What is a schism?  This word has been strongly passed around recently in light of General Conference 2016.  General Conference is the quadrennial meeting of The United Methodist Church, and is the elected legislative body that proposes and votes on changes to the Book of Discipline.  Since General Conference 2012, there have been many proposals related to LGBTQI persons within the denomination.  There are proposals that legislate for the removal of and for the affirmation of such language found in the Discipline:

The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.  ¶304.3

Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.  ¶341.6

The schism occurs when there are words in the Discipline that state:

The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.  ¶4. Article IV.

We talk about the incompatibility of scripture and lifestyle; but what about the incompatibility within our own Discipline?  The incompatibility that all persons are of sacred worth, but not all are of certain aspects of full life.  This doesn’t even have to deal with just homosexuality, but also racism, nationalism, xenophobia, and the like.  So, when you hear of schism, which is defined as:

A split or division between strongly opposed sections or parties, caused by differences in opinion or belief,¹

it is not just about the splitting of the church, it is about the splitting of our own understanding of what it means to be the “perfect” follower of God – and who has the authority to say who is and who “ain’t” on the right path toward perfection.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I whole-heatedly believe that we must hold one another accountable as follower of Christ.  Yet, the question/statement becomes, what is right for me and what is right for them … the “schism” of understanding and living out the call to love our neighbors as ourselves; basically, loving others how we would want to be loved.  However, the problem lies with our own self: living into what we know God made us to be, living into loving ourselves.  When we fail to truly embrace who God has made us to be individually, then we fail at loving others for their true selves.  We create division, schism … something humankind created going all the way back to the very beginning.

A view of the platform from the floor of the 1968 uniting conference in Dallas, where a merger of the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church resulted in The United Methodist Church.1968 file photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History

A view of the platform from the floor of the 1968 uniting conference in Dallas, where a merger of the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church resulted in The United Methodist Church.1968 file photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History

Last night there was speculation that the Council of Bishops were going to offer a resolution toward splitting The United Methodist Church.  Twitter and Facebook were both lighting up with messages suggesting something big was going to happen today during General Conference that would change the landscape of The United Methodist Church for many, many years to come.  Following this morning’s worship in Portland, Oregon, recently instated President of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Ough, was granted permission by the delegation to comment and address the speculation (related link here).  While listening to his words, it became apparent that even the Council of Bishops (made up of men and women from around the globe) was at a point where they were not unified on many respects, not just LGBTQI issues within the church.  It really made me ponder, how are we as millions of United Methodist around the world to be unified, if those that have been charged to lead our Annual Conferences and the Denomination are at a place where they are not unified.  It made me ponder, “Has God left us … is the Holy Spirit not guiding us?”  Following his concluding remarks, I came to the realization that Bishop Ough is correct, schism or splitting the church is not the path, but there has to be some path, and there has to be guidance from somewhere.  The somewhere is not easy when you have over 800 people from around the world trying to discern and unify on one accord.

So what next?  Where do we go from here?  Is there any relief, if you will, in sight?  Is there anything that can bring two-sides together, anything that can mend brokenness within the Body of Christ?  Well, first, I believe that Christ’s body is no longer broken, and we as the body are not broken when we have Christ as the center.  Second, I believe that the delegates at General Conference made the correct move in asking for the Council of Bishops to bring forth legislation before the close of this week’s gathering to show the denomination a pathway forward.  Third, I believe that the Council of Bishops have a right to use their God given gifts and the discernment that the church affirmed in them to be elected Bishops to share their vision, provide a vision and leadership, and bring on the full power of God’s voice through prophecy, as it clearly states in our Discipline:

As followers of Jesus Christ, bishops are authorized to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church. The role and calling forth of the bishop is to exercise oversight and support of the Church in its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The basis of such discipleship of leadership (episkopé) lies in discipline and a disciplined life. The bishop leads therefore through the following disciplines:

a) A vital and renewing spirit.
b) An inquiring mind and a commitment to the teaching office.
c) A vision for the Church.
d) A prophetic commitment for the transformation of the Church and the world.
e) A passion for the unity of the church.
f) The ministry of administration.


Our local churches require of us pastors to lead and direct them through our discernment from the Holy Spirit, and I expect the same of the ones who are to be my pastors, my guides, and the men and women I look up to.  So tomorrow morning, my prayer is that the Council of Bishops share, guide, and lead The United Methodist Delegation and Church into a time of unity with a clear path toward moving on toward perfection.  (Full article pleading for guidance is found here)

May we move forward together as pastors, laity, congregations, and communities toward unity as the Body of Christ, and doing all the good we can, in the sharing of God’s love for us to all we encounter.

Grace & Peace,

Rev. Juston R. Smith