I’m not the only one who thinks that the pledges by some 900 United Methodist ministers to perform same-sex weddings or union ceremonies might destroy the UMC. Over 1200 have signed petitions to UM bishops, asking them to please enforce the Book of Discipline, or watch the denomination implode. According to the Christian Post:

Hundreds of United Methodist clergy are expressing deep concerns over a pledge made by a large group of fellow ministers to marry same-sex couples. They argue that if the pledge is carried through, the future of the denomination is in jeopardy.

“We do not know how many, if any, marriages or ‘holy unions’ of same-sex couples will be performed by UM clergy in the near future,” reads a letter, currently signed by more than 400 pastors, to the Council of Bishops. “But we do know the destructive effects that will result in our local churches and throughout the denomination if such services are performed by UM pastors.”

They are urging the Council of Bishops not to allow the “defiant minority” to undermine the witness and unity of their denomination.

“We must see our leaders act with integrity to uphold and support the Discipline as they promised in their ordination and consecration to ministry. We ourselves must act with courage and faithfulness to uphold our commitment to Scripture, The United Methodist Church, and the Wesleyan way.”

You can read the two letters, one for clergy and one for laity, here. The clergy letter further states:

If we take them at their word, at least 900 of those who want to change the Book of Discipline regarding same-sex marriage and the practice of homosexuality are no longer willing to honor our Wesleyan way of holy conferencing and respectful dialog. As the article cited above states, the Rev. Robbins and others are encouraging and committed to massive acts of ecclesiastical disobedience, hoping that The United Methodist Church will not possess the resources or the resolve to enforce the church’s position. We are grieved that, evidently, the process of holy conferencing and the mutual respect necessary for good-faith conversations are no longer valued by so many of our colleagues. Their promised actions not only threaten the integrity of our church’s connectional relationships, they undermine any hope of future dialog and prayerfully working out a solution to our church’s seemingly intractable divide….

We sincerely believe that the future of The United Methodist Church is at stake. What Dr. Robbins and others are proposing will lead to anarchy – and the end result will be the demise of the church we love. We write not as members of any board or caucus group, but as United Methodist pastors who have committed our lives to this great denomination and who treasure our Wesleyan heritage. We believe there is a way forward – and that way requires that pastors and congregations live by the Book of Discipline, and that our Episcopal leaders maintain its integrity by enforcing it unapologetically.

The Church needs you to lead. We need you to act before the promised disobedience occurs. We need you to issue a public statement that you understand the proposed disobedience to be a grave threat to the unity and the life of the UM Church and that you stand together in your commitment to defend and enforce the Book of Discipline. We pray and trust that you will.

The laity letter gets considerably more specific about what the signatories wish to see happen:

  1. We expect the Council of Bishops to issue a public statement affirming and supporting our church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality and declaring their intention to enforce the requirements of the Book of Discipline fairly and swiftly. Out of integrity, any bishop who cannot affirm and support our church’s scriptural teaching on these issues should resign from his/her position of leadership in the church.
  2. We expect pastors who admit to being practicing homosexuals and pastors who have charges brought against them for performing holy unions or same-sex “marriages” to be put on immediate leave until their trial is completed.
  3. We expect pastors who are convicted of performing holy unions or same-sex “marriages” to be suspended without pay from their ministerial functions for a minimum of one year, and that before such pastors are allowed to practice ministry again, they must affirm in writing their intention to abide by the provisions of the Book of Discipline by not performing any more such unions or same-sex “marriages.”
  4. We do not want monies that we give to the church to fund any board or organization within The United Methodist Church that advocates against the current position in the Book of Discipline regarding our definition of marriage or our refusal to ordain or marry practicing homosexuals.
  5. We expect that clergy who can no longer in good conscience abide by the requirements of the Book of Discipline will exercise personal integrity and surrender their clergy credentials or transfer to another denomination more in keeping with their beliefs.
The sense of urgency in these two letters is well-founded. The structure of the United Methodist Church is such that widespread disobedience on such a high profile matter is bound to result in either an unprecedented number of trials of clergy, or in the outbreak of an ecclesiastical civil war as the two sides battle for control of every annual and jurisdictional conference (the General Conference is becoming more conservative over time because of the growth of overseas conference and decline of the American church, a situation highly unlikely to change any time soon). If you think what’s happening in the Episcopal Church is bad, it’s likely to be far worse in the United Methodist Church, because of the nature of its connectionalism (especially because bishops appoint pastors, and thus can use appointments as reward or punishment, and conference apportionments can be used as clubs on churches that want to keep or move a pastor).
There are many bishops who agree with the current disciplinary ban on gay pastors and same-sex unions, and there are others who don’t agree with the ban but recognize that refusing to enforce the Discipline would be ruinous for the denomination. I’m afraid, however, there may be enough bishops who are true believers in the gay cause who are willing to risk everything to get their way who will prevent any kind of united action by the Council of Bishops. If so, the nation’s largest mainline church is in for some very, very difficult days.