E Unam Pluribus

At the risk of being misunderstood, I’m pretty close to being done.  Not with Jesus, or even with His church, mind you.  And please don’t think that I’m either deeply depressed or unduly discouraged about the prospects of God’s Kingdom in this world, for in the words of Handel’s Messiah, I’m more than certain that “He shall reign forever and ever.”  What’s more, He will have His people, and I hope to be one of them still.

But after more than forty years of fussing and fuming about it—all of my time in ordained ministry— I do think that the possibilities for mending the United Methodist Church are growing somewhat dim at this point.  For not only do many on both sides of our current sexuality impasse desperately want to “capture the flag,” a large number of folks have bought into the “win at all costs” mentality, too.  So rather than model for others a better way of resolving disputes, we’ve instead simply mirrored back the chaos chasm that deeply divides not just our body politic but much of our culture as well.

To be sure, there’s a chance we’ll figure it all out at the special called General Conference in St. Louis in February, and I’ll be pulling and working for that as hard as I can. Candidly, however, I have little reason to believe that the disingenuously named “One Church Plan” can pass at all, nor am I inclined to think that it should.  For doing theology by geography, the local option, seems to be a bad idea on the face of it.  What’s more, I have a feeling that it may even be unconstitutional by our polity for an annual conference to decide minimum requirements for ordination, rather than follow those prescribed by the whole church instead.

Similarly, although the connectional conferences plan does have possibilities, in the end, it probably can’t pass either and even if it did, it still might not be enough for many folks anyway. In contrast, however, the traditionalist plan may indeed have enough support to be adopted. But I’m not convinced that it will actually resolve the problem either.  For there are unfortunately many who are more than willing to ignore and defy whatever the prayerful discernment and collective wisdom of the global church may be.

The better solution may therefore be simply a Methodist mitosis or division, as Bob Phillips has helpfully suggested, in which two expressions of Methodism go forth to flourish, each blessing the other, even while disagreeing on the key issues before us.  For as the great theologian Yogi Berra once suggested, “when you come to a fork in the road, you should take it.”  Only unlike other denominations that have been down this road before us, we need to find a way to divide without lawsuits, legal loopholes, property disputes, and endless acrimony.  Our guiding principle, in fact, should be simply John Wesley’s admonition that we “watch over each other in love.”

In short, to flip the motto found on American coins around, it may be time for us to adopt an “e unam pluribus” understanding, that is, “out of the one to many.”  To be sure, I’m trying to stay open to a Spirit-inspired solution that may yet be proposed.  But at this point, allowing all Methodists to follow their consciences to faithfully serve God is not simply common sense, but it’s a positive way forward that might actually present a whole new model to the world around us.

Assuming, of course, that what we really all want is not simply to win a culture war, or preserve an institution at all costs, but to see God’s Kingdom actually grow.

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18 Responses to E Unam Pluribus

  1. Edward A. Monto says:

    Maybe the time to drop the word United from the denominational name is in sight!

  2. https://www.shakespeareiscatholic.com/epluribusunam/
    Perhaps you should inform your Latin-ignorant readers that you used “unam” instead of “unum” because of the patriarchal tradition of referring to the Church as feminine.

  3. Appreciate your always kind words, brother. Perhaps if we can redirect folks from arguing over the Way Forward to which Latin form of the word–both of which are acceptable–is correct we will all benefit!

    • Keith A. Jenkins, Ph.D. says:

      Neither is very fruitful to argue over and, from my perspective at least, those on both sides of the current divisive issue are also acceptable. The Latin is a matter of grammatical gender, so the choice between unum and unam comes down to how one defines the Church. As for the other matter, well lookee there, it’s also a matter of how one defines the Church. Good thing our definitions don’t ultimately matter, isn’t it?

  4. Don Nelson says:

    Hypocrite or bigot…how do we avoid those labels if we fail to acknowledge that homosexuality, is in many cases defined at birth? What happen to “what you do to the least of mine you do to me?” As true “traditionalist” you must put back in the church doctrines that those who remarry after divorce are committing adultery and women will not be allowed in the clergy. Is this what we want? The “One Church Plan” has many problems but it does keep us together. Divided we fall…united we stand.

    • Don–thanks for your comments here and I completely agree that how we treat one another is a telling sign of how closely we are following Jesus. The comparisons to divorce and women in ministry are not exactly parallel, however, in my mind as the scriptures present a more complex treatment of those issues. (Women, for instance, are clearly shown to be in leadership in both the Old and New Testament and there are overriding passages that remind us that in Christ there is no male or female.) My post is not really about which side is correct, thus, in the current debate, for I think people of good will can–and clearly have–come to different conclusions on that. The point is that since it is unlikely that anyone is going to convince those of a differing view to change, and likewise, some on both sides cannot do so without violating their conscience, we need to find a different way to stop the infighting and bitterness which, as a general delegate for several years, I have seen all too closely all too often. In that sense, I think that unity for its own sake may be a false idol we are chasing, and one that is causing more harm than good. Still, I appreciate your perspective and your passion which I’ve seen over the years for I know it comes from a good heart as well.

  5. Walter Fenton says:

    Thanks for a very thoughtful essay Rev. Temple. I think you’re on to something. I hope others give serious thought to your piece.

  6. amygyoung says:

    Thank you for you continued work toward a solution. Praying for divine inspiration for all involved in February.

  7. Priscilla Thomas says:

    Perhaps after seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance for decades on this issue, it is becoming clearer we are being led to set each other free, to graciously part ways so that both “sides” can move forward and engage in ministry and discipleship consistent with their beliefs. And maybe the Spirit has been moving us in this direction all along but we have been blind to it.

  8. Pingback: The Way Forward: A Comprehensive Compendium – People Need Jesus

  9. Maggie says:

    Thank you for always expressing so well thoughts about this struggle.

  10. Marilyn Harman says:

    Amen, Chap! In total agreement!! Thanks for standing on GOD’s Word.

  11. Dale Sigler says:

    Well said, I have been following, as best I can, the whole discussion. Being orthodox (don’t like traditionalist, sounds like all we want back is 1950’s) I prefer the Tradionalist Plan for two reasons, it is orthodox and it offers a gracious exit. I am reading John Lomperis’ summary of the One Church Plan. No gracious exit and removes lay input on critical issue of ordination. We laity are mostly better educated than the past and, when interested, are deeply interested in the working of our church denomination and God’s working in us and the world. Regardless of the course taking, if the UMC, or whatever comes from GC ’19, doesn’t get serious about equipping the saints in the works of ministry and service we will be gone sooner than later. We say we are to make disciples for the transforming of the world, I see precious little work in making disciples except outside the USA.

  12. Matt Thomas says:

    Thanks Chap. Many want to keep the unity, finances, assets, denominational structure at all costs. In truth, Like you suggest, we haven’t been united in many decades, in many respects. The thought that we have been unified is a lie, deception, idol, and unattainable. It seems…hard to tell the truth of where we actually are. The issue of homosexuality is an obvious distraction but more than that. It is a metaphorical mask that has covered the truth of who we are, who’s we are and who we are called to be! True identity is found in abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. We dont know who we were meant to be. All we see is the mask that only reveals a hidden life.

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