On Schism

The United Methodist News Service, dated October 13, 2016, featured an article: Schism Is a Failure of Love and Leadership by Bishop (ret.) Kenneth L. Carder. The complete article can be found here.

Bishop Carder is deeply disturbed by the turmoil within the United Methodist Church. He is very concerned that the church may end up in a schism, which he believes is not in the best interest of all concerned. Bishop Carder is not alone in his concern for the well being of the Christian community in general and the United Methodist Church in particular.

To support his hypothesis that a split within the church is a ‘transparent betrayal of the church’s nature and mission’, Bishop Carder quotes from John Wesley’s Sermon 75. The complete sermon can be found here. The particular quote used comes from Section II.1, one line of which I feel summarizes his point:

It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. . . . It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren.

Bishop Carder is quite earnest in his writing and provides much food for thought, but I am not in agreement with his conclusion. Certainly, I believe there is a failure of leadership in the church, but I don’t believe a schism will come about because of a failure to love. I believe a schism will come about if one group is successful in its attempt to make the sin of homosexual practices acceptable.

John Wesley did not take a schism within the church lightly, and he provides compelling words for rejection. John Wesley does address the single reason that he would support a schism in Section II.7 of Sermon 75, and he is very pointed with his reasoning:

. . . we were constrained to separate from that society, because we could not continue therein with a clear conscience; we could not continue without sin

. . . if this was the case, you could not be blamed for separating from that society

. . . suppose you could not remain . . . without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands

. . . Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” . . . I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul

. . . if I could not continue united to any smaller society . . . without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society

. . . the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, . . . would not lie upon me but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply

As John Wesley points out, a separation is not warranted over inconsequential issues such as whether or not your pastor is better than mine, or a fellow parishioner is committing adultery, or whether you take the Lord’s Supper before me. As he also points out, a separation is warranted when someone is forced to accept from pulpit, leadership, and church orthodoxy that a sin is acceptable.

John Wesley stated my position most succinctly when he said, “. . . if I could not continue united to any smaller society . . . without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society”.

Do I want the United Methodist Church to split? Certainly not! That is why I am staying the course and writing about my personal beliefs and why I hold them. I will continue on as a United Methodist unless such time occurs that ‘(I) could not continue therein with a clear conscience; (I) could not continue without sin.’

If the church should decide that the practice of homosexuality is acceptable then I will make my own personal schism because, as Wesley stated, “. . . the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, . . . would not lie upon me but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply”.

I agree that a schism will come because of a failure of leadership. If the church leaders acquiesce to those pushing a social agenda over God’s Commandments they will have failed in their duty by allowing ‘. . . something which the word of God forbids’.

I disagree that a schism will occur because of a failure to love. We are called as Christians to love our neighbor; we are not called to enable the pursuit of sin or speak falsely so that good feelings abound. Jesus spoke of this in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father never stopped loving his son even though the son made demands and left his father’s house. The father continued to love his son and showered him with love upon his return.

If a schism should happen I will feel sadness down to my very core, but I will not feel guilty. I will continue to love my neighbor, as God, in His infinite mercy, continues to love me.

47 thoughts on “On Schism”

  1. Wow! Thoughtful blog that sets out boundaries for a believing community. AND a view of love that is not ameobic and vague.

    No matter which side of the sex/gender issue the reader stands on–the ordination of gay clergy, election of gay bishops–there comes a moment when we must find our voice and determine our course of action.

    When life within a spiritual community becomes unbearable due to a failure of leadership to act courageously, and when politics, hatred, and uncivil behavior tries to cower and shame members into compliance, it is time to sever the relationship and leave the community.

  2. Mr. Stiles,
    It seems to me that what you present it much to simple an answer. The deeper issue has to lie in whether homosexuality is a sin. There is not commandment of God about it–there is only the council of church leaders in that day who knew nothing about modern science and psychology. I understand that your perspective on the source of the Scripture (which I deeply respect) is different from mine, but somehow we must not overthrow God’s loving acceptance of all of God’s children because of a out-dated perspective on a few verses of Scripture. You seemed to have drawn a line in the sand and that means a split is imminent, unfortunately.

