Members and friends of Catonsville United Methodist Church,
Today, we received significant news that representatives of the largest and most influential caucus groups within the United Methodist Church (UMC), together with several bishops from across the theological spectrum, have reached an agreement that seeks to put an end to the conflict our denomination has over how LGBTQ+ persons are to be included in the life of the church.
From the press release: “The agreement, the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, was achieved on December 17, 2019, and announced today…. [It proposes] restructuring The United Methodist Church by separation as the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person.” Specifically, “The Protocol anticipates the formation of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination. Once formed, the new church would receive $25 million over the next four years and give up further claim to the UMC’s assets.”
It is important to note that this plan is only a suggestion to the General Conference of the UMC, the international governing body of the UMC. As of now, no change has happened. The General Conference is the only body that is able to speak for the UMC, and they will meet May 5 – May 15, 2020 to consider this and other proposals. Some media outlets are reporting this as if a split has already happened. This is not true. You would be wise to read articles from the United Methodist News Service, as reporters from other secular news services might not understand the way that our church is governed.
Nevertheless, in my view, what is particularly noteworthy about today’s release is that it represents a commitment from leaders within the major progressive, centrist, and traditionalist groups within the UMC to support this plan and no other. While not all constituencies within the UMC were completely represented by the group submitting “the Protocol,” this consensus of the leaders of the largest caucus groups from across the theological spectrum indicates to me that the General Conference in May will be more focused on separation than on either enforcing our discipline or liberalizing our policies concerning LGBTQ+ inclusion.
As a congregation, we have very diverse opinions about what this means for the UMC and what it should mean for Catonsville UMC. Some of you likely thought that this had been settled in the Special General Conference of 2019 and you are confused why the UMC may end up separating. Others of you are frustrated that the church has continued to maintain what you see as unjust policies against LGBTQ+ persons. These issues are complex, and certainly beyond the scope of this pastoral note. For now, I simply want to encourage you to resolve in your hearts to approach this situation with Christ-like love. Jesus’ command for us to “love our neighbor” has no caveats.
If you feel disoriented and confused, just remember this: Jesus is Lord. Furthermore, our mission as United Methodists, and Wesleyan-minded Christians, remains “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We must not permit the politics of the UMC, important as they may be for us, to compromise our commitment to Christ and his mission for his church.
Each of us would be wise to prepare our hearts and our minds for the UMC looking quite different in the next few years. In order to navigate this season of life together, we will need to behave in profoundly Christian ways. Thankfully, as Methodists, we have resources to help us as we strive to do this. In particular, let’s recommit ourselves to what are called the General Rules of our church. Namely,
- Do no harm. The potential for us to harm one another in this time is great. We must resist any impulse that would cause us to say or do something with the aim to cause harm to another.
- Do good. You likely have friends in this church and other churches who disagree with you. Continue to be friends with them. Bless them in every way you can and commit yourself to continue to do so. We will not all agree on the best path forward, but we must above all “put on love” (Colossian 3:14). We might not all end up living under the same roof, if you will, but we can still be family.
- Attend upon all the ordinances of God. (i.e. practice the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life). Our deepest need is to grow up in Christ in order to face the challenges ahead of us in a way that glorifies God. In other words, we need to mature as Christians. Do your part. Now is not the time to be lazy about your spiritual disciplines. Seek to pray for at least a minute for every minute you plan to speak about this to another person. Read your Bible not only for information, but for transformation. Be in church every Sunday if you’re in good health. Receive communion. Commit yourself to fast once a week for God to move among us in our church. In order to receive God’s help, we must open ourselves to the ways that God has promised to give us help.
I had intended to email you this week simply to say “Happy New Year” and to announce that 2020 would be a “Year of Prayer” for us as a church. Given today’s news, how much more should this be a year of prayer for us? Make the most of the opportunities that come to pray and to be prayed for.
Finally, I want to encourage you to educate yourself. Familiarize yourself with the proposal by reading the press release, the accompanying FAQ, and the relatively brief Protocol itself. Learn what Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Christian Experience have to say about the questions before us. Read a few books from different sides of the theological spectrum. Two easy to read books that I recommend are “A War of Loves” by David Bennett (Traditional) and “Torn” by Justin Lee (Progressive). Both are written by gay Christians and are available as audiobooks.
Dear congregation, God is good, all the time! Jesus loves you, and his church will endure. God will be glorified!
Grace and peace,