditionalists swept everything or the progressives swept everything, you have to admit this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Something is wrong with us. This isn’t a game of Risk where we are trying to take over as many countries as we can with our armies. We shouldn’t be praying for 50% + 1 vote to crush the other side. I don’t want to live and minister in a denomination like that. Do you? Do you really want to fight for delegate spots every year for Annual Conference. Do you really want to fight for delegate spots every 4 years for General Conference? A Centrist is someone who pushes the denomination for a true compromise where problems are worked out. In a true compromise neither party will be fully happy. Maybe our compromise in the UMC today is giving up the idea of true unity? Instead of retreating to our little think tank groups to plan our next attack why can’t we get together and formulate a real compromise? I am not a delegate for GC2020, but this is what I am telling those who are delegates. Work it out. It might not be your preference, but work together and figure this out.
Advocate for MISSION instead of UNITY. Maybe there is a Great Awakening happening on both sides of the equation and we are just too tied together to see it work. For so long it seemed like centrists advocated for unity at all costs, but maybe the goal of the church is not to bind one another together but to release one another into mission. The mission of the church is not to maintain an institution, but to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. What if unity really is the restriction on our mission? What if making disciples looks a whole lot different in one church than it does another? I have stopped praying for unity in The United Methodist Church because I have come to see unity as an impediment to mission. It is my belief that we need to release one another from the bonds of unity and instead pray for one another in mission. So I pray for my colleagues and their churches on all sides to succeed in their mission of making disciples.