Last year, eighty conservative pastors and theologians suggested it may be time for progressives and conservatives to consider an “amicable separation” in the United Methodist Church. Since the issues surrounding same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexuals could not be resolved, they believed it would be better for both sides to begin working to create a “way of parting that honors the sincerity of those with whom we differ and no longer brings pain to persons made in the image of God” (see more here). Traditional and liberal United Methodists have been arguing about these topics since 1972, and no end is in sight. It is basically a theological dispute, where conservatives trust in a plain reading of Scripture, and believe the issues involving homosexuality are clearly prohibited, while progressives read the Bible more selectively, and find parts of it as not divinely inspired, or even just wrong. Arguments, petitions, and counter-petitions fly every four years at General Conference, and the next one in May 2016 promises to be very contentious. From a conservative point of view, it is obvious that we have “irreconcilable differences” (see http://goodnewsmag.org/2014/05/regarding-the-future-of-the-united-methodist-church/), and that it is time to recognize that we already have schism in the United Methodist Church.
Much of the separation in the two sides has been aggravated by the decision of the Western Jurisdiction bishops to ignore the results of the 2012 General Conference and to start a grassroots campaign of “biblical obedience” by actually disobeying the Book of Discipline in regard to these matters (see the article http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/western-jurisdiction-gay-issue-stand-wrong.
The call for discussion and for work towards amicable separation was not a serving of divorce papers. Instead it was a recognition that it may be time to stop pretending, and to start honoring one another as people of conscience, with very different viewpoints on some very critical matters. Conservatives have not said they were splitting the church, and it is not forthright to say they are. A very successful “stay united” social media program was launched earlier in the year, which implied that even talking about separation was horrendous. It is not. It is a fact of life in the church, and honest discussions may allow for some sort of peaceful negotiations or even resolutions to continue. Many plans for reorganization and/or separation have been presented as petitions to General Conference, and throwing stones at one another does not help.