Like the spring that is quickly coming to South Texas, it’s a welcome sign indeed. For when the official announcement was made earlier this week of the formation of a new Wesleyan denomination, the Global Methodist Church, it signaled all kinds of possibilities for those looking for a way out of the convictional and conversational cul-de-sac in which our church has long been circling. And as a life-long Methodist, I couldn’t be more excited and pleased to see such a solution at last.
Predictably, of course, some immediately characterized the move as one-dimensional. NBC News, for instance, headlined their story by proclaiming that “United Methodist Conservatives Detail Breakaway Plans Over Gay Inclusion.” And others have already taken to Twitter to falsely suggest that the planned denomination will be discriminatory not just to those in the LGBTQ community, but to women in ministry and anyone who has a sniff of a social conscience.
None of that is true, however. In the proposed polity, in fact, there is no reference at all to homosexuality, only an affirmation of the traditional understanding of marriage that is supported by the scriptural witness. Rather, the emerging church will be “called to inclusiveness,” which is defined as “openness, acceptance, and support that enables all persons to participate in the spiritual life of the Church and its service to the community and the world.” Or in other words, everyone will be welcome.
Likewise, anyone who speaks Methodist will quickly discover that they will be fluent in the new denomination as well. Particularly as it relates to local congregations, many of the organizational features of the UMC are a part of the Global Methodist Church, though without much of the bloated bureaucracy on top. The new Book of Doctrines and Disciplines, for instance, is dramatically shorter than the UMC version, coming in around 100 pages rather than nine times that amount. And as the name suggests, it also has more emphasis on doctrine, by the way.
On the other hand, there are other changes that are perhaps long overdue. Bishops will no longer be elected for life but will serve defined terms with a twelve-year maximum before retiring or returning to serve as a pastor or other elder. Along with giving oversight to the church, their primary task will be to guard, transmit, teach and proclaim the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition from a Wesleyan perspective.
In turn, congregations will have more say in who comes to serve as their clergy, as well as full control of their own property without a Sword of Damocles-like Trust Clause dangling over their heads. And pastors will neither be guaranteed an appointment nor face a mandatory retirement age. Like everyone else, they’ll need to earn the trust of others by being effective and accountable servants of Christ.
What’s more, as the name implies, the new denomination has been designed to be truly global in character, with male and female leaders from Africa, Europe, Russia, and Asia already involved in its formation. And it promises to be bold in its witness to the world both in words and in actions, with the largest part of its reduced apportionments (roughly half of the current amounts) going to missions and church planting.
So what’s not to like? In a word, change. But then even a cursory look at the history of Methodism will show that our movement has undergone numerous shifts and realignments since it first emerged almost three centuries ago. The United Methodist Church itself, for instance, is only 53 years old. In many ways, thus, the Global Methodist Church simply represents a fresh expression of the Wesleyan spirit that long ago changed the world and we believe can do so once again.
Many long discussions are yet to come, of course, and a lot depends upon how and when the UMC General Conference is finally able to convene. And every local congregation and annual conference will need to have serious conversations as to where they are most comfortable and called. But after a laborious and hard winter—both weather-wise and in the church which I’ve long loved and served—I’m taking the emergence of the new Global Methodist Church as a definite sign of spring indeed.
Or as the Lord long ago expressed it through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I am about to do something new… do you not see it?”
(Full disclosure here: It was my privilege to serve as a member of the writing team of the new Book of Doctrines and Discipline. To read the entire book, or to find out more about the new denomination, visit www.globalmethodist.org.)