This is Pastor Tim’s article which appeared in the Evening Leader on Tuesday, March 21, 2023
The United Methodist Church is in the process of splitting right now. I am heartbroken over this. I have been a United Methodist my entire life. I have served as a United Methodist pastor since 1996 when I became an intern at a church in Elida Ohio. Serving the UMC has been my full-time job and my life’s work for most of my life. And to see this grand organization come to the point of split rips my heart in two. I love the Church universal and I love the United Methodist Church and I always will, regardless of what happens. I know Jesus today because of people who served the United Methodist Church. I am very literally, eternally in their debt.
As in every single organization on planet earth, there is a division in the UMC between what are referred to as the progressives and the traditionalists. The progressives want to keep the UMC in line with the times. It is because of the progressives that we read the scripture on Sunday morning in English, we have drums, guitars and projectors in our sanctuaries, and we have organs as well. Yes, one of the biggest fights in church history was in the 1800s when they began putting the new “instrument of the devil” in sanctuaries, referring to pipe organs.
The traditionalists believe there are standards worth striving for. Not everything from yesterday needs to be thrown out. Yes, we can keep things up to date, but we do not need to compromise to do it. We have the wisdom of countless generations and while some of the wisdom may not have been well founded, most of it was and there is a reason why some of the practices of yesterday have sustained the good things we have today.
The honest answers is that what is right is somewhere in between the two extremes. There is plenty of room for necessary conversation about keeping things up to date and relevant to today’s world while at the same time, respecting where we came from knowing there are many things that we can benefit from in ancient beliefs and practices. That is the challenge of living in the present. How do we channel what is valuable about the past to invest in the future?
Somewhere a line has to be drawn and that means that there must be debate. Every organization has debate between progressive and tradition. In fact, I believe that an organization that does not have this tension is doomed to either to only follow the progressive path and become irrelevant or follow only the traditional path and become obsolete. The debate lands us somewhere in the middle. Which means that an organization is only as strong as the trust of each other that the two sides have.
As soon as the progressives believe that the traditionalists want to worship the past and the traditionalists believe that the progressives want to erase the past, you quickly reach an impasse. And that is where the UMC is today, just like so many organizations all around the world. When we no longer want a balance between the two sides because all anyone is interested in doing is defeating the other, then we are in trouble. Now the health and thriving of the organization is less important than your side winning. At that point, the organization is doomed.
To quote the Joker from The Dark Knight, the UMC has become the unstoppable force (progressives) meeting the immovable object (traditionalists). The only future I can see for the UMC is one where the only success anyone will celebrate is to make sure the opposing side loses. It doesn’t even matter what side of what issue you are on. The goal today is to make sure that the other side does not ever win. At UMC meetings, we no longer talk about mission and making the world more like the Kingdom of God. We spent our time debating and cheering when one side defeats the other and nothing gets done.
I have been involved in this fight for over 2 decades and I am tired of going to conference meetings and coming back with absolutely nothing addressed that will positively effect people in a meaningful way. I am ready to get out. It isn’t that I don’t think the UMC is worth fighting for, that is not it at all. It is just that I don’t see any way this fight is ever going to end and I would rather put my effort in places where the lives of actual people will be changed.
There is a line in the old hymn The Old Rugged Cross that goes “I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross, ‘til my trophies at last I lay down.” After a lot of prayer and consideration, I believe that it is time for the UMC to be one of the trophies at last I lay down. I never wanted it to be this way, but because of a small group of maniacs on both sides of the issue, the UMC is no longer serving the people in our communities. Just to be clear, I have no intention of leaving Wayne Street Church or the community of St Marys any time soon. I am going to serve as the pastor at Wayne Street as long as they will have me. But I am tired of the constant turmoil in the UMC. The reason this turmoil exists is because too many believe that the enemy is within. So, while the UMC is engaging in a circular firing squad, the world is ravaged by despair, hunger, dread, hopelessness, and a general feeling of being lost.
I want to get back to changing lives and building the Kingdom. For this, I don’t need a credential from the UMC.