The Bible is clear that God’s people are to love. In the UMC it is probably the one single thing on which every person, without exception, agrees. You might think every pastor would agree on the substitutionary atonement of the cross- that Jesus died for our sins on the cross. Nope. Some, even if rare, have remained and do remain in good standing having expressed their opposition to this proclamation, even as it will likely always remain in our official agreed upon beliefs. Some are in leadership as pastors of pastors, in spite of saying we should quit preaching the substitutionary atonement. But I do not believe there are any who disagree that the Bible says we are to love.
That is not to say we are unified in love. While we do all believe God commands us to love, we do not agree upon the definition of love. It is not as simple as “love is love.” I’ll never forget a comment from the UMC 2016 General Conference: “Some show love (exclusively) through acceptance and some show love (exclusively) through correction.” Love, for most of us, is obviously not as polarizing a truth as that. Yet there seems to be a movement afoot that love is all acceptance and no correction. I would carry it further to say that some do not even consider it love to be accepting, but argue that true love must “affirm.” As an example, there was a recent headline stating that some were upset by the way the Chicago Marathon created a non-binary category for participants. Those who were upset were not happy that the marathon added the category too “matter of factly.” Even though the marathon’s inclusiveness went so far as to make the prize money the same as the male and female categories, some expressed dissatisfaction there was no pomp and circumstance from the marathon leadership regarding the new category. Thus is the difficulty in progressiveness. It has been said things begin with tolerance, move to acceptance, and then must be celebrated by all.
For those of us trying to figure out our future in the UMC, we have to decide how far things are going to go in the UMC and how far we, individually and as local churches, are willing to go. While we would like to think things will go no further than our agreed upon doctrine, that line was irrevocably crossed in 2016 with the ordination of a married gay bishop. At the time, some in the UMC wondered if gay married pastors would be as far as we would go. Today, six short years later, the disagreement has moved beyond gay married pastors, to trans, bi-sexual, non-binary, and drag. And just as those lifestyles now facing us were unheard of among the UMC clergy a decade ago, polyamorous relationship are the storm clouds appearing on the horizon. Again, traditional UMC congregants and clergy wonder how far this will go.
While not all UMC conferences have yet caved to the sexual relationship-du jour, the assumption among many is that this is unstoppable. Those pushing this agenda would, just as we agree on love, agree with my assessment that this is unstoppable, even if we do not agree on the reason. They would argue the movement is of God. Others would argue that God is letting wayward people have their way (as in chapters 1 and 2 of Romans). Those of us who hold fast to the official beliefs of the UMC do not have much hope that we will see a course correction and that we will witness a sudden adherence to our doctrine. Bishops who are holding fast to our doctrine are retiring or nearing retirement and more progressive bishops will, without a doubt be filling their shoes. For a denomination which says it wants people like me feel not only welcome, but wanted, the Bishop situation makes it appear that those are empty words. Just as the marathon found mere acceptance unacceptable, traditionalists in the UMC feel like we will eventually face the same.
As of right now, we (I and the church I serve) are hanging in there to see what 2024 holds. We are all praying that my wife and I get appointed here one more year for the 2023-2024 appointment year so we and the church can decide our futures together after walking for the last 10 years together. One reason we are staying for at least another year and a half is that the WV Annual Conference has maintained its covenant by honoring our Book of Discipline. And frankly, another reason is the anticipated cost of exiting in the WVAC. The last reason is that we know that we serve a God who can do all things. After a years long discernment process, the fact that “God can do anything” is the main reason Wesley Chapel UMC in Short Gap is not leaving and not necessarily resigned to leaving the UMC in 2024. God still does Miracles. We pray He performs one in 2024 with the UMC. Progressives and traditionalists probably agree, as well, that we are all praying for a miracle, even though we do not agree what that will look like.
***Just to elaborate on my disclaimer page: These are my personal thoughts on my personal blog (even as I give my opinion about the UMC and Wesley Chapel Short Gap here) and I do not speak on behalf of the UMC or any local UMC. I have written 1,782 blog posts dating back to 2010, obviously, there will be people who disagree with some of the things I write.***