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Commentary: Overcoming the brink of schism

By Gladys Mangiduyos
May 20, 2016 | PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS)

After almost walking to the brink of schism and “amicable separation,” United Methodists departed from Portland technically united but actually deeply divided, said the Rev. Don Messer. He is the executive director of the Center for Health and Hope, the former Center for Church and Global AIDS.

“The typing mistake that … we have all made will have become a reality,” he said. “We will be ‘Untied Methodists’ rather than United Methodists.”

With the enormous issues and overwhelming debate on each that confronts The United Methodist Church today, General Conference 2016 has managed to do some holy conferencing on Rule 44, divestment, sexuality with the Hamilton motion and HIV/AIDS.

For legislation voted for and voted down, one could surmise that new doors have opened.

The Council of Bishops’ statement has given a new avenue for conversations.  Sexuality issues will now be dealt with intentionally in other venues of conversation.

“This definitely will not go back to the status quo, so there is a new beginning,” said Romeo del Rosario, country director of the United Methodist Mission in Cambodia.

Tracy Merrick from Pittsburgh, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ inclusion said, “New doors have opened.  This will definitely bring good things if this will be done right.”

“This might be the best option at this time, but I want to see protections for LGBTQ clergy and allies doing ministry with LGBTQ persons,” said the Rev Israel Alvaran of the Philippines. “We are just thankful that finally, the other side is open for conversation; it is incumbent of us to really sit and have dialogue on this.

“A moratorium on charges and trials would be a positive provision as the church's commission studies the Book of Discipline’s conflicting positions on human sexuality. I believe that queer voices should be heard at this commission.” 

Carlito Puno, a lay delegate from Quezon City, Philippines, agreed with the recommendation of the Council of Bishops. “It is not good to go on our own with doctrinal differences.”

Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, a reserve delegate also from Quezon City, said, “It is affirming to hear the bishops speak and honestly accept that the current Book of Discipline contains words that are contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful and inadequate for a variety of contexts.

“With this,” she continued, “I hope we can move forward in trying to rectify the facts that we as a church have been part of exclusion and have not been an affirming faith community to LGBTQI. We have put them in the margins while these very people have faithfully offered their gifts and graces for the various ministries of the church.

“As a church,” Marquez-Caramanzana said, “we are being called to repentance for these wrongdoings that we have committed against our LGBTQI brothers and sisters. I see this statement as way to move forward, but we must keep watch and make sure that the commission will be a common table where different voices are heard, respected and affirmed, and where the sense of being a faith community is restored."

No downplay of schism

John Wesley did not downplay the danger of schism among his followers, Messer said.  

“Probably, he would not be surprised that United Methodists are flirting with schism.  He perceived it as a threat to the movement.  In his famous sermon ‘On Schism,’ Wesley is quite clear that the threat of internal division is an ever-present reality, and he minces no words in denouncing internal splits as ‘evil.’  

“Wesley says schism … is evil itself … to separate ourselves from a body of living Christians with whom we were before united.”

One morning sermon focused on evil.  Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., Mississippi Area, said, “I'm not seeking to debate with anyone as to the specificity of evil, or a myriad of other reasons that you may be drawn to it. I'm presenting to you that I believe … Scripture gives us a reason to believe that there is a counterforce at work in this world that seeks to destroy, destruct, impede, disrupt and turn you from living in faithful obedience to Christ.”  

Wesley reminded the people called United Methodists, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

Mangiduyos is a communicator from the Philippines.