It’s the end of the UMC as we know itApologies to R.E.M.
It’s the end of the UMC as we know it
It’s the end of the UMC as we know it and I feel fine
In this case it starts with two things that try to coexist. A great analogy for the current state of The United Methodist Church is the Irresistible Force Paradox. The Irresistible Force Paradox is a classic paradoxical question that asks, “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” The Greek myth about Laelaps and the Teumessian Fox illustrates this paradox. The fox cannot be caught and the hound catches everything she tracks. So they are destined for this endless chase. One never being caught. One never giving up.
In the UMC’s paradox we have two bodies that both cannot be toppled…
- The Traditionalists – Control the General Conference. By all accounts have a majority of delegates at General Conference which by all means stands to get wider with more and more delegates coming from the global south. This is your immovable object. Most progressives/centrists would acknowledge they had record victories in Annual Conference delegate elections this year and even still they do not have the votes to change the Book of Discipline.
- The Progressive/Centrists – Control the Church in the United States. By all accounts have the majority of U.S. delegates at General Conference and U.S. Jurisdictional Conferences which will continue to elect centrist/progressive bishops who will not enforce the Book of Discipline no matter how much more traditionalist the Book of Discipline becomes. This is your unstoppable force. Most traditionalists would acknowledge they have tried every single measure in the book with the 2019 Traditionalist Plan and it will not work. Annual Conferences will continue to defy, Bishops will continue to ignore, and clergy will continue to disregard.
So two things are true.
- Progressives/Centrists will never leave the United Methodist Church, and will never be forced to by the Bishops of the UMC in America.
- Traditionalists will always be able to change, but never be able to enforce the Book of Discipline in the UMC in America.
Both of these bodies know these two things to be true, but there seems to be no real way beyond the impasse. Unstoppable Force meets Immovable Object. So what is the real way forward? How do we overcome this paradox? According to the Greek myth, Zeus saw only one way to overcome the paradox of the fox and the hound. He permanently separated them as constellations in the stars, Canis Major (the Hound) and Canis Minor (the Fox).
In one sense, this is what the attempted Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation is an attempt to do. Separate the unstoppable object from the immovable force. As my own Bishop puts it, this is not a plan of division but a plan of separation.
Is it the best way forward?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know anyone who would tell you that there is one best way forward. There might be a lot of people who would tell you that they want their way forward and this is not it. There might be better ways forward for the UMC either through one group or another group imposing their will on the other. Both our sides might think we can outlast the others and we have the upper hand, so why not keep fighting? This is absolutely one way to react to this protocol.
Reject it and keep fighting. I know and have talked to people in this camp. I respect them. They don’t want to give up ground gained in the Traditionalist Plan. They believe they still have General Conference delegates in their camp, and they do!
Yet the question I have to ask those who want to keep fighting is does it help or hurt our witness? In my local church I focus on doing ministry in my community. This is where I am planted and this is my ministry. I don’t desire to be a District Superintendent or a Bishop. I have no desire to advance my career to bigger places. I love being a pastor in my church and in my community. To me what this constant fighting has done has distracted all of us away from our mission and our ministry. The mission at the heart of the local church which is serving and impacting our communities. This is why my heart is not in this fight. I have no desire to continue one more battle.
Isn’t it time to stop the paradox?