Many of us are watching with sadness the emerging, seemingly inevitable, separation (however amicable) between the so-called progressives and the so-called conservatives in the United Methodist Church. By any read of the situation, the UMC of the 21st century stands in grave peril. It would be too simplistic to say that it is in peril because of the precipitous decline in membership, the challenge of redefining human sexuality, gridlocked leadership, budget woes, or the public defiance by some bishops of the Book of Discipline. Those are all symptoms of the real issue which is at stake.
The UMC is not fundamentally in a fight over homosexuality, or how to get the church to grow. Our basic struggle is not even over how to get the church to live together, or whether or not certain lines in the Book of Discipline should be enforced or not. Those are merely the presenting issues. We are in a fundamental struggle over the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the issue which is before us. Paul called Timothy to “preach the Word!” because a time is coming when “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3,4). This testimony is true about the UMC today. We are constantly being told that we have two factions in the church, both of which believe that they are being faithful and who sincerely hold certain positions which have been labeled “conservative” and “progressive.”