Are We Really Better Together?

Faultlines is a collection of resources intended to inform conversations around human sexuality within the United Methodist Church as the denomination prepares for the 2019 General Conference. The collection represents diverse perspectives and attempts to fill knowledge gaps around the debate, biblical foundations, theological arguments and the impact on The United Methodist Church  and her people. Visit for more information. The following is an adapted excerpt from Are We Really Better Together? An Evangelical Perspective on the Division in the UMC.

The United Methodist Church is at a crossroads. We are a divided church, and the truth is, we are a hurting church.

Some believe our differences are so great and the ongoing battle so destructive that it is time to part ways. For over four decades, conservative and progressive United Methodists have expended enormous emotional, financial, and spiritual resources to gain the upper hand in a denomination that has declined every year since its founding in 1968. Surely our efforts and our finances would be better devoted to evangelism, discipleship, and missions. For the sake of the lost and the poor, shouldn’t we set each other free to pursue what we see as God’s calling upon our lives and our ministries?

Others believe we must do all we can to remain united. Those who champion this view do so because of the unity that Christ prayed for in John 17. They contend unity makes us a more effective church and therefore more likely to fulfill our mission of making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We are better together, they claim. But, of course, that begs the question: Are we really together?

"Are We Really Better Together? An Evangelical Perspective on the Division in The UMC" (Abingdon Press, 2018)

It is our contention we are not—and not simply because we have different views regarding sexuality and marriage. Our differences go deeper, to some of the foundational questions of what it means to be the church: Is Jesus Christ the only way to God? Is his death on the cross the only means for salvation? Are the Scriptures fully inspired and authoritative for revealing God’s will and binding on how we should live? We believe the answer to these questions is a resounding Yes! while others in the church would answer differently. The painful truth is that we cannot agree on these central matters of our faith.

The inspiration of the Bible. The divinity of Christ. How we are saved from our sins. How we determine God’s will for our lives and for the church. These are not small matters. They strike to the core of what it means to be Christian. If United Methodists are not together on these foundational issues—and we’re not—can we really claim that we are together as a church?

The United Methodist Church in general has been able to overlook some of these differences because we do not vote on them at General Conference. But for over forty years we have had a very public and divisive debate about our church’s sexual ethics. Our differences regarding this important and sensitive topic have become painfully apparent. That division has grown to the point that The United Methodist Church is now in crisis. So much so that in 2016 the General Conference instructed the Council of Bishops to create a commission to develop a plan to end the rancor that has come to characterize General Conferences and much of the life of the church.

Even with our differences regarding sexuality and marriage, we have been able to stay together as a church so far because we have had a common practice. We committed ourselves to welcoming all people to receive the ministries of the church, regardless of how they identified in terms of gender or sexual preference. We also agreed that our pastors would not marry same-gendered couples, nor would “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” be ordained to the ministry. Though evangelical United Methodists believe Scripture speaks clearly against same-sex practice, we could live in a church with different opinions because we had a gracious, biblical position we all covenanted to uphold.

Of course, that’s where we were, not where we are. One of our US jurisdictions has now elected a married, lesbian bishop who has stated that she has presided at approximately fifty “holy union” ceremonies for gay couples.[1] Many other pastors (including at least one bishop) have performed same-sex marriages, and the defiance of some has been met with as little as a twenty-four or forty-eight hour suspension. Others have been tasked with writing a paper on why the church should liberalize its teachings on marriage. In other instances, bishops have completely dismissed complaints filed against pastors who performed same-sex weddings.

At this point a number of annual conferences and boards of ordained ministry have defiantly and publicly rejected our church’s ordination standards. And even though our Judicial Council has ruled their defiance out of order, at least two have voted to ignore the council’s decision. One bishop, in defiance of the church, has even commissioned and ordained openly gay, partnered clergy.

Before we can begin to answer the question, “Are we better together?” we must first ask, “Are we together?” Then we need to answer that question honestly. We believe, regrettably, that the only honest answer to that question is to frankly acknowledge we are not.

Are we still one church? If we are, then we cannot act as if we are two. If we are two churches, then we should no longer pretend to be one.

What’s the solution? More fighting and endless debate? Stricter rules and stronger punishment? Another forty years of delusional thinking that if we just stay at the table, debating and arguing with one another, we will be able to reconcile irreconcilable positions? No. Now is the time for us to honestly acknowledge we are no longer together, and pretending we are is not a viable option. The best way forward is a fair and amicable separation, where both sides are free to pursue what they believe God is calling them to do.

[1] Matt Smith, “A Quiet Struggle Within the Gay Marriage Fight,” New York Times, February 18, 2012.

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