Since the papacy of Francis, it seems there is not a month that passes without the Pope embarrassing himself or the entire church with his behavior or words. The Methodists decided to give him a break this winter and contributed to headlines across America. The United Methodist Church decided to not bend the rules of God by officiating same-sex marriages nor allowing openly LGBT clergy. This has set the UMC on a path towards schism. More importantly, it showed an effective coordination campaign by a traditionalist branch within an organization.
Before defending the traditionalists, it is honest to point out that they have allowed female clergy since the late ’60s. The church has suffered from the same weaknesses other mainline Protestant churches have exhibited. This goes back to two major mistakes. The first was a generation ago when the church decided to engage in what it called ‘openness’. This was inclusion before it was called inclusion and a liberal mindset. Cynics would argue that it was a ploy to fill the pews. Degenerates do not go to church unless they have hit rock bottom or are forced to in jail. This turned off traditionalists and allowed some reverends to engage in very liberal sermons and behaviors in their parishes.
The second mistake was having little control over their seminaries. Like virtually all Western institutions, the key was the training of future church leaders. There is where the liberals took hold and pumped out more liberal and progressive reverends. Few seminaries stuck to the Wesleyan model of a traditionalist view of religion and the faith. The majority decided to offer classes on Islam, produce atheists who were reverends for the attention and even churned out students who left the seminary to convert to Judaism.
This created an atmosphere where the shepherds moved left while the laymen wondered what was happening. The UMC is set up centralized like the Catholic church where bishops assign reverends to parishes. If a node was filled by a progressive bishop, he would fill parishes with dandy reverends. The buzzcut lady reverend found its way into the minds of Methodists with this infiltration. This made council votes tougher too as the progressive bloc could count on their ideological solidarity for votes. This was their mistake.
The vote held this winter was about sticking to God’s word or making the big announcement to the world that the UMC was a good, progressive church like those Episcopalians and Unitarians that have beautiful yet empty churches. Heading into the vote, the trad faction did not think things would go well, and many had set the issue of LGBT inclusion as their red line for leaving. Trads talked about leaving for 2020 in the event that they lost the vote.
Then the trads started talking differently. The internet was their friend, and they started to focus on nominating council attendees that they knew would vote for the traditionalist plan. Rather than nominate attendees as nice guys or even learned theologians, they decided to push for their side. They knew the progressive wing did it, so why not return the favor.
This worked incredibly well, and supposedly at the council vote, the moment the American trads started voting one after another for the traditionalist plan, the progressives screamed that something was up. No one cared because this is what progressives have always done. These were American trads because the foreign Methodists voted for the traditionalist plan by a 70-30 margin.
The foreign vote revealed something else. First, that the foreign wing of the church is more of the book. The next revelation was that the American church has presentation crews to discuss what a vote was about, and when different foreign reverends compared notes they noticed that the story told by progressive presentations did not match the the presentations of moderate and trad crews. As foreign reverends listened on, their response was, “What did you preach to us decades ago“?
The trads won with a 53%-47% vote thanks for the foreign contingent, but this was not the whole story. There were foreign attendees who could not make it in time to vote, which would have pushed the margin wider. Some suspect neutral presentations would have pushed the trad plan to a wider margin. Some suspected this enough that in the future there will be balanced crews to make sure voting issues are explained as they are, not as progressives wish them to be.
The more important piece to the vote is that the trads did not just win a vote and relax. They made changes to secure their victory. They made changes to prevent the skinsuiting of their church. Why let the progressives win, kill the church, and then parade around in its trappings like the zombie churches of mainline Protestanism. These changes also help the trads out in the event there is no schism, and in the future, they get outvoted by the progressives.
An important change was in disciplining reverends for breaking rules. Officiate a same-sex marriage once, and you are barred for a year without pay. Twice and you are expelled. The coming schism is set up with easier exits for upset reverends and even parishes. Effective January 1, 2020, a reverend can leave and collect his pension with the full contribution from the UMC. Previously, a reverend would leave and only take his contributions towards his pension. A similar move was made with entire parishes. If a parish wishes to leave, as long as tithing is up to date, they can keep their building. In the old rules, they would have had to sacrifice their building to leave.
This sets up the schism for 2020. Most of the news articles on the Methodists have framed things as the good and righteous LGBT friendly faction wondering where they will go and what they will do. Angry churches are withholding their dues because like all good American progressives, they will use money as a weapon. Reverends are now also declaring openly in sermons how they feel as a way to gauge their support within their church. Signals are being sent out and a sorting will occur in the run up to 2020.
The trads do not care. They knew that the trajectory before the ’19 vote would lead to empty churches with a gay reverend talking about himself to no one. With this vote and these rule changes, they can exit if need be in the near future. The better and more desirable outcome is to force an exit by their opponents and build a stronger, smaller church. Burning off the weaker layers will leave a harder, purer form to carry forth the light of God.
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Excellent presentation of how on-the-ground support for your team’s leaders can result in real-world political wins. Bravo.