Two Paths: Schism and Separation

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The Confessing Movement within the Methodist Church puts out a monthly collection of articles about some of the problems facing our denomination, and these are thoughtful caring people who want to find a solution through separation over issues of scriptural authority, particularly around the issue of inclusion of lgbtqi people, while maintaining some of our ties in the missional work that we are accomplishing around the world.

The articles are not inflammatory, perhaps that’s something different between online media about print pieces… Well some print pieces…. But these pieces were genuinely kind and respectful to those they disagreed with.

I was impressed.

The primary suggestion of the article was that we could find a way to separate without schism. Which sounds daft… What’s the difference? The author didn’t really offer up an explanation except to suggest that we could still work in the world together. I suppose this means we can keep our publishing houses and support our seminaries together along with great missions like the Zimbabwe Orphans Endeavor and Nothing But Nets.

I still can’t see that this separation isn’t schism, but as a way forward it isn’t the worst or most animosity laced way forward. We could actually get along in this sort of paradigm without the conflicts.

The author comes at this from his work with the ecumenical movements, the ones to bring different branches of the church into conversation. Our Wesleyan heritage¬†teaches us from the mouth of John of the Catholic Spirit, and it’s heart warming to know that those who follow in the Wesleyan tradition still hold to that sense of unity.

Yet breaking it at the same time seems odd.

I would love to put together a hopeful strategy of holding the two sides together, but I’m afraid the conclusion this person had reached is inevitable. But I disagree with him, no matter what you call such a separation, it will always be a schism – in as much as schism is possible in a world that knows no boundaries save what they draw themselves.

We cannot effectively practice a ban or offer that as a spiritual discipline in the way the early church did, so schism itself is almost it’s own anathema. But when we separate our leadership over a disagreement on authority, when we change up our structures and alienate each other from decisions about doctrine and our identity, there’s nothing else to call it but schism. Separation is merely a synonym, and I wish it wasn’t…

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About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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