Why There Can’t Be Unity in the UMC, Parts I and II


In “The United Methodist Gay Wedding Crisis” (http://um-insight.net/blogs/morgan-guyton/the-united-methodist-gay-wedding-crisis/page-2.html) the Rev. Morgan Guyton asks:

 “What would happen if the Reconciling Network and Good News teamed up on a mission trip together and get to know each other as human beings? The burden that those involved in this battle are not accepting is to think and act pastorally towards one another. For a pastor, it’s not a victory when your side wins a bitterly contentious vote; it’s a victory when the people who disagree with you know that you love them personally and genuinely.”

This cannot happen.

We could (and often do already) know each other as human beings and truly love and act toward each other pastorally and then go home and still be just as convinced that the other side’s understandings of Scripture and salvation and God’s will are so wrong as to require either voluntary or forced expulsion from the denomination.

Am I being cynical? Am I lacking faith in the Holy Spirit? Am I lacking in faith so as to have no hope? I don’t think so. As long as we think the struggle for unity is worth the expense in trial dollars that could otherwise be spent in service to others, and the frustration and emotional battles that now stretch longer than the time period that Moses and the children of Israel wandered in the desert – as long as we think the struggle for unity is worth all this, then we will continue it, proclaiming that our hope is in God.

What I am asking is that we face some realities that I will outline in this post. Then the actions we may take may be done as prophetic witness without expecting institutional change.

There are four reasons that I believe that there cannot be unity in the existing United Methodist Church.

 I.   We differ in our understanding of science in general and of homosexuality in particular.

I did not realize this until I learned that the church counsel, the Rev. Dr. Christopher Fisher, who has many academic credentials, described homosexual persons as “disordered.” It is hard to believe that a person with his credentials in science would be so out of step with current psychological findings. Note that:

Homosexuality used to be considered a mental disorder. Some years ago, this “theory” was changed and it is no longer a part of the DSM IV…. It was first removed in 1973 amid controversy, but replaced with “ego-dystonic homosexuality,” which was highly criticized. Ego-dystonic homosexuality was then removed in 1986.’

Basically, psychologists were finding that homosexual individuals were no more “disturbed” than their heterosexual
counterparts. In a review of published studies comparing homosexual and  heterosexual samples on psychological tests, a researcher by the name of Gonsiorek found that, although some differences have been observed in test results between homosexuals and
heterosexuals, both groups consistently score within the normal range. Gonsiorek concluded that ‘Homosexuality in and of itself is unrelated to  psychological disturbance or maladjustment. Homosexuals as a group are not more psychologically disturbed on account of their homosexuality.’

(http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070313144952AACXBBj. For a more detailed discussion, including the history, see Facts about Homosexuality and  Mental Health in http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_mental_health.html

II.  We differ in our understanding of the Bible and the focus of ministry.

The United Methodist Church has 13 seminaries. However, Asbury Seminary is a non-United Methodist seminary that is high influential in the denomination. It trains many UMC clergy, including the Rev. Dr. Christopher Fisher, who was church counsel (prosecutor) and Bishop Al Gwinn, the presiding bishop (judge) at the trial of Pastor Frank Schaefer. Asbury defines itself this way:

Asbury Theological Seminary is a multi-denominational, evangelical seminary serving nearly 100 different denominations.  Rooted in the Wesleyan tradition, we have a strong emphasis on the Bible, spiritual formation and discipleship.(http://www.asburyseminary.edu/about/our-theological-orientation/)
By God’s grace, we will nurture redemptive relationships that honor and uphold the dignity of creation, human life, the sanctity of human sexuality, the equality of women and men, the covenant of Christian marriage, and the importance of the family…..We commit ourselves to the practice of celibacy in singleness and fidelity in Christian marriage which we affirm as a sacred union between one woman and one man. (http://www.asburyseminary.edu/about/our-theological-orientation/our-ethos/)

“We believe In the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both the Old and New Testaments, the only written Word of God, without error in all it affirms. The Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. [emphasis added.] The Holy Spirit preserves God’s Word in the church today and by it speaks God’s truth to peoples of every age” (http://www.asburyseminary.edu/about/our-theological-orientation/our-statement-of-faith/

“Serious biblical, theological, and pastoral reflection which is committed to historic orthodoxy [emphasis added] is crucial for the long-term health and vitality of the Church…. Although we are generously catholic with all those who are historically orthodox, we are called to highlight the distinctive contributions of the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition. (http://www.asburyseminary.edu/about/our-theological-orientation/ten-core-values-of-strategic-vision/)