    1. It is never outdated. That is a major problem. We cannot take the Thomas Jefferson route and cut out the parts we disagree with. Nor can we simply claim it is outdated. It remains the living word of God – not just some book written a long time ago.

      Rev Cheis Bennett

      1. Chris, as a retired elder of the church, I am conflicted on this issue but your response gives me concern. If you claim that we cannot cut out parts we disagree with (which I do not believe Dr. Marshall said), then how do you deal with those words where God said kill everyone, women, children? Or that passage of Jesus that states one must hate father, mother, sister, brother in order to be his disciple,etc.

    2. Modern science affirms that human sexual biology is complementary in form and function. Modern science also affirms that the categorical rejection of the form and function of a biological system be it digestive or sexual is disordered.

      The issue is who we have sex with NOT who we love. The Bible encourages me to love my family and my neighbor and PROHIBTS me from having sex with them.

      The passages in Lev that prohibit homosexual practices are intertwined with passages that prohibit incest yet most who consider the prohibition on homosexual practices to be obsolete consider the prohibition on incest to be valid today.

      1. Why are you recycling old racist arguments from back when I was young? I mean, I was once accused of advocating for the “unnatural sin, like incest, of miscegenation.” Same dubious, self-privileging science claims, too. God and nature made me superior to “those people” and science backs me up. Really…

        Why am I hearing the same thing again in the 21st Century against a worldwide, multi-ethnic minority group that is challenging dangerous patriarchal attitudes?

        The Leviticus clobber verse doesn’t condemn a much abused, modern era social construct.
        Go read all of Lev. 18. It’s fairly clear that it’s about the politics of ancient Jewish identity… of not doing as the Egyptians and the Canaanites do, which was worship fertility cult gods like Moloch. Verse 22 may refer to the ancient fertility cult practice of a man laying with a cross dressing priest to offer up his male “seed” sacrifice to the god.

        Also, go study ancient concepts of sex and reproduction. As you would expect from people who had no idea that there were sperm and egg cells, they’re very different from ours…maybe even your’s too.

        In any case, why would a Gay man lie with a man like woman? Why would he even want to? However, a straight man might, so… don’t.

    3. If one takes the time to look at God’s Creation prior to The Fall (that is, the introduction of sin), the only sexual expression that God gave and blessed is that of husband (man) and wife (woman). Ever since The Fall, God has been seeking to both redeem AND restore us to our intended design–which is clear prior to the introduction of sin.

      1. Those verses were about affirming patriarchy and have been used to justify the oppression of women. We don’t live in a patriarchal society, for which I’m grateful.

  3. I wish to belong to a church that places God’s commandments in priority over one that bends in favor of political correctness.

  4. I just read a wonderful piece of journalism by a retired cleric, Rev. Womack, and I concur with his hypothesis, that abusive homosexuality is what the Bible condemns. The UMC has changed their views and their rulings many times.
    Women could not be ordained until 1956.
    Until 1968, clergy could not consume alcohol, or tobacco.
    It was not until 1972 that homosexuality was considered to be “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
    Homosexuality that leads to long term, committed relationships was never condemned in the Bible, according to Rev. Womack, who is a theological scholar. His final and compelling statement is that if we have the motto of “Open Doors, Open Hearts and Open Minds,” we should live by these words.
    I pray that one day all in the UMC will come to realize that our LBGT sisters and brothers should be allowed to marry within the church and if any of our LBGT sisters and brothers graduate from an accepted seminary, they should be allowed to be ordained.
    It was not too long ago that we thought that “women should keep silent in church,” and now our sisters are pastors of churches, district superintendents, and bishops.
    Some of our more progressive annual conferences are ordaining our LBGT sisters and brothers, and there is at least one bishop who is married to her wife, who is, also, a minister.
    John Wesley, himself, eschewed strict dogma.
    Let us progress into the 2 1st century.
    It took us until the 20th century to ordain women, and allow clergy to have a glass of wine with dinner.
    Blessings, always,
    Carla

