Sunday, June 17, 2007

Methodist Middle



If you are not a U.M., please humor me while I indulge in some Methodist mullings. It could be applicable to other denominations as well.

I don't know about you, but when I heard the rumors Thursday about the proposed dissolution of the UMC, I had to reach for the Pepto-Bismol. It literally made my stomach sick.

This post is dedicated to the Rev. Bill McAlilly of Tupello, Mississippi, a strange person who spoke a word of truth and reason on the floor of General Conference!

When the proposal for unity was read, Bill McAlilly rose to the occasion and spoke up for the ''the Methodist middle."

''This group includes women, men, children, youth, lay, and clergy," McAlilly said. ''We teach Sunday school. We serve in food pantries," he said.

Too often, he said, moderates were silent. ''Perhaps that is our sin," he said. ''If those of us in the middle can contain those on both sides of the equation, we might be able to find the unity for which we seek."

It is strange for me to think of myself as part of "the Methodist Middle." I am such a radical in some ways. Like the MFSA, I am opposed to war, capital punishment, and the continued economic and social oppression and humiliation of the poor and marginalized. I am greatly disturbed when I think about all the moral support Christians have given our government to wage war against Iraq. I was proud of our general board of church and society for opposing the senseless and destructive war against Iraq.

Yet, like the Confessing Movement, I have a passion for our Wesleyan doctrinal heritage. It also disturbs me to hear of a bishop openly rejecting such normative doctrines as Trinity, virgin birth, atonement, resurrection, etc... I join conservatives in calling for our general board of church and society to withdraw from the religious coalition for reproductive choice.

What to do? Are you tired of liberals defying the Discipline in favor of their own private opinions? Are you tired of conservatives making plans to dissolve our denomination so that they won't have to be in fellowship with those with whom they disagree? If so, you may be part of the Methodist Middle!

What should we do? Organize another unofficial caucus? With Bill McAlilly as our president? Establish a web site? Print up stationery? Start hosting lunches at annual conference? Publish a petition to let MFSA and Confessing Movement slug it out on an island and leave the rest of us alone while we get on with the business of making disciples?

One part of me says, "the last thing we need is another unofficial caucus." Another part says, "If the Methodist Middle doesn't do something, we won't have a UMC to be in the middle of." Below is a great response I received to this post:

I think the UMC middle should focus its energy on being the church and not follow the lead of the extremes. To me, the most horrible thing about GC is there was too much attn to things that divide and not enough about what unifies. What difference does sexuality, etc matter in the grand scheme of things when prisoners are tortured, children starve, disease is prevalent, war rages, human rights are ignored, etc. I think Jesus cares more about the latter than the former. What do we want to be known for as a church and what do we want the papers to say about us? If the middles lead the way and get the extremes to focus with us on these issues, we will all be too busy to worry about the other. Perhaps this is a bit naïve but I don't think fighting fire with fire is the answer. I will continue to ponder and look forward to discussion.

from General Conference of the United Methodist Church, Friday, May 7, 2004.

MCALILLY: ...There’s another group in our denomination, some of whom are delegates here; others who are faithful United Methodists who are not represented nor identified with any coalition. We are, as Bishop Coyner wrote a few years ago, “the Methodist middle.” We are not organized and have no other agenda, save offering Christ to a hurting world. This group includes women, men, children, youth, lay, and clergy, maybe even a couple of bishops.

Together with those of differing viewpoints, faithfully serving United Methodist churches, we serve small, medium, large churches. We serve in agencies. We serve throughout the church. We teach Sunday school. We serve in food pantries, clothes closets. We build Habitat houses and serve worldwide through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. We have a passion for evangelism, and we seek to lift up Christ to persons who are hurting and who are lost and who need the grace of Jesus Christ.

However, more often than not we are silent; and perhaps that is our sin. Silent as other voices speak. Perhaps we’re gripped by fear, fear that if we speak, we will be labeled as the opposition. Fear that we are incapable of preventing our church from being pulled apart at the seams. In our efforts to be faithful collectively, we all of us have created the vision with little hope of ever—

BISHOP SPRAGUE: You need to sum up, sir, please.

MCALILLY: I pray that we can find a way to hold the tension of the opposites; and I would submit to this body that if those of us in the middle can contain those on both sides of the equation, we might be able to find the unity for which we seek. Thank you.

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