Forgiveness and The Future Schism (Part 1)

Forgiveness and The Future Schism (Part 1) January 3, 2022

The passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminded me of his important truth. “There is no future without forgiveness.” His book about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission bears that title. Taking into account everything I have said up to this point about the schism of the UMC, I have not said a word about forgiveness. Just like in a divorce, one cannot reconcile with someone who wishes to leave. It is impossible. What then is the point of forgiving that person? Allow me to say a word or two about my own experience.

Church Splitting

My home church split into two very similar congregations. A church that stressed St. Paul’s idea of “the unity of the Faith” divided over a “moral issue.” I can sum it up in a question. Are divorced and remarried people continuing to sin by remaining married? It was a hot topic in the denomination. It was all about who was allowed to have sex with whom.

The real issue was about who was going to be in charge. And, as like many such struggles, it centered on the minister and the associate minister. The split almost happened decades earlier. I spoke later with one of the two involved. When dividing the congregation was suggested, he replied, “I would rather face God with bank robbery on my conscience.” It was not long after that conversation that I began my own deconstruction.

The present proposed divorce in the UMC is not about sexual morality or justice and inclusion. It is about who is in charge. The 2019 Special Called General Conference gave the “traditionalists” everything they wanted regarding gay weddings and ordinations. But they are still leaving. I recently pointed this out to someone who thought the moderate and progressive side was leaving. Splitting the church is never about anything but who holds authority.

Possible Forgiveness?

Conservative Protestantism could be defined as always having one foot out the door. The reasons for leaving are always stated as though our salvation is at stake. But, the fact is, our salvation is not at stake. Our ego is. We want to be known for something. “We want people to know that we stand for the truth…” or some other grandiose statement is made. One female clergy member used Luther’s words, “Here I stand,” in a discussion with me. Many of these same people fell for anything in 2016 and in 2020.

Causing division is an abomination before God unless I am right. How do we forgive the evil that results from such an attitude? What are the evils? Lies, abuses, and personal destruction. Essentially they are Cain’s sins. His way was not honorable. And to make things worse he fought with his brother until he murdered him. The desire for power and recognition causes manufactured crises and scapegoating. If people are convinced the crisis is dire, then any amount of abuse may be placed on the scapegoat. Such manipulations are unforgiveable. Or are they? Forgive me while I change gears.

Containing Schism

One problem of schism is that it is difficult to contain. As I said earlier, the one-foot-out-the-door attitude is consistent. It is also persistent. The growing number of evangelical churches is testimony to this fact. The number of congregations is increasing while the number of believers is declining. We witnessed the number of Anglican and episcopalian denominations splinter from a split in The Episcopal Church. By what principle will unity be preserved in the proposed Global Methodist Church?

Desiring to see the new denomination fail is morbid. I don’t wish to see any further destruction. I am observing that fighting over who is in charge never ends. Unfortunately in churches, failure is an option. A greater failure is making forgiveness too difficult. Desmond Tutu was right. There is not future without forgiveness. The first step though is acknowledging the truth of the situation. The truth is ego and the desire for power is at the heart of what is happening.

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