At this very moment, as I sit in Portland, rumors of ecclesial divorce swirl about me. The United Methodist Church seems poised to claim irreconcilable differences. This has filled me with a mixture of both sadness and cautious optimism. While I know that I will go through a grieving process myself if the denomination that I now call home dies in its current incarnation, watching my friends and peers who have called the denomination home for decades or, in many cases, all of their lives adds an additional weightiness to this possibility. The optimism comes from the hope of seeing the birth of something new, a church where all are able to be authentic both in terms of their identity and also with regards to how and whom they love.
Very little is certain today, but barring an unforeseen miracle, it appears that we are very likely headed for a split into two, or possibly even three denominations. As with any divorce, there will be discussions of assets and finances, and I know there will certainly be a battle over who continues to use the family name.
A select group with representatives from across the theological spectrum of the denomination has been meeting at the request of the Council of Bishops to find a way to mediate and resolve our strong feelings of difference over issues of LGBTQ inclusion or exclusion. The members of that panel have come back and said that our differences cannot be resolved. Certain factions within our church are not willing to compromise on this issue. So, with two years to go until the 50th anniversary of our denomination in its current form, it appears that we will be filing for divorce.
While in the long-term, this may be best for all, but, in the short-term this has the potential to be very messy, and my heart immediately goes to the children and to think about how they will be impacted by their parents’ inability to agree. It seems inevitable that, if we split, that at least some LGBTQ children will be left in church’s where they are not fully valued and affirmed as the children of God that they are. I am encouraged to know that a split will allow for churches for those children to come into once they reach adulthood, but, until they reach a point of self-determination, they may be forced to grow up in churches where they are able to live in the fullness of community without hiding aspects of who they are. I pray that, regardless of the outcome, that we will be considerate of those that are “the least of these,” those that because of age or financial means do not have the ability to self-determine the course of their religious experience.