Holy Lands and Sacred Cows

Column by Rev. Roger Wolsey on 26 October 2023 0 Comments

I write this essay at the start of the most recent round of intense violence in a location on the planet that many Christians refer to as "The Holy Land." At least during this week, that land is anything but holy. I visited Israel and the Palestinian-controlled reservations within it in November 1995.

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With all the changes and controversy, where do you see the Methodists going over the next five years? 


Dear Reader,

As Methodists lurch into the future, the only thing for certain is that we’re going in very different directions. This, of course, has always been the case. Methodists seldom agree on anything. However, with lots of money and what’s left of a “brand identity” at stake, I can only hope we don’t go our usual route: choosing the path that fritters away the most resources and is most embarrassing for our reputation as followers of Jesus.

That being said, the news would have you think we’re already doomed. Sensational headlines decry “hundreds of congregations leaving United Methodism!” While that’s true, it’s good to remember that there are tens of thousands of congregations across the denomination. And depending on where you live, you’re likely to have a very different impression of the split. The vast majority of “disaffiliating” churches are the descendants of churches that, in the 1840s, formed the Methodist Episcopal Church South to defend the Biblically-ordained virtue of slavery. So, if you live in the former Confederacy, you’re more likely to have the impression that “every” Methodist church is leaving the UMC.

On the other hand, out West, the California Pacific and Desert Southwest Conferences have zero disaffiliations — none! (As of right now.) And while there are many factors accounting for this situation, a lot of it has to do with the fact that for years, the Western Jurisdiction has been vocal about its commitment to creating a culture of inclusivity, be it of women, racial minorities, or of LGBTQIA folks.

Then, in the larger scheme of things, it looks like there will be far fewer churches leaving the United Methodist denomination than first predicted. Current estimates suggest that only around 20% of churches plan on disaffiliating. Many of them will be joining the newly formed Global Methodist Church, a denomination with the dubious distinction (like the Methodist Episcopal Church South before it) of having been formed to institutionalize discrimination (y’know, just like Jesus!).

And that’s why what Methodists are going through right now is a good thing. It’s a necessary corrective. Jesus said, “If a hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off!” So, I’m happy for these former United Methodists (whose primary guiding principle is excluding people) to cut themselves off, just like any other offending or diseased limb.

Meanwhile, those who remain in the United Methodist Church have a golden opportunity at our General Conference in April of 2024. Liberated from the reactionary opposition of a prejudiced few, the denomination could not only take further steps towards full LGBTQIA affirmation and inclusion but could also set a course to broaden other theological perspectives, emphasizing social justice and a prophetic engagement with the world.

Hopefully, the next iteration of the United Methodist denomination, unburdened of LGBTQIA bigotry, will be a leaner, more focused organization committed to living into Jesus’ vision of a more just, inclusive, and compassionate world — and whatever a more relevant expression of “church” might look like in the future.

~ Rev. David Felten




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