Schism on the Horizon

As a lifelong United Methodist and former UMC Pastor, I am heartbroken at the impending schism that is before us. There is a great divide that is splitting the church and sadly, those on the left are labeling it as intolerant, and demeaning. While those on the right see it not as an issue of homosexuality, rather as issue of biblical accuracy and adherence.

The issue is whether or not the denomination will begin to admit, ordain, consecrate, self-avowed practicing homosexuals into the ministry of the church. The issue is further stretched to allowing ordained ministers of the denomination to perform civil unions of same sex individuals.

Currently the Book of Discipline, the governing documents of the UMC, states clearly, that, “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be ordained, or serve as pastors. Moreover, it states that ordained pastors cannot conduct, preside over or participate in same sex unions.

What is before the church in May of this year is a vote to divide the church into two separate denominations. Those who support the removal of this position and those who adhere to more traditional orthodoxy.

The split is coming, the question is how painful will it be? What will happen to the new denomination? Will the structure be similar, will each church be autonomous, will the itinerant system survive this divide? What about the pastors? Where will they go? which denomination will they adhere to? Will they be guaranteed an appointment as provided in the Book of Discipline? Will they now have to be called to a congregation?

With all of this clouding the issue, I believe it is important that we see the real issue is not any of the politics of the church, or church structure. It is whether or not we will call a sin a sin.

When did we mortals get to define what is offensive to God? How are we able to determine what God sees as detestible and what he does not? The only reference we have is his word in scripture, and scripture to me and to many others is clear on this subject.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, men who practise homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. (1 Timothy. 1:9-10)

Please do NOT misinterpret this from me. Sin is sin, and there is no sin greater than another. I too am a sinner in need of God’s grace. I am not distinguishing one sin from another. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace and forgiveness, including me. As Paul said in Romans, (I am paraphrasing here) “I am the worst sinner of all.” The issue is simply trying to say that a certain behavior is no longer a sin. This is very dangerous ground. What sin will we remove next? Adultery, idolatry, hatred, drunkenness? Where does it stop?

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Which “Thou shall not…” will we change to….”You can if you want to…” When the people of the church begin to redefine what is a sin, we open the door to spiritual anarchy. When God is no longer whom we worship, admire, fear, and adhere too, what then is left other than selfish-ambition and self-worship?

Are we not then, removing the God of creation, the God of authority and the Godhead of the trinity and replacing it with ourselves?

Tread lightly, pray unceasingly, and remember from the prophet Micah,

“what does the lord require of you, but to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

May God be with us as we maneuver this schism and return to making disciples.