Jim Beam column:Methodists making decisions

Published 7:40 am Saturday, February 4, 2023

The decision of 59 United Methodist churches in Louisiana to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church was approved last month. The vote to leave is described as part of a division between traditionalists and progressives in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination.

St. Luke-Simpson United Methodist, my church, is in the process of trying to make that decision. A Path Forward Group has been holding meetings in order to determine whether there is serious interest in leaving the UMC.

Scott A. Deuel, chair of the Carrier Mills (Illinois) First United Methodist Church Council, has written an excellent report on what is going on in the general church. He also explains, “Why I have decided to stay United Methodist.”

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“Before I begin though, don’t be deceived; regardless of what anyone says, this whole debate begins and ends over the topic of human sexuality,” Deuel said. “Whatever your view on the subject, that’s where it began and what continues to fuel it.”

Deuel said to put it in its simplest terms, people want to leave the church because they think that the UMC is becoming too liberal or progressive. “That’s it,” he said. “The only real evidence they have of that is ongoing discussions to allow and affirm same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing LGBTQ+ persons. But as of yet, that hasn’t happened.”

Supporters of leaving the church bring up some extreme examples — always the same few — that are scare tactics, Deuel said. He added that he is dumbfounded by how much misinformation is being disseminated and presented as “fact.”

“To me, it seems like a natural extension of the state of our current politics. The divide between those considered liberal and those considered conservative is growing wider and wider for no apparent reason, eliminating any chance of compromise or collaboration, and precipitating the need to vilify and demonize the other side,” Deuel said.

Deuel said he was raised United Methodist, was confirmed, baptized, married, and chose to raise his daughter in the same small rural Southern Illinois, UM church. He said he left when he was a teenager to explore other, more exciting church options, “but the shine quickly wore off.”

After he came back, he said he soon became a lay speaker, an Annual Conference delegate, and a lay leader, and currently serves as the chair of the Church Council.

“Let me state for the record, there are aspects of the United Methodist Church that I’m not entirely crazy about or don’t completely agree with,”  Deuel said. “But I can undoubtedly say that I agree far more with it than I do any other major denomination.”

One of the primary reasons, he said, is that the Methodist church has always been considered a “big tent” church.

“What that means is that if we agree on the big stuff, regardless of those little things that we will inevitably disagree on, we can still worship, study and serve together as one body — one family,” he said. “Conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, evangelical, social justice centered … whatever. Our individuality, uniqueness, and diversity are exactly what makes us stronger.”

Deuel said the Bible was written, compiled, translated, and passed down through generations by men — but it was divinely inspired by God. He calls it a holy and sacred text — the source of our doctrine and the authority for our lives.

“It is a love story, a measuring rod, and a guidebook,” he said. “But it is not meant to be read literally. It is intended to be interpreted with the help of the Holy Spirit, and understood through the lenses of tradition, experience, and reason.”

“I hate that we have been forced to take sides,” he said. “I hate that there has to be an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ I hate that there is discord between brothers and sisters in Christ. But this is where we are.”

If his church votes to disaffiliate, Deuel said he will mourn and grieve, but will wish them the best and will continue to pray for its members that he will always love. However, Deuel said he will find another UMC church that believes and is willing to live out the motto, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

My church has to make a decision by the end of this year, and Deuel has expressed my sentiments well. I have been a Methodist all my life. I love St. Luke-Simpson United Methodist Church just the way it is — a love I have had since my late wife, Jo Ann, and I joined the church in the late-1950s.