A couple of years ago I wrote about what I then called “Methodism at the Tipping Point”, the split in the worldwide United Methodist Church that has been festering for several decades over the phrase in its doctrine that reads “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and the prohibition of same-sex weddings and the ordination of clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” that flow from it. The vote margin on this issue in the Church’s General Conference, the top policy-making body, in favor of maintaining the doctrine intact has steadily narrowed over the past 20 years and in 2019 was maintained again, but this time by the slim margin of 53-47%. Sure enough, there followed considerable discussion about where the denomination goes from here, given the very strong feelings on both sides. Drafts of documentation of a split were followed by a mediated document called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation with a view toward revised discussion and a possible vote at the 2020 General Conference, but that convocation has been postponed several times due to the pandemic and is now scheduled for August 2022.
As a result of the extended postponement, which now almost seems providential, various United Methodist groups in the U. S. and around the world have been coalescing around various models, and to me this has been productive and hopeful. The senior pastor of my United Methodist church reported to our congregation on his participation in one such gathering of 800 United Methodist leaders from across the U. S., including clergy and laity, to discuss this and related issues impacting our church and country. One of the major questions posed to the attendees was “what do you value most about the United Methodist Church?” Among the top five answers was one that particularly stood out for me as hopeful: “A theology shaped by Holy Scripture interpreted with the aid of our tradition, experience, and reason”. My limited training in philosophy would identify this statement as what I might call “Edmund Burke Methodism”. Even though Burke was a practicing Anglican, he was a contemporary of Methodism founder John Wesley, distrusted a priori reasoning and revolution, trusted experience and gradual improvement of traditional arrangements, and recognized Christianity as a vehicle for social progress. My church and our country would be well served by this counsel.