Links and More:
Below I have tried to give basic answers to general questions. Following the questions/answers are links that will take you to videos, webpages, and facebook pages that will give more information about the upcoming special conference.
Why and how is The United Methodist Church divided?
Because there are so many United Methodists in the United States, the people in our churches tend to hold views that correspond to their geographical area. As such, as the United States is divided politically, those divisions can be reflected in the local church. In the discussions about LGBTQ inclusion in the United States in general we see divisions in rural areas vs urban areas, and the regions of our country such as the South, West, Northeast, or Midwest. The churches in these regions reflect similar divisions.
Add to that the fact that The United Methodist Church is a global church, and globally, we see those divisions, too. The churches in Africa, the Philippines, Korea, and other nations have as a whole not been in favor of LGBTQ inclusion. Often, in those contexts, human sexuality is understood differently, or, there is repression directly threatening to LGBTQ people. When the global church has gathered to make decisions, the conservative American South has built alliances globally, and this is part of why it has been so difficult to make progress locally.
We are a ‘big tent’ denomination. This means we have tremendous reach to do good all over the world. It also means that with some 80 million United Methodists worldwide, balancing attitudes and understanding of human sexuality has proved very challenging for our diverse church.
Who are the big influencers of The United Methodist Church right now?
Local churches are always the biggest influencers of the church. Local churches join together into districts and districts join together into conferences. Being a member of The United Methodist Church means you get a voice in the vote for governance of our greater church whenever our Annual Conferences gather.
Besides our connections to each other in conferences, we also band together in groups. The Reconciling Ministries Network is a group of United Methodists working for full inclusion. Other advocacy groups are the Western Methodist Justice Movement and the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Many of our United Methodist General Boards are also active in advocacy, such as the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Higher Education. Many United Methodist seminaries also affirm a desire for full inclusion. The loudest voice in Methodism against full inclusion belongs to the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
Will The United Methodist Church split?
It is possible that the church could split, splinter, or fracture. With so many diverse people from so many different places with such different and sometimes opposing attitudes, ruptures can happen. This has historically been a strength of Methodism. We value unity, but we also recognize sometimes a group needs to go their own way. These folks who have left the domination have historically been called ‘come-outers.’ A name that is fairly ironic in this context. It means simply that these local churches have 'come out' of the main Methodist body to form churches of their own.
Though it is healthy when there is some wiggle room for those who find themselves at odds with the main church, it can be a threat to church integrity when the divide becomes great. The conversation about the inclusion of LGBTQ people has resulted in a number of different opinions. The divide is real. No matter what decision is made in February, there will be people unhappy with it. Some of them may leave.
Has the Methodist church split before?
Yes. The church split North and South over slavery. Before the American Civil War there were many debates at Methodist conferences about slavery. Once the north had the votes to declare slaveholding against the moral tenets of the church, the southern churches split and formed their own denomination. The churches eventually reconciled to become once more a single denomination.
What progress has been made?
A lot, but not enough. We are blessed to live in the Western Jurisdiction where there is tremendous support for inclusion. The Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church includes Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, the Bishops have openly advocated for LGBTQ inclusion in all parts of church life. Rev. Karen Oliveto, a married lesbian woman of faith, was elected and consecrated as bishop from within this jurisdiction and is serving the Mountain Sky Regional Area.
What will happen in Ashland if The United Methodist Church splits?
Ashland decided in 2008 to be a fully welcoming church. Ashland is also in a very inclusive context. With both those things together I do not anticipate anything will change in terms of how we welcome all God’s beloved children here at Ashland Methodist, even if the global church were to rebound into harsher polity as a whole. If a split is necessary, I am confident in the leadership of our bishop and the bishops of our jurisdiction to lead us to a new day. The Lutheran church, Presbyterian Church, and other churches have experienced splits around this very issue. These churches continue to live vibrantly and hopefully in faith, as will we. I believe God calls us to inclusion, and that is the call I plan to follow.
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