There is a lot of talk in the UMC about division and schism. You can read some thoughts about it over at David F Watson’s site.
One of the things I’ve learned from this whole conversation is that there is such a thing as “Restrictive Rules." To be honest, I had to google their definition. Which at first, I realized that it’s an American political term.
So I added "UMC” to the google search. Then I found it: a definition can be found on the UMC’s website:
Statements specifying six things the General Conference of The United Methodist Church may not do. The Restrictive Rules are found in Section III of the Constitution. The General Conference may not “revoke, alter, or change” the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith, or the General Rules of the Societies….
I like the idea that there are certain things in our tradition that are nonnegotiable. With so much talk about what we don’t agree on, I wonder what would happen if we took The Articles and Confession of Faith seriously. Not sure what they say? Well, I challenge you to read them: http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1648
After looking at them (again), stop and think about the restrictive rule. The UMC can’t change these two documents. So if you don’t agree with them, why are you UM? I don’t say this from a point of arrogance. I don’t have a personal problem with people who disagree. I simply say this from a place of logic: as a denomination we are stuck with these articles. And as a United Methodist, I am ok with that. I submitted to this when I choose to be a UM pastor.
Having said that, there is nothing keeping you or anyone else from leaving and starting your own tradition. In fact, you could probably even keep some of what you liked from the articles, and throw out the rest. My point is simple: there are certain things that are by nature nonnegotiable for the UMC. For those who can agree, let’s agree. For those who can’t, let’s just choose to be friends and I hope to share fellowship with you outside of the denomination. For those who agree on the non-negotiables, but disagree on other things–let’s give ourselves time to work it out. I mean, every relationship has problems like this.
Or in the words of John Wesley:
Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.
I think unity is only possible when we focus on what makes us a unique tradition–what makes us similar. So let’s all spend some time reflecting on the non-negotiables and see if they are something worth fighting for.