    1. I am intrigued…. from what source does Rev Womack get his information that “homosexuality that leads to long term, committed relationships was never condemned in the Bible”? I don’t recall any statements to that effect but if someone can point them out I would be interested in exploring them further. But what about the gays who ask for acceptance no matter what their lifestyle? Is the Book of Discipline going to reframe the rule to read “Homosexuality is compatible with a Christian lifestyle UNLESS it involves multiple partners or other forms of promiscuity”? What then will those unmarried gays say? That the church is still discriminating against them, not allowing them freedom of expression in the way in which they were created? Scriptures tell us that Jesus is always calling us out, to be separate from the ways of the world. The toughest thing for any of us to do is to completely sublimate ourselves to the will of God. We all fail at that in one way or another (every day!), but we must continue to strive to make God our only priority. The will of God is that we love one another, AND that we obey “all that (he) has commanded us to do.” Could it be that God was, and is, calling homosexuals out to put God, rather than their sexuality, first? The progressives among us would say definitely not! But why not?

      1. Extremely well said. Intrinsic, unchangeable qualities like gender and race are not the same as behavior. Behavior is not identity, much as common “logic” would disagree.
        Also I love this post.

      2. That was safe of Rev Womack to say “homosexuality that leads to long term, committed relationships was never condemned in the Bible” for a few reasons

        “Homosexuality” is a much abused, modern era social construct with a lot of now long discredited scientific baggage. Hence, it’s not even mentioned in the Bible, however much people backward project modern social constructs upon ancient scripture. As L. P. Hartley famously wrote: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”

        Where in the New Testament, at least, are loving, mutually consensual adult relationships condemned? Even Paul said that it’s better to marry than to burn in lust, though I wouldn’t tell one’s spouse that was the reason for why you married… that your spouse lowers the flames of your libido.

        The anti-“homosexual” clobber verses have contexts with ancient idolatry (see Lev. 18 and Romans 1, for example) and have little to do with condemning today’s much more egalitarian concepts of love and marriage.

      3. I believe the Bible condemns promiscuity in all its forms regardless of sexual orientation. Yet, this is an argument used for condemning homosexuality. If this were true, why did so many LGBTQ individuals fight so hard for the right to marry, thus giving their long standing relationships the same legal standing as heterosexual marriage? I find NO commandment forbidding homosexuality in the Bible, but find many admonitions against any kind of sexual abuse.
        Wesley asks us to use the Quadrilateral to make decisions. It requires the use of our minds and scientific knowledge, scripture, tradition, and experience. Wesley does NOT endorse orthodoxy. We are reacting because of unreasonable fear. No wonder we are becoming irrelevant.

    2. Your post ignores a central tennent of Justice, an issue is judged on it’s own merits not the merits of a different issue.

      You make an elementary mistake.

  5. How is it, I wonder, that adultery, which is prohibited in a commandment, is ok and should be accepted and homosexuality which is not mentioned in commandments or by Jesus, can not be accepted within the church and must be a sin for which a schism would be justified. vicki weida, lay person

    1. Where or in what way is adultery considered “ok” and something that “should be accepted?” Certainly not in Scripture nor in our United Methodist Book of Discipline.

    2. The point was not to say that adultery is okay, the point being made is that sitting beside a sinner in church is not a reason for the church to separate, because that sinner is sitting next to one, also. Now, if the church itself, or leaders from the pulpit began telling everyone that adultery was no longer a sin and it was a perfectly acceptable practice, that would be a reason to discuss separation.

