The United Methodist Church (UMC) is in a schism that defies its nominal unity. Like other Protestant denominations it split over slavery in the 1840s, and after the Civil War it spun off holiness denominations as America’s most popular Protestant denomination. Once again Methodism is facing a schism--this time over postmodern issues related to sexual preference.
Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians have already experienced denominational schisms over sexual preference and same sex marriage. The UMC has postponed resolving the issue in its doctrine until next year; but some large churches are already disaffiliating with the UMC over these issues. They are myopic Methodists who can’t see the forest for the trees.
The issue that will ultimately undermine the future of the church in a world of increasing religious pluralism is Christian exclusivism. It limits salvation to those who believe that Jesus Christ is the alter ego of God in the Holy Trinity. Unless such myopic Christian beliefs become more universal and tolerant of other religions, church membership will continue to decline
Jesus was a maverick Jew who never taught that he was divine or advocated a new religion. It’s axiomatic that Christian morality should be based on the teachings of Jesus, and Jesus never addressed issues of sexual preference. Even so, Christians have allowed divisive political issues like sexual preference to supersede the universal moral teachings of Jesus.
Jesus taught the greatest commandment was to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including neighbors we don’t like (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus also taught that reconciliation should take priority over worship (Mt 5:23-24), and that God’s judgment was based on how we treat the least of those among us, not on our religious beliefs (Mt 25:31-46).
If there is a schism in the church, it should be over giving priority to the teachings of Jesus over exclusivist church doctrines that Jesus never taught. Thomas Jefferson was a deist who was critical of the church, but considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.” It’s a timeless universal moral code for people of all faiths.
Christmas is a time to remember that Jesus came as a light to dispel the darkness of the world, not to create a new religion that condemns those of other religions or sexual preferences. Jesus taught that God calls us to love others, and to reconcile with our adversaries. Jesus was a universalist wisdom teacher who taught that sacrificial love can save us from human depravity.
God is love, and God sent Jesus to exemplify God’s reconciling and redemptive love and mercy. When the church focuses on morally myopic issues like sexual preference and same sex marriage, it divides us and opposes God’s will. Christmas is a time to build bridges based on God’s reconciling love, rather than walls between us and those of other religions and politics.
On Why You Should be Worried About the Split in the Methodist Church, see https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/12/09/methodist-church-lgbtq-slavery-00073112.
Thomas Jefferson was a deist who held the teachings of Jesus in high regard while he detested church doctrines. In 1804 he wrote: “I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in utmost profound detestation and execration, the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.” Many biblical scholars consider Jefferson prescient in separating the actual teachings of Jesus from what the gospel writers had likely put on his lips; and Robin Meyers has echoed Jefferson’s criticism of the church in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus. See Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/jeffersons-jesus-and-moral-standards-in.html.
See also, Musings on the Evolution of Christianity into the American Civil Religion (December 10, 2022)
On the Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/08/the-universalist-teachings-of-jesus-as.html.
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