In light of recent discussions, LYNC is releasing this statement one day early. We've always held a strong and principled position against splintering the church-- this essay by Rev. Frank Wulf describes why.
"Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God." (Ephesians 2:14-16)
There is no secret to the fact that The United Methodist Church is anything but united. We are perpetually roiled by theological and social conflicts ranging from bitter disagreements about the nature of God and the authority of the Bible to all-out battles concerning the proper exercise of sexuality and the church’s role in addressing economic/political injustices. These conflicts have always raised the specter of schism. The idea has long been entertained in back-room conversations among people of various theological perspectives who despair that the Church will ever be able to achieve a common mind on the crucial and profoundly challenging matters that divide it. What was once spoken in private, however, is now being shouted from the rooftops. The call for schism is being proclaimed with passion and urgency by groups and individuals who believe that conflicts over theology and moral teaching are irresolvable, that they are causing harm to the ongoing mission of Christ’s church, and that the only way to achieve resolution is for those with differing theological perspectives (primarily with regard to sexual orientation) to go their separate ways.
Recognizing that it is always difficult to live together against the backdrop of our differences and disagreements, the Love Your Neighbor Coalition has taken a strong and principled stand against schism. The unity of the Church is not now and never has been rooted in uniformities of thought, belief and practice. It is a gift of God. As the writer of Ephesians reminds us, “Christ is our peace.” In this context, ‘peace’ (Gk: eirēnē) does not mean a cessation of hostilities. It is a translation of the ancient Hebrew concept shalom, which points to the wholeness of God’s creation. It is a bringing together in hope of all that has been torn apart through our human ignorance, selfishness, fear, hatred, and greed. Given that the church is called to embody this shalom, not to deny it, calls for schism seem profoundly unfaithful and deeply theologically flawed. They are rooted in the assumption that our human incompatibilities of belief and practice are too intractable to be healed, even by the Spirit of God.
Those who advocate schism and call us to separate for the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world fail to recognize that our mission is bound up with our identity as people who have been brought together in Christ and not merely through our own efforts. Unity in diversity is more than just a slogan; it is a fulfillment of God’s plans for the reconciliation of the world. (Eph. 1:10) Unity, however, is not uniformity. The early church was seldom in total agreement about anything. Quite the contrary! Controversies abounded. And yet, they understood that what held them together was not their agreement on issues of theology or their commonalities of practice. They were held together both by their common faith in Christ and their mutual love for each other. John Wesley appealed for Methodist Christians to treat each other similarly in his sermon entitled Catholic Spirit:
Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.
While there are many factors driving the calls for schism that are coming to the 2016 General Conference, the one issue that rises to the forefront is our deep and sometimes bitter disagreement about the full inclusion of LGBTQI persons in the life and leadership of the community of faith. It is noteworthy these calls for schism are NOT coming from the LGBTQI community, which has long suffered from the Church’s official policies of exclusion. In fact, the opposite is true. These calls for schism are coming most fervently from those who wish to continue the church’s practice of excluding LGBTQI persons from the fullness of the Church’s life and ministry. Having grown tired of listening to the voices of those who cry out for full inclusion within the community of God’s people, they seek a church where covenants are defined by hard-and-fast rules and where faithfulness is characterized by obedience to those rules.
Ironically, schism cannot accomplish the goal of ending conflict on issues related to LGBTQI inclusion, or, for that matter, any other issues. The misguided notion that two theologically pure denominations can be created from one conflicted denomination flounders on the reality that Christians are socially and theologically complex and that they are seldom if ever consistent. There will inevitably be LGBTQI persons and allies in any newly-formed ‘traditionalist’ denomination, just as there will be persons who resist full inclusion in any newly-formed ‘progressive’ denomination. Young people, whose theologies and denominational affiliations are initially determined by their parents, will change as they grow and discern more fully who they are and what they are becoming. What happens, for example, when young people discern that their emerging sexual orientations or gender identities are in conflict with the teachings of their Church, but find that potential mentors are unable or unwilling to speak for fear of denominational repercussions? The conflict will not end just because we choose to divide. It will simply take on a different form. And, that new form of conflict may well prove to be even more destructive to our lives and ministries.
We would claim that our covenant as United Methodists is NOT primarily rooted in our obedience to The Book of Discipline. Our covenant as Christians is rooted in our baptismal vows:
1. to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sins;
2. to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and
3. to confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.
Our covenant as United Methodists is rooted in our commitment to live together as Wesleyan Christians, guided by our General Rules, instructed by our particular Wesleyan understanding of grace, united by our determination “to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land,” and bound by our connectional commitments to support each other, care for each other, pray for each other, and hold each other accountable in love.
While we recognize the importance of the Discipline to provide order and structure for our lives together, we also recognize that it is an imperfect document that undergoes revision every four years. We believe that the General Conference generally does its best to discern the movement of God’s Spirit for a particular historical moment, but we are also painfully aware that the General Conference sometimes fails to get it right. There have been moments when the General Conference has chosen by majority vote to institutionalize injustices that are clearly contrary to the will of God. The Central Jurisdiction and the ban on women’s ordination are but two of the most egregious examples. Those who sought to confront this ecclesiastical racism and sexism were also accused of violating our Wesleyan covenant because of their unwillingness to abide by the rules enshrined in the Discipline. We would argue, by contrast, that those who openly oppose injustice, even to the point of disobedience to the order and discipline of the Church, are those who most truly remain in covenant. They refuse to allow the Church to fall further and further into disobedience to the will of God. This is not about schism, but about holding the Church accountable to the highest ideals of the gospel.
Along these lines, we would claim that the narrow majority votes by which the General Conference has continued to maintain its exclusionary stance toward members of the LGBTQI community hardly represents discernment. It reveals that the Church is not of a common mind on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, but it hardly demonstrates, as some have claimed, that “Schism has already taken place in our connection.” Rather, it points to the need for deeper and more fervent prayer and a much greater openness to the work of God’s Spirit to perfect us in love. We have to do the hard work of struggling together and holding each other accountable in love. Only so do we stand a chance of rising out of our personal prejudices into the fullness of God’s kindom. As the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, we assert that our ability to discern the movement of God’s Spirit is impeded by rules and statements that are designed to exclude LGBTQI persons from full participation in the Church, and we commit ourselves to continue the struggle to overturn these rules. We will not do so, however, by separating from those of a different mind, but by continuing to engage in ways that may be confrontational and provocative, but are nevertheless loving. We have learned the value of relationships and are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that making and maintaining relationships is not peripheral to but is at the heart of our mission as God’s people.
Calls for schism are about more than just sexual orientation and gender identity. They are rooted in deep divisions over Christian theology and practice… what we believe the nature of God, the meaning of grace, the authority of the Bible and how we choose to live as followers of Jesus Christ committed to the transformation of the world. And yet, at its deepest core, schism is always about the control of resources. Those who call for schism seek the power to utilize resources in ways that are consistent with their values and their dreams. And yet, schism would prove disastrous to the Church’s financial capacity and would seriously undermine our global mission. The United Methodist Church is able to accomplish the tremendous work that it does for the world through UMCOR, the General Board of Global Ministries and other boards and agencies precisely because it is united. This is evidence of the power that comes from working together – even across our differences – in the unity that comes to us as a gift of God. It is our task to give flesh to this of God and make it a reality.
 LGBTQI refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex.
 “The Baptismal Covenant I” in The United Methodist Hymnal (1999; Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), p. 36.
 Rev. Maxie Dunham, quoted in “Press Statement: Regarding the Future of The United Methodist Church,” Good News Magazine (May 22, 2014).