June 27, 2014

Help for Finding Our Way Forward

In a recent article from the Confessing Movement’s e-newsletter, Riley Case continues the conversation as we United Methodists try to find the way forward. In the article he notes the just released book, Finding Our Way: Love and Law in The United Methodist Church, edited by Reuben Job and Neil Alexander. Dr. Case says that “our doctrines are being challenged; our covenants are being violated; and our unity is being shattered.” This sounds ominous and a bit scary. But this is not the first time. Our denomination has split and reunified numerous times. 

Are we a church divided, as the article states? Yes, and we have always been. Perhaps we should, instead, count it as one of our strengths. The UMC has always been multi-vocal on any host of social issues. Race is one but also Prohibition, pacifism, women’s rights, and abortion to name a few. We live under a big tent that can accommodate many views. 

In my office I have a helpful “map” of the history of Methodism. The chart was compiled in 1900 by Rev. V. P. George, D.D. and is aptly titled, “George’s Chart of Ecumenical Methodism from 1739 to 1900.”  The top of this “panorama” reads, “’Methodism is one all the world over.’ (Wesley).” Except when it’s not.

This fascinating document lists 34 separate Methodist churches and their total membership as parts of the Methodist family. Some will be familiar, for example, the United Brethren Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, Wesleyan Methodist Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church South. However also listed are the Evangelist Missionary Church, Primitive Methodists, French Wesleyan Methodists, and the Wesleyan Reform Union Church. Obviously we Methodists have organized, split, divided, and then reunified many times. So yes, contrary to what the article says, there has been talk about separation before, many times. In fact, it seems that reorganization is one of the things our church does best, so it’s nothing to fear. But it is also not a reason to boast.

Grace, Kathy

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