      1. Whether sitting beside a sinner (homosexual or otherwise) is not at question here. Our BoD explicitly says (in paragraph 161F), “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
        What is at question here is whether the Church must be forced to condone and sponsor homosexual activity through the marriage of same-sex partners or the ordination of homosexual persons as clergy. Certainly, the Church will accept as member, and minister to a self-affirmed practicing adulterer, but would counsel that person, not ordain him/her nor knowingly affirm marriage vows that were not intended to be kept faithfully. Homosexual activity is explicitly prohibited in the Biblical text, just as adultery. Thus, those of us who take Scriptural authority seriously, rather than seeking rationalizations as to why it no longer applies, believe that the current wording in the BoD on these matters is correct.

        1. Thank you, Randy, for so succinctly stating what I have been trying to articulate to friends and acquaintances for several years now.

        2. “Homosexual activity is explicitly prohibited in the Biblical text.” My Bible doesn’t condemn a much abused Victorian era attempt at a scientific sexual taxonomy that has a lot of now long discredited scientific baggage.

          Backward projecting modern social constructs upon scripture is not a good way to understand them, I think. There is a reason why Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem in a Mustang convertible.

          Not to mention that claiming that the Bible explicitly prohibits minority adult relationships has been done before, as any of us old timers who had been or had friend and relatives, in an interracial relationship back in the bad old days can tell you. There is a reason why Mildred Loving endorsed the marriage equality movement before she passed on.

  6. I suggest that Rev. Womack’s view of our church and Wesley offers a far better approach. People of faith have always had disagreements as to what God is calling them to be and do. The great attribute of our denomination is that we have affirmed them, differences and all. When we devalue such differences as merely secular culture or pigheaded narrowness, we are the ones sinning, not the other.

  7. Rick, I disagree with a portion of the comment in your response to Tom. Unconditional love DOES mean acceptance…it does not have to mean approval. There is a difference. It is the issue of the conscious, heart-felt inability to approve of a behavior or doctrine that can lead to schism.

    1. Todd, I believe we are saying the same thing with different words. My use of acceptance was based on acceptance of someone’s actions (behavior),not who that individual is, as a person. Thanks.

  8. You can define sin and evil by referring to passages in the bible. The problem with this approach is the cultural impact on interpretation. I have no argument with the belief of anyone based on scripture, prayer, fasting, and any other spiritual exercise. I simply beg folks to examine the influence of current beliefs based on the accepted nonreligious beliefs of the general population. The bible has been used to defend dictatorship, lex talionis, slavery, domination of females, vegetarianism, and a vast array of other concepts generally considered cult interpretations by most folks today. It is not my intention to criticize anyone holding to these beliefs, rather to show that widespread acceptacnce of certain scripture interpretations are frequently later relegated to the field of inadmissible evidence to overthrow the basic position preached by Jesus—love God and love other people just as sinful as you are. I don’t remember Jesus rejecting humans, but there are numerous incidents where Jesus loved the sinner while rejecting the sin. Thank God Almighty that I’m one of those persons. [And no. I am not gay. I’ve been married 63+ years and have 5 children and abundant descendants right down to great-great-great-grandchildren.]

    Incidentally, John Wesley said, “If your heart is as my heart let me hold your hand.” [Or perhaps “give me your hand.”] He didn’t mean political belief, religious insistence, economic position. He was talking about love. He knew that good people could disagree on various principles and still love one another.

    I love you.

    Larry Winebrenner

    +

    1. The rule in semantics is that the author/writer determines meaning NOT the hearer/reader.

      It is the hearer/readers job to correctly understand the author and then apply that understanding. It is the application that can be seriously impacted by the culture of the hearer/reader not the understanding of the passage.

  9. I commend you for such a well thought it out response to Bishop Carder and a reasoned, scriptural argument that relies on Wesley in context. I am sharing this with others. I appreciate you faithfulness to truth.

  10. Excellent comments but I have to disagree with some. I think when you accept something it means approval. Acceptance is approval. This entire Country has become so polically correct it has corroded the core of ourselves. We no longer have a conscience and can justify everything one wants to do ( or approve or accept).

