Cap's Corner: "We're about grace and love"; Methodist Church splits over gay marriage

by Cap McIlnay

Many of my readers will have heard by now that there has been a plan put in place for the United Methodist Church to split. Since the 1970s, the issue of allowing homosexual people to become clergy – and to allow gay marriages to take place in a United Methodist Church and have a pastor officiate them – has been a constant source of conflict within the church.

As the years and decades have progressed, and as our society has become more and more accepting of homosexual relationships and marriages, this once small source of conflict has grown and grown within the UMC. For the past 10 years, this conflict has consumed much of our time – and unfortunately, our grace as well.

What once was a source of pride for my denomination evaporated in 2016 the moment that many of our clergy, ordained or not, decided to violate their vows. I was proud that we, as a church that preaches mostly about grace and love, were able to still be a church in mission and ministry with each other in the midst of this conflict.

However, since 2016, we stopped having conversations or even debates about this issue; we started to attack each other. These attacks, on both sides, do not reflect our core beliefs or the love of Christ. Up to this point, I believe that most of us on both sides understood that both sides approached this matter from a foundation of love. But after the General Conference of 2016, it seemed as if we had forgotten this.

This past week, we heard in the news that 16 leaders of our church, from all perspectives in this conflict, have worked out an “exit” plan for those churches, pastors, and Annual Conferences that still believe in the more traditional values of the church and scripture.

This is huge news, but not for the reasons one might think. Everyone is focused on the fact that there will be another split in the third largest denomination in our country. But the reality? In itself, this is not the news.

The Methodist Church has had many splits over the years. Splitting of the church, one might say, is in our DNA. In some cases, the factions involved are able to come together again. Sometimes they don’t.

The real news here is how generous this split is. Most UMC members understand that their church – and all of the church’s assets – actually belong to the Annual Conference that they are members of. And as such, any church that had wanted to leave the UMC in the past would most often have had to return the church, the property, and all of its assets to their Annual Conference.

Well, this plan breaks that mold, and that is what is truly newsworthy. Because this is such an emotional and large issue for so many people, churches, and conferences within our denomination, this plan was created to show love, grace, and mercy to those staying and leaving. Without having to go into any great detail, I just want to point out that this agreement allows those who are leaving to take all of their property and assets with them – including their pastors' pensions.

So, where does that leave us today? As I said, this is not unusual for the Methodists. I also want to point out that the UMC was only created in 1968, and as far as the Methodist movement is concerned, this is not such a long period of time. It is but another chapter in the Methodist history.

As of now, this is just a plan, and there are many, many steps that this plan will have to go through before it becomes a reality. Anything is still possible. We will not know what this will end up looking like until this May, when there will be another General Conference. Delegates for all the Methodists worldwide will come together to discuss and vote on this.

You might be wondering why we have to wait. Well, the best answer I can give you is this: There is a reason why they call us Methodists! Within our government of the church, we have many checks and balances to help ensure that no pastor, church, or annual conference does something too rashly and without time to debate and pray.

It can be frustrating, but it is a good thing nonetheless. In my own church, there are several committees that not only help keep me in check, but also help keep everything as transparent as possible. Anyone may come to just about any of our committees and sit-in. They may even speak up. Heck, we allow for 1/3rd of the trustees to be non-members, as strange as that might sound. If we have committees for something as trivial as the color of the carpet, just so that we have as many eyes, minds, and prayers involved in the process as possible, you can imagine how much more important it will be to decide on splitting the denomination.

What are my thoughts? I am both excited and relieved. I am relieved because I am tired of this conflict within the church. I am tired of both sides hurting each other. I am tired of both sides fighting and not loving each other. I am just tired of the whole thing, and this is why I am relieved.

I am excited because I might have an opportunity to be part of the next chapter of the Methodist history. I think that many of the things that we do within the UMC have become stale, and they have lost the vitality they once had. There are several things that I believe we can readdress, redo, or completely get rid of. I am not talking about worship style, but I am talking about so much of the bureaucracy that has grown over the years.

I am excited about the possibility of focusing more – much more – on being the Body of Christ, of making disciples of Jesus the Messiah, and of worshiping and praising our loving God. I am excited to be able to focus more on this church, this community, and making Jesus more significant in all of our lives.