There is a lot of talk these days from the “right” and the “left” about how our United Methodist Church is likely to split over issues like same-gender marriage and homosexuality. Some groups have actually issued statements threatening to leave, others have called for “amicable separation.” Some warn that if we don’t change our stance on homosexuality there will be trouble, others warn that there will be trouble if we do change our stance. It is clear that many see the upcoming General Conference of 2016 as a decisive time in the life of our denomination.
Maybe. Or maybe the “Middle Methodists” will have their say. A recent poll conducted by United Methodist Communications found that most United Methodists do NOT want to see our denomination split. That same poll found that most United Methodists do not believe that the issue of homosexuality is an very important issue in the life of our church. Most United Methodists, according to that poll, are much more concerned about issues like evangelism, missions, reaching the next generation for Christ, and being faithful disciples in their daily living. Most United Methodists are what I call “Middle Methodists” who see the complexity of these issues, are willing to live with some ambiguity, and are tired of those who seem to polarize our church and our society.
Middle Methodist are not unaware or uninformed. They know about things in our UMC that they don’t like, there are things they wish General Conference would address, and there are issues which they believe need more conversation and even debate. But those things are far out-weighed by their love for our church, their conviction that our Wesleyan theology is an excellent foundation for our ministry, and their understanding that we are in the midst of the growing pains that come with being an increasingly-global church.
Middle Methodists tend to see that our Wesley Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience invites us into a dialogue among those sources to discern truth. Such a dialogue does not present easy answers or bumper-sticker religion. It requires faith, but faith which is informed by thinking and by Christian conferencing. Middle Methodists tend to avoid the extremes which divide, instead they look for those things that unite us.
Middle Methodists are more than just “middle of the road” thinkers who compromise, or persons who look for what is most popular. Middle Methodists are centered in Christ, seeking answers and guidance from Christ himself rather than from the political diatribes of our day. Perhaps most importantly, Middle Methodists are willing to admit that they might be wrong and to engage in genuine conversation - not simply assuming they have all of the truth and want to convince others to agree.
Everywhere I go, especially as I travel among our United Methodist congregations here in Indiana and around the world, I meet a vast majority of United Methodists who are Middle Methodists. That’s why I don’t think our United Methodist Church is going to split. Some may leave, from both the far right and the far left. Some already have. But most of our people are Middle Methodists who want to see our church focus upon the “main thing” of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
That’s what I see for the future of our United Methodist Church. What do you see?
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner,
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church
“Making a Difference in Indiana ... and around the World”