"The Future of the Church?"
Last month, I gave a very brief overview of the events that took place at Annual Conference. The vote that took place not only for delegates, but also for resolutions from the conference showed the stark difference and divide that exists within our annual conference. I remember when I first became a pastor and went to annual conference it felt like a family reunion each year. There was typically some kind of "controversial" vote but that was usually confined to matters of budget or even property of the annual conference. The differences that exist now are much deeper and are harder to overcome. There are some who are still hopeful for resolutions that will keep our denomination together. I do not have those same hopes at least in terms of us staying one denomination. One of the questions that has been posed to me and that I have pondered is why?
Many believe that the issue revolves around human sexuality. In reality, that is just a symptom of a much deeper issue. The issue is really about worldviews and where those worldviews come from. This is something that has existed in our denomination since the inception of the United Methodist Church in 1968. At the first general conference of the United Methodist Church in 1972, language around sexuality was put in the Book of Discipline. But there was something else that happened at that conference that was even more divisive. Dr. Albert Outler, Wesleyan scholar at Perkins Theological Seminary, proposed what is now called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is something that we have discussed at certain points in the past. Wesley's theology can be summed up in "Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience." What happened in the proceeding years is that experience was placed above Scripture, tradition, and reason by some. This caused confusion in the church. At the 1988 General Conference, the primacy of Scripture was written into the Theological Task that is in our Discipline.
So with this small anecdote, you can see that this is something that has been a part of our history for decades. I want to say at the outset that wherever one falls on these issues it does not mean that someone is a heretic for not understanding the way you might. It truly is a different worldview. I, like so many, am heartbroken by the turmoil that has gripped our denomination. It is my hope that whatever form of Methodism that arises from our current place is one where we can wish one another well and go about the business of spreading the good news of Jesus. And although we may not agree with one another on this issue, there may very well be a host of other ministries that we can faithfully do together for the mission of Christ. It is my hope and prayer that the 2020 General Conference is one of peace and looks towards a future of Methodism that is focused on the roots of the movement – winning all people to Jesus. Just because there is a split within Methodism does not mean that the Methodist movement is gone. The witness of John and Charles Wesley will live on in whatever form this movement takes in the future. We hold on to that truth as we look for a brighter tomorrow and hope for a stronger and more vibrant Methodist movement that looks at the world as its parish.
May God's grace and provision be upon us all.