I have always been sensitive to the Apostle Paul’s prodding to “preserve the unity which the Spirit gives…” When I read the CUP Proposal to General Conference, I was a bit caught off guard. I’m not sure why. I should have expected it.
I recently read “Finding Our Way” in which Bishop Kenneth Carter, Jr. reluctantly suggested we might have to create three new denominations loosely held together under the banner of United Methodism (or ostensibly some other name). He suggested three “institutional expressions” which he called Progressive, Evangelical, and Mainstream. It seems we’re always moving away from the Apostle’s insistence on unity. Schisms are much easier to pull off than working to maintain what we have.
In recent years, the Episcopal Church has had the same kind of woes. As we watch things like the Anglican Realignment, it feels like we’re looking into our own future. Is it inevitable?
As most of you, I have loving friends on various sides of the issues we face. While I dread a divorce of this kind, it seems to me we’ve been headed toward this for years. In fact, this was a growing problem when I entered pastoral ministry thirty-six years ago. It’s only gotten worse over that time.
While the CUP (Covenantal Unity Plan) is an admirable attempt to save the UMC as we know her, I fear it’s only going to be another measure that will stem the tide for an instant or two. Sooner or later, the dam will break. Even now, voices can be heard lining up against the tenets of the plan.
I applaud the framers of the plan for their efforts. I wish them well and pray that the plan (or some offshoot of it) will take hold and be used by the Spirit of God to pull us back together. The energies used in all this wrangling could certainly be directed toward more profitable endeavors in God’s Kingdom.
My fear, however, is that this will become just another bandage that will inevitably have to be torn off to expose our wound to the air. Some hair and skin will be ripped away when that happens. More wounds will be suffered in the process of healing the main one.
Over these many years, our denomination has served me admirably. I hope I have done the same for her as well. Yet when all is said and done and the dust settles, I will serve Jesus Christ and him alone (regardless of the name on the sign out front). My earnest prayer is for the people affected by our disagreements. May they be spared the effects of our fallout, and may God’s Kingdom prevail in their lives.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the author of The Last Wedding. He is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel UMC in Great Falls, VA where he as served for the past twenty-one years.]