    1. The use of acceptance can be a tad muddled. I love you and accept you as sinner, in the same manner that God loves and accepts me. I do not accept your actions. I believe we are saying the same thing. You are correct about the PC culture.

    2. Jewel Ray,
      I think if we slide down that slippery slope of equating acceptance with approval we inevitably run the risk of being called “haters”. That is what progressives call those who differ in their opinions from them. Jesus “accepted” everyone as persons that God loves, but he did not “approve” of all lifestyles.

      Sin is not a popular concept in our world today. You can just read in these comments here the statements of numerous people who believe we should consider cultural leanings as being weightier arguments than traditionally interpreted scripture. If it were not so frightening, it would almost be humorous that we think ourselves, in the modern and postmodern world, to be so much smarter than our Christian sisters and brothers of the first century. The Progressive Movement has desperately tried to nullify the concept of the inspiration of Scripture.

      So, I “accept” ALL persons as being of sacred worth, loved by God and therefore worthy of my love. And I try to treat ANYONE I encounter in a loving, Christ-like manner. But remember…when the woman caught in the very act of adultery was thrown by the Pharisees at Jesus feet, he revealed the hypocritical nature of the Pharisees and then said to the woman, “I don’t condemn you” (acceptance). But He also said to her, “Go, and sin no more” (disapproval of her behavior).

  11. Thank you Rick. I had read Bishop Carder’s word on schism being a failure of love, and could not understand or relate to the statement and quoting of Wesley, thinking that somehow it must be misdirected. Surely Wesley never quit loving those in Christ’s church who were not called Methodists, but at the same time, Wesley hoped for a Methodist movement that articulated a clear and powerful Gospel theology, created visions in men and women of what a life of scriptural holiness entailed and installed the means of grace into the normal practice of the Christian life. My Methodist Church is fairly weak in helping me become such a Methodist Christian. When it steps out of the deep currents of Wesleyan Biblical theology; when it looses its footing in the Wesleyan Gospel articulation and the “Way of Salvation;” when it drifts away from creedal orthodoxy; when it draws my attention away from living a disciplined and loving life by continually sucking me into confusing church fights that we shouldn’t even be having; and when it undermines my confidence in Scriptural revelation by holding as a tool of default what one scholar has referenced to as a “hermenuetic of suspicion) then I think suffering can be alleviated and productivity (among those on sides of our current debate) could be enhanced by some form of separation. I don’t see it as a “failure to love” situation, but as a realistic “loving-better opportunity” if done well. No matter what, I will to continue to love Christians of all persuasions, join hands with others in work, but I want to live and work more closely with the church or church segment that helps me love and serve more powerfully in the name of Christ.

    1. I am currently reading A Blueprint for Discipleship by Kevin Watson with an eye toward using it for the next book study; you might enjoy it. People talk a lot about John Wesley, but I wonder how many people realize how ‘Evangelical’ he was. His process involving societies, meetings, self-confessions, and works are very similar to some of the most conservative of the independent evangelical churches. If you weren’t diligent about committing yourself to God and the church you would be asked to leave. I wish you God’s blessings as you move forward . . . . . Rick

  12. Great work on the history and guidance of John Wesley, and a great analogy. Bishop Carter IS wrong-it is not the failure of love for others, but failure by some to love the intended design God has for us, the design He seeks to restore us to through His act of Redemption.

