Divorce: Methodists’ Style

Divorce CourtIt’s time for the people of the United Methodist Church to have a divorce. Jesus condemned divorce, yet in our understanding of modern psychology we have come to accept it as sometimes a necessity. When people quarrel endlessly for 47 years, disparaging each other, and focusing on a single unresolved issue, then it’s time to move on.

We’ve heard pleas for reconciliation and discernment, and the Council of Bishops tried to open up church polity to more diversity. It failed, and with it we got a confirmed position of maintaining the status quo both in terms of doctrine and in church structure. Folks worry that the complicated structure of a connectional denomination that doesn’t have “independent” congregations will simply dissolve into nothing. The Episcopalians and Presbyterians did it and survived.

I’m not a “sore loser.” I simply believe that when we lose focus on the mission of the church to evangelize and to bring the good news to all nations, then we have the wrong priorities. The purpose of the church is not to be self-sustaining either in providing jobs for the clergy or the administrative structure of the organization. Our objective is not to enforce compliance with current dogma. Power plays and politics are just a sideshow.

Divorce always is a painful process and an admission of failure to fulfill our vows, but it is a better alternative to remaining in a destructive relationship that destroys the people involved. The pain and suffering of a divorce is less than continuing years of conflict that never can be resolved no matter how hard people may try. We’ve had commissions to study our problems and to make recommendations, but they didn’t work. The neo-colonialism of the Methodist structure has perpetuated a system of patronage and inequality. We’re trying to mesh many cultures without any effort at assimilation. Europe has faced this problem with a surge of refuges that we are only beginning to recognize. The United States has been a melting pot nation that has welcomed cultural diversity and yet brought people together in a community of tolerance and acceptance.

Now the United States is experiencing a clash of cultures, economic classes, and warring ideologies both political and religious. The United Methodist Church is only symptomatic of the broader breaches in our society. People claim we have become less Christian and more secular, but in fact we have become more representative of the many religious communities within this country. We’re quickly becoming less white, Anglo-Saxon, and protestant, and some in the existing power structure are frightened of losing control.

Let us separate with as little acrimony as possible and move on to a new structure with new hope and vigor and less fighting.