Two kids in my wife’s Middle School class got in a fight the other day. The one who started throwing punches justified his aggression with the claim that the other had spit water on him in an earlier class. Of course, anyone familiar with humanity (much less sinfulness) will immediately recognize that, whatever spitting occurred, this was not the origin of the fight. The origin came long before: in words, in gestures, in the corruption of the human heart.
Today, I was informed that United Methodism is done. I know that it is true because it came from no less reliable source than Dr. David Watson, a Dean at United Theological Seminary in Ohio. Now, I don’t know much, but I do know that Watson is one of the most levelheaded United Methodists in the world today.
I wish that David’s warning were not true. But respecting him as I do, I have actually suggested, in my comments on his post, that he is being overly optimistic.
“The result won’t be division. That, too, would require an action of the General Conference, and the GC will never do this. It is not even clear if the bureaucracy of the GC could do this. The Judicial Council would probably just throw the decision out the next day anyway. There will be no division of the denomination. Instead we face the end of the denomination. It will not come too quickly. Progressives will either continue to break the Discipline or will change it. No mater which, conservative churches will try to leave. The Church will take them to court. It will end up costing massive amounts of money, money that we don’t have, and that would better be spent on other things. In the end, it will just add more blood to the hemorrhaging that we already witness in the Church. This is all to say that I don’t disagree with your argument here, but you are putting too bright a face on what we are looking at for the future.”
Notably, several commenters reacting to Watson’s blog (and at least one reacting to my response) jumped upon the opportunity to re-draw conservative/liberal lines within the Church, and blame one or the other side for the failure of the Church.
As I have noted before, this entire process is similar to the activity of the children in my wife’s class. Liberals will, with some justification, point to the intransigence and occasional threats of schism from the conservatives to maintain the status quo against rising reasonable disagreement. Conservatives will, with some justification, point to the ecclesial disobedience of progressive clergy and the failure of bishops to maintain order in the Church.* Such is the nature of sin that we see the speck in the others’ eye far earlier than we see the log in our own.
Acting in this way, liberals and conservatives will both be able to celebrate the eventual collapse the Church that God has spent so much energy creating in the fallen world; being able to split God’s order and God’s activity so as to worship their partial images of God for the near future. The human mind, as some theologian aptly noted, is the factory of idols. To this I add for modernity’s sake: conservative and liberal idols.
So I stand now as Jonah to the Nineveh of conservative and liberalism in the Church. To you, liberals and conservatives, I say: “Repent, or you will both lose the Church which you love. The judgment of God is upon you. This is the word of the Lord!”
I wish, in such a proclamation, that I could claim the authority of a divine revelation. Unfortunately, it only takes a normal human intellect to realize the extent to which the United Methodist Church is willing, in the present, to bring itself to collapse in contradiction of God’s nature and will.
By way of a side note, it is useful here to clarify: the function of a prophet is not to predict the future, though I fear that I have done such. The function of a prophet is to call people back to God. Please, people of the United Methodist Church, allow this to be a prophetic message to you.
* For the record, I agree entirely with the posts from Stephen Rankin and Wendy Deichman on the argument from church order.