The Uniform Methodist Church

I was having breakfast with a friend recently, discussing many things including his career, breakfast food, and the state of our denomination. After we shared our laments over the divide and potential schism in The United Methodist Church, he shared a story from his life.

He can remember a time working with an organization that had a governing board. They were in the process of hiring a new director for the organization. After the interviews and vote, one person was chosen to be the new director, but by only a few votes. When asked if this lack of an unanimous vote would be a problem for the potential new hire, the new hire responded, “No, I need unity, not uniformity. The board doesn’t need to agree with everything I do (uniformity), but we do need to be united in where we are headed.”

This friend has been an active member of the United Methodist Church longer than I have been alive. He then shared, “I don’t understand all this talk about dividing the denomination. We don’t have to be uniform on everything, we never will, but we do need to be united.”

There’s a lot of truth in those words. It is my hope and the hope of many, many others, that we remain a “united” Methodist Church. I haven’t shared any writings about General Conference during or following the event. There have been many, possibly too many, opinions shared on the matter. I reluctantly share these thoughts today only because I truly believe God is calling us to unity.

united-methodist-cross-clip-art_612962As I have prayed, talked with clergy colleagues, and reflected on the future and the current state of our denomination, I continue to sense a desire for unity. I understand that many others don’t see our future that way. There are many clergy colleagues who don’t understand why we are still united. Yet, they are still in ministry in the one United Methodist Church. I see the Bishops working tirelessly to keep us together. I even saw the voting members of General Conference work to be united asking for the Bishops to guide us.

Our denomination is attempting to show the larger culture and world how to disagree and still live together. There are times that we could have done better in our dialogue. Anger, resentment, and even the occasional name calling, have happened between people and parties. Yet, we are showing the world that we seek the unity and peace of Jesus Christ. In a world of division and anger, especially in many denominations, our church continues to be an example of walking together. It is certainly challenging at times, but schism is painful and comes at a great cost.

I don’t know what the Bishops will propose, nor do I really have any idea what the future of the church will look like. This is not a blog post about answers really. It’s a post about my desire for unity. The clergy and the laity of The United Methodist Church have never entirely agreed on every single point of theology, biblical interpretation, political view, or worship style. You can walk into a church with praise music or pipe organs, jeans or robes, lots of prayer or a little, and still be a part of the one United Methodist Church.

We’re not the “Uniform Methodist Church”. We don’t all have to think completely the same, or worship exactly the same, or even live out our call in the same exact way; but we are united in our commitment to Jesus Christ, to make the world a better place, and help others know the grace and peace of God in Jesus. We are stronger together. We are better together. We need each other. We need those who are leaning more conservative, progressive, or any where in between to be united, maybe not uniform, but united in this one church we call home.

We’re not the “Uniform Methodist Church”, but we are The United Methodist Church.

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5 thoughts on “The Uniform Methodist Church

    1. Greetings Matt, your post caught my eye, perhaps in part because I am also a United Methodist clergyperson profoundly inspired by St. Francis for many decades. I think you raise good questions and would ask you to consider some additional ones. How does it impact your thinking when you realize your argument is the same one for putting “unity” above all else when Methodist clergy and laity in the south held slaves? Some decided it was better to keep the church together and make enslaving and abusing other human beings a secondary concern. We can’t expect to be “uniform” on this issue, many said, keeping the church “together.” Though he took a consistent stand against slavery (at risk to himself), Francis Asbury late in life regretted he had gone along with allowing slave-holding congregations to call themselves Methodist. Taking “Franciscan Methodist” as your nom de plume, you are setting the bar very, very high for yourself, which I admire. Please consider all the ways that Francis demanded many forms of uniformity among the brothers. To claim the name Franciscan is certainly to gelevate those most rejected and abused~~in Francis’ time lepers, in our time LGBTQ folks~~above the powers-that-be in ecclesiastical leadership. When our focus becomes institutional unity over how we treat “the least of the these,” it seems to me Francis calls us again to examine our places of privilege and power. As a straight white middle-aged clergyperson with a great appointment, I am unquestionably in a place of privilege which others are denied, no matter their call. I believe the spirit and teachings of Francis call us United Methodist to a whole new set of questions and concerns than most of those on which we are now focused.

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      1. Thank you for your comment Rev. Bob. I appreciate your words and questions. I agree that the UMC and the spirit of Francis calls us to reach out to those in the margins of our society. We are called to reach out in love and grace to all people regardless of the labels or divides that exist. Francis did require much uniformity among his brothers and actually wept over the divide that happened when his brothers lost his original vision. Taking the name “Franciscan Methodist” is from my experience receiving the grace and love of the Franciscan sisters that I met during college. I agree that taking the title “Franciscan” sets the bar high, but so does taking the name “Methodist”. It is my hope that the UMC will embrace the spirit of both Wesley and Francis of reaching out to everyone with the same grace and love as Jesus did. We are obviously not there, but I do think we would be stronger if we continued to travel together.

        I believe our witness will ultimately be stronger if we work for unity. Many people are in the middle and congregations are a mixed bag of theological persuasions. We are called to pastor to all of them not just the ones we agree with. That is challenging, but that’s also when the Gospel becomes real. That has been my experience of being a pastor in Ohio and Indiana. Our congregations are trying to figure out how to move forward as well. It’s challenging, yes, but I believe walking together in the journey bears much fruit. Those are my initial thoughts to your comments, but I will continue to reflect on your questions as I continue my journey as well.

        Grace and peace.

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  1. Matt, unity may be fine in a lot of thinking, but in this case I don’t feel it will work. Society has changed over the last 50 years, but the to my knowledge, the Bible has never changed. Paul and Christ haven’t returned and said that we need to rewrite a few books and chapters of the Bible in order to meet the needs of a changing society. We are to love, pray for and minister to all, especially those deliberately living in sin, but not love or approve of the sin. To sanctify same sex marriage and to ordain homosexuals is to say the Bible has changed and it is now ok as society says we should. This is wrong! I feel our Bishops are trying to wash their hands of this and allow it to pass to meet the “wishes” of society, not with the approval of God. This is not skin color or a disease, but a sin. God destroyed cities because of this. This should not be approved of and should be described as it is, a sinful life style. I don’t feel there is any way we can merge this issue to create unity and be following the Will and Word of God. Your’s in God’s service, Pastor Dave

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  2. Here is why I think you are wrong.

    Our “organization” is dealing with eternity, good version or bad version. Actions, thoughts, motives and words determine our eternity and as a church we tell people about that.
    We tell people that God desires X and not Y. We tell people that they need to repent and believe and that if they don’t, they will go into the night.

    So, while we can disagree about “jeans or suits” we can’t disagree about whether or not a certain action or word or intention is a sin or not. How can light and darkness co-exist in the Church of Christ?

    As Protestants we are, or at least have been, more concerned with Truth that Unity. If we desire unity, or unitedness, we need to go to Rome. If we desire Truth, we must stay true to what we believe God wants and says. Sometimes it really is black or white, Adam Hamilton be darned.

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