Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Denominational Divorce: Who Gets the Property?

I had forgotten about this.  After all, it's been 7 or 8 years.  That's a long time to be caught up in a custody battle.

Remember the Episcopal Church rift which ended with some congregations and clergy breaking away from their denomination while trying to hold on to their property?  The dispute over who gets the building has been snarled in the legal system all this time.  Monday the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.  Find the story of the Episcopal Church property dispute for the whole story to refresh your memory.

The United Methodist Church should read this closely as we head down the path of ready soap boxes and hot rhetoric, challenges to justice and covenant, folk calling for divorce, and all of us struggling toward the next General Conference.  I won't list all the ironies in this EC saga compared to our own UMC drama because they seem so obvious.  Our UMC tendency (is this true for all religious loyalists who love their denomination?), for most everyone involved, is to talk past each other as we enjoy our party platform and our coalition of true believers and reinforce each other in a holy war.  This pits US regions against each other, divides various theological and hermeneutic camps within US conferences, and exposes some of the generational and political differences within every US annual conference.  #DreamUMC can easily begin to sound like #NightmareUMC as we don't easily find a way beyond the impasse. In too many ways we begin to sound like the politicians in DC that are set up in deadlock and are bound to see it through to stalemate.

As we tussle in holy battle over the denominational kingdom the churches continue to struggle and dwindle, our communities continue with their own issues often so different than the church fight, and we continue to expend energy and resources in an unending battle with each other.  While a little relational tension is good we're all too likely headed down the EC path if we aren't careful.   

I'm rather certain that both sides have it all wrong in our zeal to be right!  And, of course, there is the vast Methodist Middle, and UM conferences and Christians all over the world, and all the property, that's caught in between on this US social issue.  Is there some other creative, fresh way through this which would allow us to move forward?  I wonder if Jesus is still seeking to show all of us a better way.

Perhaps like disciples of old we still expect Jesus to do what we ask rather than being available to do what he is asking of us.  Recall those early leaders who told Jesus "we want you to do whatever we ask you."  Are we asking or telling God on some of these matters that are taking center stage in national/international UMC life?!  That passage in Mark 10 goes on to say that when the other disciples heard what had happened they were angry.  I've always wondered what emotions the two would be leaders expressed.  The teaching of Jesus to the 12 to be slave of all shows the way of being a religious leader in the way of Christ.  Then, to add insult to injury, the contrast of the blind disciples with the healing of Blind Bartimaeus puts an exclamation point on the Jesus way of leading, healing, and following.  These are the sorts of Methodist Christian distinctives that I hope we can reclaim in our words and actions.  That is often easier to do on the local scene than it is in national or international conversation or in social media.   

Lent is a time for individuals (and maybe even churches and denominations) to lay aside our need to be right, to build kingdoms, to pursue our personal agendas.  It's a time to personally follow Jesus who is often very tough to follow.  Repentance, forgiveness, and new creation are the themes I'm once again becoming aware of and challenged by during Lent 2014.  That's calling for habits of deeper prayer, study, and service.  It's difficult to lay aside my experience, my interpretations, my opinions, and my power and yield to following God in new and fresh ways.  Yet it is possible.  Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me/us!  

It's time for some significant personal and denominational changes.  Otherwise, if we continue to follow the course we've set, the best we might do is prepare for the inevitable ugly divorce.  But, then again, maybe that's part of the ebb and flow of denominations over the centuries as God's Kingdom moves on using those who are most available.  Or maybe it's our choice which way this plays out.      

My hope and prayer is we find a better way than divorce.  Perhaps if we make ourselves available to God and to one another... maybe this Lenten season we will fall more deeply in love with God, with one another, and with our work as we live in the way of Christ.

1 comment:

Warren said...

Brilliant insight. Problem: until both "sides" fight fairly for a mutually beneficial win/win resolution, only win/lose scenarios play out. This requires a pure intention on the part of "both sides." I see no evidence this is - or may ever be - the case.