E Unam Pluribus

August 6, 2018

By Chappell Temple

At the risk of being misunderstood, I’m pretty close to being done. Not with Jesus, or even with His church, mind you. And please don’t think that I’m either deeply depressed or unduly discouraged about the prospects of God’s Kingdom in this world, for in the words of Handel’s Messiah, I’m more than certain that “He shall reign forever and ever.” What’s more, He will have His people, and I hope to be one of them still.

But after more than forty years of fussing and fuming about it—all of my time in ordained ministry— I do think that the possibilities for mending the United Methodist Church are growing somewhat dim at this point. For not only do many on both sides of our current sexuality impasse desperately want to “capture the flag,” a large number of folks have bought into the “win at all costs” mentality, too. So rather than model for others a better way of resolving disputes, we’ve instead simply mirrored back the chaos chasm that deeply divides not just our body politic but much of our culture as well.

To be sure, there’s a chance we’ll figure it all out at the special called General Conference in St. Louis in February, and I’ll be pulling and working for that as hard as I can. Candidly, however, I have little reason to believe that the disingenuously named “One Church Plan” can pass at all, nor am I inclined to think that it should. For doing theology by geography, the local option, seems to be a bad idea on the face of it. What’s more, I have a feeling that it may even be unconstitutional by our polity for an annual conference to decide minimum requirements for ordination, rather than follow those prescribed by the whole church instead.

Similarly, although the connectional conferences plan does have possibilities, in the end, it probably can’t pass either and even if it did, it still might not be enough for many folks anyway. In contrast, however, the traditionalist plan may indeed have enough support to be adopted. But I’m not convinced that it will actually resolve the problem either. For there are unfortunately many who are more than willing to ignore and defy whatever the prayerful discernment and collective wisdom of the global church may be.

The better solution may therefore be simply a Methodist mitosis or division, as Bob Phillips has helpfully suggested, in which two expressions of Methodism go forth to flourish, each blessing the other, even while disagreeing on the key issues before us. For as the great theologian Yogi Berra once suggested, “when you come to a fork in the road, you should take it.” Only unlike other denominations that have been down this road before us, we need to find a way to divide without lawsuits, legal loopholes, property disputes, and endless acrimony. Our guiding principle, in fact, should be simply John Wesley’s admonition that we “watch over each other in love.”

In short, to flip the motto found on American coins around, it may be time for us to adopt an “e unam pluribus” understanding, that is, “out of the one to many.” To be sure, I’m trying to stay open to a Spirit-inspired solution that may yet be proposed. But at this point, allowing all Methodists to follow their consciences to faithfully serve God is not simply common sense, but it’s a positive way forward that might actually present a whole new model to the world around us.

Assuming, of course, that what we really all want is not simply to win a culture war, or preserve an institution at all costs, but to see God’s Kingdom actually grow.

The Rev. Chappell Temple is the lead pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Sugarland, Texas. This essay first appeared on his website Faithful Living in a Fickle World on August 3, 2018.

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