This week the UMC learned some hard lessons. Their deep desire for unity, though admirable, is also their greatest weakness. The fundamentalists within their ranks recognize this and know how to take advantage of it. They were able to get their “Traditional” plan which basically bars LGBTQ individuals from taking part in the denomination and imposes strict punishments on professing gay clergy and clergy officiating in gay marriages. The Methodist motto “Open hears, Open minds, Open doors” is no longer a valid assertion.
“The traditionalists did a bang-up job of political organizing and counting the votes…The progressives were all busy talking about unity and community and listening and loving. The conservatives were on the floor getting the votes.”
The UMC does not understand the fundamentalist ideology in their ranks – it simply escapes them. While the “progressive” Methodist sees God in the beautiful, peaceful things, the fundamentalist finds God in battles fought and victories won.
“In one Methodist church I attended … the pastor would ask “where have you seen God this week?” Invariably the answers would consist of grandchildren, flowers, sunshine, etc. Pretty things, hopeful things … this is what they want to hear, and this is what they want God to be.
“Go to a (fundamentalist) church … and ask that same question … You will most likely here accounts of great “victories” … This is what the (fundamentalist) will want to hear, and this is what they want God to be. A confrontational God, a warrior God, a judging God, a God that stands up and fights for their version of what is right.”
The UMC did not comprehend that Fundamentalism does not seek unity, it is an ideology that seeks squash opposition and advance it’s own agenda. The UMC did not comprehend that Fundamentalism does not believe in democracy or democratic systems like the UMC. Fundamentalism only sees those systems as tools that can be manipulated, controlled and used for it’s own purpose. There is even accusations of vote buying at the convention, which is promised to be further investigated, but you can be sure that any results incriminating of the fundamentalists will be squashed.
The first thing that the UMC must do is stop kidding itself using words like “traditional” to describe any part of what happened this week. This is a Fundamentalist plan to promote a Fundamentalist agenda. It is as simple as that. As long as the UMC proceeds with “traditional” blinders on, it will continue to be taken in by the Fundamentalist elements.
This is more than semantics. Fundamentalism is not a Christian ideology, it does not matter what religion or philosophy it buries itself into, Fundamentalism remains Fundamentalism. Methods are all that differ; in the UMC conference, the method was to use the Methodist “democratic” system to take advantage of the great desire for unity on the part of their opposition. What resulted was pure Fundamentalism: agree with them, do things their way, or be punished – dissention is not allowed. Further, if you don’t like their agenda, then leave the conference.
The Fundamentalist, quite simply were very successful at imposing their agenda on the UMC while blocking any other alternative from being considered. While the “progressive” side focused on very admirable principles of unity and acceptance, the Fundamentalist did not care about any of that. If they had cared about unity, the One Church plan would have been the way to go because that was the plan that allowed for unity while acknowledging differences. The Fundamentalist however does not care about unity, only imposing its own agenda. To reiterated, what happened is pure Fundamentalism in action.
The UMC is a worldwide, political hierarchy. It is cumbersome and difficult to understand even for the insider. The concept of a worldwide, “democratic” church was something that the UMC prided itself in; however here this “strength” became a vulnerability. In general, the “progressive” elements are not good at managing the politics of the organization, not so with the fundamentalist. Fundamentalism completely dominated in this instance, promoting their own agenda. Their domination was so complete that the “One Church” plan endorsed by the progressives, and the Council of Bishops, never even made it to the floor for a vote. What was seen here was a complete takeover Methodist denomination by the Fundamentalist factions within its ranks.
I find it doubtful the UMC can recover from this, this was a devastating defeat for those who wish to follow the way of Jesus, and a huge “victory” for their Fundamentalist enemies; but God can still move in all of this. If those who wish to follow Jesus denounce this anti-Christian Fundamentalism, recognize their own weaknesses that made the UMC so vulnerable, and look for something better, they can join to growing movement to Re-Form the church into what Christ had desired it to be. This will not be as the UMC, that is lost, but it can definitely be better.