Split or splinter

Published 6:58 pm Friday, January 10, 2020

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By Nathan Decker

I don’t care what they say as long as they talk about me.”

– Tallulah Bankhead, stage, film actress

No news travels like bad news except when the bad news is only partially true. Recently, The New York Times and other news outlets announced that the United Methodist Church had reached an agreement to split. Nope. Not yet. This is just a preview. Only a half-truth. The only body that can speak for the UMC is the General Conference, which will meet in May. A small unofficial group did meet and create a plan for blessing differences and parting ways, and even they are one among many.

In fact, I’ve seen at least four plans submitted, and some folks have even suggested there are over 26 plans for how to separate. Yes, we Methodists have a method to the madness. Because of the inclusion of so many perspectives and diversity of regions represented at the table, the recently released plan will most likely be the plan adopted by General Conference to allow those who no longer desire to be a part of the connection to part with a blessing. If we accomplish this, we will be the first denomination in history to split while trying to be civil to each other.

Except it won’t be a split. When I was a kid, I split logs. We had wood heat that required summers filled with cutting down trees and splitting the wood in halves or thirds to fit into the hungry furnace fire during the winter. Split makes it sound like we are going to cut the current church into neat even halves or thirds of perspectives on human sexuality using the terms traditional, centrist and progressive. But we aren’t.

Folks in churches resist changing what pew they sit in and what songs they have in the hymnal. They aren’t going to bail on a denomination that easily. UMC Leaders like Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter have said as few as 6 percent and at most 20 percent of churches will leave. And not all of them are going to be of the traditional perspective. Many progressive churches may choose to leave as well. More a splintering than a split. A lot depends on the current pastor and how she or he leads the local discussion about the dividing issue, homosexuality.

Except human sexuality isn’t really the issue. The issue is really about power; power over interpretation and ordination. This was true with the Southern Baptist Church in her splintering over interpretation of the Bible and ordination of women. It is true of the United Methodist Church today. Both sides have an interpretation which leads to differences on who can and can’t be ordained or serve in leadership in the church. Let’s be clear, this is about power.

Except we aren’t supposed to be in power. When the Apostle Paul faced his ‘thorn in the flesh,’ he prayed to God three times to remove it only to hear our Lord say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Throughout history, the church has often been seduced by those in power. Christ shows us that humbly following the path of sacrifice and compassion is the way forward.

Our focus should not be on how we win political battles or forcibly reshape society to be more just. God has placed our focus on Christ. In Christ we encounter the Way, the Truth and the Life. And we are given the Good News of redemption, salvation and the Kingdom of God to share. So, I ask you, share the Good News instead of worrying about splinters and splits. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

– Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:11-12