“The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” – Luke 16:8
With this bible verse, Reinhold Niebuhr begins his work The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. Niebuhr’s theme in the work is that the good are often naive where the evil are shrewd. Those who wish to be good assume the best of their opponents and plan accordingly. They avoid the deployment of force against their opponents, assuming that the better angels of human nature will inevitably prevail. In contrast, those who lack such goodness do not play by such rules. They grasp power when it is available in order to lord it over the good. Unfortunately, because of this naivete of the good and the shrewdness of the evil, the good is often defeated.
Niebuhr’s account perfectly fits the state of The United Methodist Church today. Starting decades ago, there was pressure in The United Methodist Church for change to the language regarding the status of homosexuality. As happened more broadly in America, acceptance of homosexuality was spreading rapidly in the Church. Conservatives, the children of darkness, recognized this. So they devised a strategy to maintain the official condemnation of homosexuality in the Church. Every General Conference, conservative church leaders would threaten to break from the church if the conservative stance were not upheld.
Being children of light, the centrists and liberals in the Church were sensitive to this threat. They valued the unity of the Church and the good that was constantly being done through the whole of the church together. As such, every year there would be a come to Jesus moment where unity was affirmed and the centrists and liberals would put off the move toward justice for homosexuals one more round in order to keep the church together.
Many liberals and centrists were shocked at the 2016 General Conference when appeals to unity and the bonds of the Church did not have the power that they once did. What had changed was not the appeals, but to whom the appeals were oriented. With the inclusion of 1.4 million members from Ivory Coast, power in the General Conference swung from the liberal to the conservative end of the Church. Now, beyond just maintaining the language condemning homosexuality, conservatives wanted more power to carry out an inquisition against those who disagreed with them on the issue.
Liberals and centrists pointed out that this move would tear the church apart, and a last-minute motion was offered to allow a study commission look at the options for the future. We are now at the end of that process, but nothing has changed. With power on the conservative side of the Church, appeals for unity are no longer meaningful, because they never were to the conservatives. Caught up in their own power, they are willing to eject those they disagree with from the Church in order to defend their delusions of purity.
As it once was, it always is. The children of light refused to use power when they had it assuming that the power of goodness itself would secure victory. They forgot that Christ was crucified and that the assured victory of goodness is found only in the Kingdom. The children of darkness, however have been shrewd in their management of power.
The time draws nigh when the fundamentalists will take over The United Methodist Church, much as they did in The Southern Baptist Church. It is not clear whether it will happen at the 2019 General Conference or soon thereafter, but the children of darkness have made no secret of their plans to dominate the Church. And so long as they have the power, no one should doubt their willingness to use it. That they will crucify Christ again in the process is irrelevant.