(By Walter Fenton, Good News). Uniting Methodists is a new caucus group that has entered as a “new voice” in the battle over the United Methodist Church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. It joins a long roster of groups formed by concerned United Methodists over the years to lobby official church bodies like the General Conference, the Council of Bishops (COB), and now the COB’s special Commission on a Way Forward.
One of the more peculiar claims from Uniting Methodists is its belief that it is not like any of these other groups. As it states on its website, “We are not another combatant in a denominational tug-of-war.” (One supposes, without naming, they want to convey they are not like Methodist Federation for Social Action, Good News, Reconciling Ministries Network, or The Confessing Movement.) They’re just trying, as their tag line says, “to be a unifying and clarifying voice in a divided conversation and a polarized culture.” In other words, they want to convey they are not combatants, but nice people.
And of course, they are nice people, some of the nicest in the whole church. But as Bishop Will Willimon once said, one of the UM Church’s problems is its unspoken “conspiracy of niceness.” The denomination is already full of nice leaders who like to style themselves as facilitators, bridge-builders, and conveners of round-table discussions. Given the crowded table, one does wonder how much more room there is for another group dedicated to be a “clarifying voice in a divided conversation.” (By the way, everyone already at the table thinks they are “a unifying and clarifying voice in a divided conversation.”)
Uniting Methodists certainly say all the right things.
Its homepage says the movement is “Christ centered, hope filled,” and committed to “make disciples for the transformation of the world.”
In its mission statement, it puts itself forward as a voice “that clarifies and unifies our church, [and] urges holiness.” It calls for “cooperation with Christ-like love and honest, humble conversation, and desire[s] spiritual and structural unity in the church.”
In a section entitled “A Shared Commitment,” it professes to follow a God who reveals through Jesus Christ that He is both “fixed and free.” So they are a people who “seek to keep [their] hearts and minds centered on Jesus,” and “open to wherever the catholic spirit of God’s love might lead [them].”
Of course, The United Methodist Church already says all of these things. They are embedded in our Wesleyan heritage, and are rooted in our church’s constitution, doctrinal standards, theological task, social principles, and our polity. So what gives? Why another caucus group, especially one professing not to be “another combatant” in our perennial struggles?
Let’s be straightforward: Uniting Methodists, despite its protests, has its own agenda when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. It would like to liberalize all of them.