“Just Stay with the Northern Illinois Conference in the United Methodist Church. You won’t have to change a thing.”
Well, not really.
Our annual conference leaders prefer us to believe that the separation protocol and legislation coming to the General Conference needn’t require us to bother about our preferred future — whether for ourselves personally or for the local church of which we are a part. They assure us that “nothing will change”; so, we are told, “just stay with the post-separation United Methodist Church”.
The Special General Conference of 2019 forced us all to recognize that there are irreconcilable differences among United Methodists and an institutional divorce is not only imminent, but apparently at this point the best outcome to move past United Methodism’s insoluble conflict.
And, as anyone who has lived through a family break-up knows, the promise that “nothing will change” is simply not the case.
Can you and your congregation remain as part of the post-separation United Methodist Church?
But here is what you likely will experience if you choose to stay:
- You will become part of the “Progressive” post-separation United Methodist Church. This will mean that the preaching you hear, your official Sunday School materials, your confirmation curriculum, and your youth group programming will be re-written to conform to the tenets of Progressive Christianity. As one of our recent Bishops in the Northern Illinois Conference put it, “Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed…they’re all the same.” You’ll have to get used to leaving the Bible on the shelf, unless you squeeze it through the filter of a particular political perspective. This means you and your local church will be largely divorced not only from the “traditionalist” Methodists, but also from the overwhelming majority of Christians around the globe. The overwhelming majority of Christ-followers and congregations globally are committed to what Christians have always believed everywhere. Progressive Christians are apparently convinced that they have uncovered the secrets of a better way to be a Christian which, oddly, seems to mimic the largely North American and European academic elite perceptions of what is real, socially acceptable, and morally preferred. (If you want to know more about Progressive Christianity, you can check it out in the words of progressive Christians).
- You will need to re-align your local church with the new order of the Progressive post-separation United Methodist Church. The first General Conference of the post-separation United Methodist Church is expected to significantly change the Book of Discipline to conform to Progressive priorities. You can expect that post-separation United Methodism will require, among other things, that your church host and support weddings of LGBTQIA+ persons, receive as your appointed pastor a LGBTQIA+ person, and use your apportionment dollars to help fund LGBTQIA+ advocacy. Bishops, of course, will assure you that they will “protect” you from the Progressive agenda, if that is your congregation’s preference, but one Bishop cannot bind the decisions of the next Bishop. If you are unclear on how this works, see the biblical example of what happened to Joseph in Egypt when “a Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Besides, if the legislation of the proposed Protocol for separation is adopted, your local church has a limited amount of time to make a choice about whether to remain part of the Progressive post-separation United Methodist Church or align with the emerging global network of traditional Methodists.
- You will be part of a shrinking, financially distressed, bureaucratically overburdened, and conflict-ridden institution. The post-separation United Methodist Church will experience a highly conflicted launch as various constituencies fight it out over visions of being appropriately “progressive” or “liberationist.” Currently the United Methodist Church in the USA loses nearly 100,000 members each year. The conflict in the post-separation United Methodist Church is likely to increase that amount substantially since few people want to be part of the intramural squabble between Progressives and Liberationists. Add those annual losses to an anticipated 1.5-2.0 million United Methodists who will leave to form the emerging traditionalist Methodist church, and the financial resources of the post-separation United Methodist Church will experience a steep and dramatic decline. Consequently, there will be conflicts over re-organizing boards and agencies, reductions in force, the inability to “guarantee” appointments for clergy, and a general institutional retrenchment. Already the General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church estimates that the Episcopal Fund, which provides salary and benefits for all United Methodist Bishops, will run dry no later than 2024.
Sometimes we are committed to organizations, institutions, or causes no matter what. We’ll go down with the ship…and feel righteous for doing so. The question for each of us and our congregations is whether the questionable road of aligning with the Progressive post-separation United Methodist Church is that kind of organization, institution, or cause. Or whether, perhaps, we should consider the alternative of making the newly emerging, global traditionalist Methodist church our home.
It’s worth a second thought.