First, let me say I am not slamming the door on future reaffiliation. The people who left The United Methodist Church closed it. I do not think we should be too quick to reopen it. A fair amount of coverage is being given to the resolution adopted by the Alabama-West Florida Conference. While many see it as a hopeful expression of grace, I think it is too soon. Deep wounds need time to heal. Should we try reconciliation before there has been adequate time? No.
A friend asks, “Where’s the room for grace?” She believes room should always be made for grace. I argue that grace often makes its own room. It does so in ways that make us count the cost. If we try to extend grace without it, we cheapen grace. It is not grace. Grace is not tolerating bad behavior. It is also very harmful.
Jesus quoting Hosea says in most English translations, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” But the word Hosea used is better translated as “steadfast love.” In that thought there is a loyalty to the purpose of “the knowledge of God rather than whole burnt offerings.” Jesus does not change Hosea’s meaning.
Who Are We Offering Reaffiliation to?
It sounds simple enough. Those congregations who realize their error should have a path to reaffiliation. What are the odds of that actually happening? For too many years, I have listened to congregations play the victim seeing themselves already as separate from “the conference.” The Wesley Covenant Association, Good News, and the Institute of Religion and Democracy affiliates did not misinform congregations. They lied to congregations who were willing to believe the lies. People who did not call the District Superintendents or former pastors to ask about the lies they were told did not want the answers.
Congregations wanting to leave complained about having to pay to keep their buildings. Nope. That is not what happened at all. They had to pay to keep our property. Just like in a divorce where the property is divided, an agreement or settlement needed to be made. The agreement was made in February 2019. And, get this, all the churches who left or are leaving claim an objection to a policy on human sexuality that they favored. If it is unfair treatment now, what was it then?
People Not Factions
Several disaffiliating congregations left a lot of their people without a home church. Those who remained loyal to The United Methodist Church started looking for somewhere else to go. I know many who thankfully found a place. I know others who are still looking. And I know many more who will not go to another United Methodist congregation because they are afraid of going through the same thing again. We need to remember in any discussion of reaffiliation that Jesus called people not factions to fellowship. I see no reason annual conferences should welcome people who constantly had one foot out the door to return to cause more trouble.
Wait On Reaffiliation
I believe grace will one day make room for reconciliation of some kind. Allow the rest of us heal first and get over being stabbed in the back, lied to and about, and harmed by brothers and sisters.