Disclaimer, this post is comparing two vastly different entities and talking about their similarities. I have looked at this metaphorically, and as with all metaphors, the deeper you dig, the more you can either pick it apart or agree with it. Now for some background, I have been a UMC pastor for seven years, I love it and I love what the UMC can be. With all that in mind, I do believe the UMC can learn from the Big 12.
The Big 12 is one of the five autonomous conferences, which is more commonly referred to as the Power Five Conferences. The Big 12 lost two of its biggest money makers and biggest brands to another Conference. This was a move that had massive repercussions not only of college sports but primarily college football. This decision sent athletic directors around the country into scramble mode. While this has unfolded, I could not help but start thinking of the situation we find ourselves here in the UMC.
Much like the remaining 8 schools in the Big 12 we find ourselves in no man lands. Waiting for General Conference 2022 to either pass The Protocol, a different plan of separation or pass nothing and a hard split. The Big 12 just experienced a hard split. If we keep messing around, we will experience that as well. Tension is high regardless of the theological position you hold. While the Holy Spirit is moving, guiding and convicting and working to sanctify us. If we are not proactive, we will find ourselves scrambling to figure out what to do rather than taking the time to be prepared and prayerfully discerning the best course of action for our local congregation and ultimately the denomination.
We are seeing clergy, laity and entire congregations leave, for various reasons but it is happening. The progressive portion of our denomination has started some leg work on forming a denomination or a connection, the traditionalist portion has a denomination that seems to be almost ready to launch, regardless of what happens at the General Conference. The traditionalist denomination is called The Global Methodist Church which was created through the Wesleyan Covenant Association. We have already seen some churches start the disaffiliation process or disaffiliate and go independent until The Global Methodist Church is launched. There have also been more progressive congregations leave, though I do not know if they are waiting to join a more progressive denomination when formed or stay independent.
Which leads me back to the Big 12 comparison. The more clergy, laity and entire congregations leave the more the rest of us will look like the remaining eight schools in that Conference. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas Christian University, Iowa State, University of Kansas, West Virginia, and Kansas State are all finding out what it looks like when you get caught off guard by something unexpected. They are having to work through what they offer to College Sports without Texas and Oklahoma. The reason being Texas and Oklahoma bring in the most amount of money for their media contracts. Without that revenue and those big brands what can the other eight bring? I may write about that on a different site, but it can allow us here in the UMC to see, where are we headed when the churches who pay the higher percentages of apportionments to fund our Conferences and ministries leave? Will we be prepared or will we be scrambling or a combination of both?
We will be United Methodist in name only, we will see churches, clergy and laity, work to share the Gospel but also be looking for the best place to fall when the UMC ultimately crumbles. Which, when enough of large churches decide enough is enough and pay what is required for them to disaffiliate will happen. I hope it does not get to that point, but I am not going to lie and say it is not a possibility. Can this be avoided, of course it can, we have a General Conference in 2022. Where our delegates can decide to approve some sort of split. Amicable or not, we can learn from Texas and Oklahoma on how not to leave and further shatter our denomination.
This is all dependent on there being a General Conference in 2022, if not, I am willing to say we will see a hard split. We will see people from both theological positions leave with little to no remorse. Which leaves most of our congregations who cannot afford the price of disaffiliation stuck in a dying denomination. Where we must ask, how effective can we actually be in our collective mission, if we do not have any idea how much longer the UMC will be around. I know not advocating people leaving or to stop sharing the Gospel. That would be ridiculous, I am however saying the more public this becomes the harder it most likely will get to bring people into our congregations. We will not be able to answer what our denomination believes about various doctrines.
If we are honest, we have a hard enough time answering that question now, because we are seeing the ramifications of trying to be an umbrella that can hold numerous, differing theological beliefs, rather than standing firm on the core doctrines of not only Methodism but the Christian faith. John Wesley wrote; “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” If we continue down the path, we are on the UMC will become a dead sect of Methodism.
The question then becomes, is it better to be a dead sect or for the UMC to completely dissolve and be broken up into however many denominations take form after the split? Hard conversations are coming at all levels. The action taken at the General Conference will leave all our congregations with a decision to make. I hope and pray we are gathering information and sharing it with our congregants so they can be as informed as possible. No need to politic for one side or the other. Share the information, pray with our people and when the time comes trust we are following the Holy Spirit guidance to go where we can honor and glorify Him with our ministries and our lives. Do everything we can to be able to see to the Holy Spirit abound. While it is yet to be seen what will ultimately happen to the Big 12, just like we cannot for sure say what the future of the UMC will be. We need to be able to acknowledge that like the situation the Big 12 is in, our situation in the UMC is not something that can last much longer.