A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand
Lincoln used this phrase in a speech preceding the Civil War. We’re not quite to the point of a civil war, but our nation certainly is divided. I cannot recall a period when we have been so polarized over social, economic, environmental, religious, and political issues. We’ve been bombarded with political diatribes and ads for almost a year to where I’ve almost reached the point of mental and emotional exhaustion.
The United Methodist Church has been divided over one social issue for 40 years that is threatening to tear apart the denomination. In fact, some are suggesting a secession as the only solution. The arguments have become more than a distraction; the debate over dogma has created a climate of hostility that is as angry as our political debates. Some have called for compromise, but none have been able to define what that might be.
The election of a lesbian bishop recently will be a spark at the next meeting of the Council of Bishops that may blow up the whole debate and finally create an administrative division of the no-longer United Methodist Church. When, where, and how this new division may take place remains to be seen, but it appears to be increasingly inevitable. The calls for Christian Unity ring hollow as they simply cover up an attitude of maintaining the status quo, which is unacceptable to all sides.
Dialogue, discernment, and delay to many appear to be simply political stall tactics preventing any change either in attitude or beliefs. We are at a point where our differences seem irreconcilable. Now the discussion has moved on to how to divide the power, the properties, and the apportionments.
The issue of transgender and gender identity within the past year have reached a crisis point here in North Carolina that has had national repercussions. It may, or may not be resolved at the November election, but the debate already has had devastating consequences for the state. Let’s hope that the debate within the church over sexuality will not have similar consequences for the United Methodist Church. It is no longer an issue of interpretation of a few scriptures of the Bible nor about obedience to the covenant of the Book of Discipline. The church already has broken that covenant with the lie of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” We’re about as hostile and unwelcoming as it can get.
The United Methodist Church already is an outlier compared with other mainstream Protestant denominations, some of which have split. We may face the disaster of being perceived as irrelevant in the lives of most people. They simply are leaving any form of organized religion. We are a secular nation that professes to be Christian but does not practice the principles of Christianity.
Yes, we have some non-denominational mega-churches formed around the personality of a particular preacher, but we’ve seen what happened to that type of organization with the collapse of the Crystal Cathedral in recent years. Surely the churches will change in form and structure as society makes new demands for services, just as it has done with the schools. We must become in mission, not only to those in far-away lands. Faith, hope, and love are the answers to the problems we face if only we have to courage to live them out in our personal lives as well as within the structure we call the church. If we continue to focus only on that which divides us, we never will find solutions.