In contrast are the 13 United Methodist Church seminaries and their statements about themselves:

Boston University School of Theology

Rooted in the Wesleyan traditions and drawing from the wider Christian traditions of the world, we strive to equip … for ministries and vocations that foster personal and social transformation,… are oriented to the world’s diversities, and … expand the prophetic legacy of this historic School of Theology. (http://www.bu.edu/sth/welcome/mission/)

Candler School of Theology (Emory University)

… is grounded in the Christian faith and shaped by the Wesleyan tradition of evangelical piety, ecumenical openness, and social concern…. Candler stands for the highest standard of intellectual and theological integrity, celebrates the value of diversity, promotes an ecumenical vision of the church, is dedicated to social justice, [and] is a community of formative practices. (http://www.candler.emory.edu/about/mission.cfm)

Claremont School of Theology

…is a transdenominational theological school and a founding member of a new multireligious consortium that’s embarking on a bold 21st century experiment. (http://www.cst.edu/about/) Students are nurtured by Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason and are prepared for lives of Christian ministry, leadership, and service. (http://www.cst.edu/about/mission-statement/)

Drew University, The Theological School

…is rooted in the Wesleyan heritage and celebrates the centrality of Christ to our faith. The school does not require students to adopt a particular position or creed, but expects that students will remain in touch with and develop their own distinct faith tradition…. (http://www.drew.edu/theological/about)

Duke University, The Divinity School

With many diverse theological perspectives represented here, students find common ground through immersion in Scripture and the church’s tradition for addressing the challenges of faith in contemporary contexts. (http://divinity.duke.edu/about)

Gammon Theological Seminary

… located in Atlanta, GA, is the United Methodist constituent member of the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC), a consortium of six historically African American theological schools… [Students] are taught to think independently and communicate effectively. http://memphisumc.s3.amazonaws.com/0AA59BA90E97489DB7864D2ABBD6AC1A_Gammon%20Theological%20School%20Report.pdf

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

The core purpose … is to know God in Christ and, through preparing spiritual leaders, to help others know God in Christ. Garrett … prepares skilled, bold and articulate leaders who share the transforming love of Jesus Christ. (http://www.garrett.edu/who-we-are)

Iliff School of Theology

… a graduate theological school related to the United Methodist Church…. Iliff affirms its United Methodist identity and its liberal Christian heritage, grounded in scriptures and traditions, critical thinking, and openness to emerging truths, including those derived from science, experience, and other faith traditions. (http://www.iliff.edu/index/learn/the-iliff-experience/mission-vision)

Methodist Theological School in Ohio

… is a center for rigorous theological inquiry, spiritual formation and professional development which is rooted in the scriptures and traditions of the Christian faith…. Grounded in our Wesleyan tradition and influenced by our ecumenical and interfaith commitments, we attend to the theological, spiritual, and vocational formation of a diverse group of …. (http://www.mtso.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Catalog2012-13web.pdf)

Perkins School of Theology

Students study with a
faculty, diverse both culturally and in theological perspective, in the
school’s graduate degree and certificate studies programs… (http://www.smu.edu/Perkins/About)

Saint Paul School of Theology

We believe that our mission is … to preach the Good News, to care for those who are in need of healing, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed…. founded on the revelation of God disclosed in the witness of Scripture, and the life of the church, rooted in the Wesleyan and United Methodist traditions…. (http://www.spst.edu/mission-values)

United Theological Seminary

The Bible is our centerpiece for theological formation and reflection. Through sacraments, creeds, the writings of great teachers, and other resources, we grow in the knowledge and love of God. (http://united.edu/Theological-Perspective/Theological-Perspective/menu-id-138.html)

Wesley Theological Seminary

At Wesley Theological Seminary, we seek to ground learning in the
scripture and traditions that provide the church’s identity in the gospel, and
to prepare students for the practice of ministry. (https://www.wesleyseminary.edu/en-us/whoweare/ministrystatement.aspx)


About Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith has 20 years’ experience in technical writing and management in software companies. She also has more than 20 years in Christian ministry as an educator, course designer, retreat leader, spiritual director, pastor, and coach. A United Methodist Deacon, Smith has her M.Div. from Boston University. She is a graduate of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, and is certified in Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership from Boston College.
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2 Responses to Why There Can’t Be Unity in the UMC, Parts I and II

  1. Well written! Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Why I am #UMC | Unsettled Christianity

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