It was pure happenstance that we arrived in the country just one day before it happened. When we woke up the day afterwards, however, it was to a different world indeed. For despite the pleas of many to “Stay Sane and Vote Remain,” the British populace chose instead to make a dash for it, leaving the European Union after more than forty years as a part of that continent-wide community.
What’s more, it wasn’t exactly a pleasant parting of the ways either. For after a rather bitter campaign–with near apocalyptic claims on the part of both sides–the 52-48% vote was split along largely urban/rural and north/south lines, with Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the city of London all wishing to remain in the EU but the rest of the nation opting to go it alone. In turn, though the prime minister suggested that they would take the transition slow and easy, by Friday the other European nations were already telling the Brits to just “pack their bags and go,” sooner rather than later.
The “Brexit”–or British Exit–made me wonder, however, if we are not now seeing the same kind of accelerated sociological/societal split within the United Methodist Church. For not only have the boards of ministry of numerous conferences announced that they will no longer follow church guidelines regarding the ordination of those who perform same gender marriage ceremonies, or who may be engaged in same-sex behavior themselves, but now at least one annual conference has proclaimed that they will act in “non-conformity” to all of the passages within our
Book of Discipline regarding that subject.
And in a similar fashion, another conference has voted to support an abortion-rights advocacy group that the General Conference, speaking on behalf of the entire United Methodist Church, just voted to withdraw from, defeating–after twelve years of struggling against parliamentary maneuverings–the minority which embraced our membership in that coalition.
Yet oddly enough, it is the same conservative Methodists who have patiently played by the rules for four decades that have often been labeled by others as “schismatics.” And no matter what one’s personal views on the particularly painful subjects involved may be, such would seem to be a rather jaded and jangled way of thinking indeed. For the very definition of the word “schism” itself suggests the withdrawal or secession of any group owing to doctrinal or other differences which generally will lead in turn to a formal division of a single church into two distinct bodies.
Thus, if some conferences have already determined to “go their own way” on a subject that the general church has clearly debated and ruled against, has not a schism already occurred, whether we’ve formally acknowledged it yet or not?
In turn, the proposal that entire jurisdictions should adopt a stance of “non-compliance” quite logically may lead some elsewhere to question just why they should continue to subsidize areas that have already determined not to keep the connectional covenant which binds us together. At least from one vantage point, thus, it would seem that the “Mexit” or “Methodist Exit” has indeed begun, led by those on the left.
There is still time perhaps for a solution to emerge, hopefully from the bishop’s commission that will be appointed to study and review “all that is before us” with regard to the sexuality questions. But because of the actions of those unwilling to give that group even a chance to organize before trying to change the conditions on the ground, that time is ticking away rather rapidly.
Indeed, I think of the words of William Bradford, an American who lived in the days following our own national separation from those in England. Quoting Shakespeare who had penned that “the times seem to be out of joint,” Bradford sighed that “the world wears a strange aspect at the present time…a determined ministry is bringing things to a crisis and seems to foretell some great event.”
We might be well advised thus to heed the latest lessons from the land of the Wesleys. For though some might think it unthinkable that we would actually divide a denomination that has existed in its current configuration for 48 years now, I suspect that many likewise assumed that after 43 years in the EU that Great Britain would never have left it either.
But then they would clearly have been wrong.