Why Separation is Schism


Working through my disagreement with the idea that separation can occur without schism it became clear the explanation was more emotive than rational, but schism and separation in the way proposed are synonymous for very rational reasons.

It is possible to argue for an understanding of separation that maintains ties to existing leadership. The monastic orders within the Roman Catholic Church submit to the authority of the church overall while maintaining separate governing principles called rules. The different rules contain spiritual practices for daily living as part of general structuring of both individual communities and hierarchies within those communities.

It’s a very thorough affair.

The rules and orders enable separate and distinct groups within the larger church to coexist within the larger community. It’s powerful, and it also allows for different emphases on scriptural authority for different groups within the church. Yet each order respects and adheres to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. They are tied to the community of the whole.

This is what it means to have separation without schism.

Arguably this could be a model worth considering for the United Methodist Church. The diverse elements of our church already submit to the authority of a representative assembly called the General Conference. We could offer two groups and see them as different emphases on interpreting scripture sanctioned beneath the General Conference.

But I don’t find this likely. The disparity between the scriptural views within the UMC is already quite large and encompasses views that would be difficult to reconcile. Such a plan neglects the function of the General Conference to help us determine our theology as a denomination. While the inclusiveness of our theology allows for some disparate views, the church could more easily move to be more theologically unified or restrictive.

So, while there are two disparate groups that share convictions on serving the poor, transforming the world through the gospel, and on church structure and governance, it is unlikely that they can continue together. It is an issue of theology applied. They have played nice together, and good work has been done. Children and adults have been fed. The gospel has been preached, but our disagreements seem to be leading us towards division.

But because this division changes our membership, changes our self identity, and breaks ties of leaderships and understandings of authority. This cannot be called a separation without schism. If the UMC ends up separated, let’s not be confused. This is schism, and it is something to be mourned.


About Sean Smith

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