By Chuck Griffin
Holston WCA Chair
Part Three of Three
Previously, I’ve talked about the likely split to come and the value of mutual care for one another regardless of theological differences. I also suggested some steps we can take now to prepare.
As the Holston WCA, we also have to prepare for the reality that progressives and centrists in our conference might decline to move toward mutual care. In the near future, you’ll be hearing about these Holston WCA efforts:
I also should address one issue that keeps arising since annual conference. People want to know if their churches should use the exit provision created at 2019 General Conference. In short, it’s probably too early for such a move and likely far too expensive for most local churches. Remember, if we establish a negotiated division of the United Methodist Church at 2020 General Conference, there may be little immediate expense for local churches—pension and other liabilities could be divided equitably between the new denominations. By the end of September, we should have a better idea of what will be proposed at 2020 General Conference.
Blessings on all of you! Be sure you have registered for e-mail updates. Simply go to the bottom of any Holston WCA web page and look for the registration box.
By Chuck Griffin
Holston WCA Chair
Part Two of Three
Previously, I talked about changing our mindsets, accepting the denominational split likely to come and moving toward mutual care for one another as the situation develops.
Here are two broad ideas Holston progressives, centrists and traditionalists need to explore and develop together, assuming they are able to agree to care for one another.
A Theological Alignment Plan
As painful as the process will be, our churches and pastors need to assess and openly declare where they stand on doctrine. I have in the past asserted our problems run much deeper than our approach to human sexuality—we are having basic disagreements about whether traditional methods of scriptural interpretation still apply. Some questions about human sexuality can help us define a stance pretty quickly, however.
Church administrative boards should go ahead and answer these questions: Would we welcome the appointment of a practicing homosexual as our pastor? Would we allow gay weddings in our sanctuary?
More generally, it would be very healthy for churches to assess how they approach Scripture. Is the Bible foundational to the Christian life? Do all the church’s members define words like “resurrection” and “sin” in the same way?
As for clergy—well, I’m not sure what to make of clergy who cannot clearly articulate their theological stances. We’ve been asked to do so annually on our consultation forms in the Holston Conference for at least a few years now. Classifying clergy at the conference level should be a relatively easy task. If a pastor has not answered the question clearly in the last few years, she or he should be asked again.
Once we see how churches align and pastors align, our bishop and cabinet should deal with mismatches between congregations and pastors as quickly as possible.
A Minority Support Plan
Anything like what I’ve proposed above frightens people for a few simple reasons. Lay people who find themselves to be a minority in a church may feel they are being pushed out. Clergy fear they may be out of a job if the ratio of traditional churches to progressive churches does not match the ratio of traditional pastors to progressive pastors—in other words, on one side or another there might not be enough pastoral jobs to go around.
I would note these problems are going to arise, anyway. As I said in Part One of this series, here comes the wave! Without advance planning, the repercussions will be swift and harsh, particularly for some clergy. But if we use the principle of mutual care to manage these changes as early as possible, more lay people and clergy will have soft and perhaps even happy landings in new church homes.
As we map out where our churches stand, it will be easier for people to voluntarily shift to a local church where they identify with the official doctrine. We could even find ourselves starting new churches clearly labeled as progressive or traditional, inviting clergy and laity who feel displaced to seek how God might be doing something new in their lives. Any funds we have designated for church development should go toward such efforts.
The Theological Alignment Plan needs to be executed quickly. I fear our conference leaders already have waited too long to do the serious work that needs to be done. The Minority Support Plan would have to follow on its heels without hesitation.
Next: Where There Is No Mutual Care
By Chuck Griffin
Chair, Holston WCA
First of Three Parts.
A split in our denomination is a near certainty. I know, I know, it’s hard to get our heads around this idea—so many have so much invested in the existence of the United Methodist Church.
But until all in the Holston Conference accept where we are likely headed, we are stuck in a painful place. When I say “all,” I mean all the types of disunited Methodists in our conference—progressive, centrist, traditional, or whatever other types there might be.
The crux of our denomination’s argument is how to understand God’s will via Scripture, and this disagreement is the typical dividing line between denominations. In the grand history of the universal church, the United Methodist Church’s half-century experiment in theological pluralism has been a strange one, and it has failed. If you disagree with me, please, try to imagine for a few minutes where the middle ground lies.
Once we accept the likely truth of the coming split in the UMC, we can move beyond the painful place toward something new. Paul needs to go one way, Barnabas needs to go another, and in time we’ll see whose work is effective for the kingdom.
If you haven’t read Dr. Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese,” go find a copy now. Change happens, and it is wise to adapt. Change is like a large wave coming at you while you stand waist-deep in the surf. You can ride the wave, you can dive into the wave, or you can turn your back on the wave and let it smack you in the head. Please, let’s not allow the wave to smack us in our heads.
I’m going to offer a new concept to guide us. Leading up to General Conference 2019, we heard a lot about “unity.” This vaporous talking point begged the question, “Unity around what?” And of course, unity dissipated rapidly once General Conference 2019 began.
A better concept is “mutual care,” which is much easier to understand and live out in our present circumstances. This is the kind of care loving people show one another when they realize with great sadness they can no longer be together. Divorce is never a good thing, but we’ve all seen how some divorces go better than others.
The concept of mutual care should guide us as we take practical action within our conference. If we adjust our way of thinking now, we will be much better prepared for what is to come, be it a well-negotiated separation at General Conference 2020 or a walkout by one group or another.
Next: Using Mutual Care to Prepare
From Holston WCA Board Member Brad Scott, via his “Encouraging Word” blog: “The Church Is of God: A Glimpse of Hope in a Time of Struggle”
Holston WCA Chair
I can tell from social media there is a lot of “what’s next” talk among Traditionalists in the Holston Conference following our annual conference.
There is something we need to be doing now and continually—pray. In particular, we need to pray in ways that keep our hearts aligned with God and open to communication with progressives in the conference. Wherever we are headed, we will need to be able to talk.
On Sunday at annual conference, the Rev. Kim Goddard, the first clergy person elected to our General Conference 2020 delegation, offered the gathered body a covenant to consider. I liked it, and I intend to treat it as a prayer, lifting it daily and allowing it to shape my other prayers until General Conference 2020 arrives. Here it is:
I covenant to pattern my belief and practice by the life and teaching of Jesus, revealed in Holy Scripture, and seasoned by tradition, reason and experience.
I covenant to focus on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
I covenant to pray for clear direction for the United Methodist Church, the Holston Conference, for my district and local church, and for myself. I pray for courage to follow the direction I believe God is leading.
I covenant to see every person as beloved by God and created in God’s Image.
I covenant to treat all with respect by assuming the best in others, speaking the truth with love, and avoiding divisive and hurtful speech or actions.
I covenant to work for a fair and just resolution giving every Holston United Methodist a church free of divisive fights and acts that harm our church and our witness.
I hope some of you will join me in this endeavor. Blessings on all of you.