Talked with local church leaders yesterday. The leaders were upset. A Bishop and a local pastor both violated the Discipline of our United Methodist Church by performing a same sex marriage. The pastor was punished with a one month suspension and we now wait to see what the result the Bishop’s trial will be. One church leader said “I have personally been in this fight since 1973 and I am tired. I am thinking about leaving.” All I had were three words: Hang in there. We could soon have full inclusion in some places.
What if the United Methodist Church could be ruled by a Discipline that allowed for limited regional separation? This means that distinctively different Jurisdictions might operate with a different set of rules on same sex ordination and marriage. The Western Jurisdiction supports full inclusion; the South Central and Southeastern Jurisdictions do not. The Western Jurisdiction will lose members if the ban on gay marriage and ordination continues, while the South Central and Southeastern Jurisdiction will lose members if this ban is lifted. Legislation needs to come that will hold the UMC together while honoring these regional differences.
We already have a precedent. By Discipline the denomination suggests an organizational structure for local church life but the Discipline also says (paraphrase here) “If this structure doesn’t work for your church then please make the necessary adjustments for ministry in your context.” (paragraph 244.2 BOD for those of you who want to look it up). The Denomination recognizes that churches of different size, complexity, and culture need some flexibility to honor those differences. We are talking about something similar here. The Southeastern Jurisdiction has a different UMC culture than the Western Jurisdiction. There should be some differences in our rule of law that recognizes and honor these regional differences.
Our church is not going to split like the Baptists have done. The denomination holds deed on all the property and that stops people from breaking away. “Go ahead; leave to organize a new local church, but leave the keys with us!” The property stays with the denomination. I am afraid that if we fail to provide Disciplinary provision for regional and cultural differences we will end up like our European brothers and sisters: plenty of property but very few in worship.