    1. I believe Bishop Carder is right on point. When we try to determine that we are smarter than the science that informs so many areas of our lives, we are hypocritical. We accept what is proven, especially when it seems to suit us. We can sue scripture to uphold any position if we take it out of context. We used the BoD to dominate and abuse women citing Galatians; we used it again to refuse to ordain women; then we used scripture once again to condone slavery; now we are trying to use scripture to condemn another group of people, LGBTQ, whom we fear. Perhaps we can use the scripture that says if a child defies a parent several times, the child should be killed. Try fitting any of these into Jesus mandate to love God and love neighbor AS we love self. None of us are loving like that

  13. Praise God! Thank you for your succinct and accurate response to Bishop Carder’s article. I wanted to respond to his article, but I couldn’t get it down to less than two page because there were so many inaccuracies that needed to be addressed. You have done a great job of addressing the misuse of Wesley’s teachings and the inaccurate understandings of love and leadership. As you can see from the comments on your and Bishop Carder’s articles, there are many people who view the Bible through the lens of culture rather than view our culture through the lens of God’s revealed Word, perhaps because they have not actually read the Bible from cover-to-cover or they do not believe God when He says that all Scripture is God breathed and not simply the writings of some men spouting their opinions a few thousand years ago. It is obvious that there are also a lot of people who have not read and/or do not understand John Wesley’s teachings either. Please keep standing and continue fighting the good fight!

  14. Some people wonder why churches are empty. Do younger people, who are the future of any churches, come and all they hear is depression, our sinfulness, being LBGTQAI+ is sinful, along with some more gloom and door, do you really think that they will return? No, they will not return.
    Some of these young people are of color and people of color were discriminated against, fifty years ago, in churches, now not so much.
    Forty years ago interracial marriage was frowned upon, in churches, now, not so much.
    Today, some churches discriminate, and refuse to marry those of the same gender. Some churches will not ordain an openly LBGTQAI+ person. Some other UMCs will marry or ordain those who are LBGTAQI+. Thus will be, as has always been, a day when our LBGTQAI+ sisters and brothers are fully accepted and included, just as our darker sisters and brothers were included and accepted, and those who are interracial, or married someone of a different race. The pendulum swings, my friends, and when it does, it swings to the left/progressive view.
    The only churches that are full, today, are the megachurches, and what do they offer? They offer huge choirs, orchestras, and unless you intend to donate a large sum of money, free entertainment.

    1. Christian church membership and attendance, as a percent of the population, is down, and it continues to drop across the United States.

      If we look first at the United Methodist Church, between 2004 & 2014 (2015 numbers are not available yet) the membership is down about 13.4%. Within the 5 jurisdictions:

      • in the 2 most liberal ones (Western & North Central) membership is down 18.5%
      • in the two most conservative jurisdictions (Southeastern & South Central) membership is down 9%
      • in the Northeastern jurisdiction membership is down 12%

      I do not have sufficient information to determine why the overall UMC decline, or why the decline in the more liberal jurisdictions is twice the rate of decline seen in the conservative jurisdictions, but that trend is not unique to just the United Methodist Church.

      The Protestant denominations that have already accepted a more liberal interpretation of the Bible have seen larger declines in membership. The only Protestant denomination that has actually seen an increase in membership is the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) which is the conservative group that separated in 1974 when several Presbyterian groups united. The PCA has grown about 1% per year between 2011 & 2015. During this same period the more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) has lost an average of 4.8% per year. The mainline denomination with the smallest decline in membership is the Southern Baptist Convention, which is also considered the most conservative of the mainline denominations; their rate of decline during this period is about 1.5%.

      There is one group of Christian churches that has seen a positive growth trend, and has maintained this positive grown trend for over 50 years: Evangelical Churches. Those churches are considered very conservative and include the Church of God in Christ (1,194% growth), Presbyterian Church of America (790% growth), Evangelical Free Church (749%), Assembly of God (430%), among others.

      Again, I do not have sufficient information to interpret what the numbers mean, but across the board, churches that have moved toward a more socially acceptable view of the Bible have lost members and those maintaining a more strict view of the Bible have grown. This begs the question, ‘if a denomination gives society what it wants why doesn’t society show up in the pews on Sunday?’

      A disclaimer: My information is derived from a broad set of data, or a data bell curve. It is always possible to find an individual church or small group of churches that do not conform to this information; these individual churches will be in the minority and will typically fall within one or the other bell curve tail.

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