The term “no-fault divorce” was not used in Pastor Scott Field’s speech to the Northern Illinois Conference Evangelical Association Monday, but the comparison makes sense.
The title of Field’s talk was “Somnambulating, Surviving, and Strategizing for the Coming UMC Implosion.” (“UMC” means “United Methodist Church.”)
Field, who became lead pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Crystal Lake last July, took over a church in Naperville thirty-three years ago with instructions to close it.
Instead he shepherded the 19-attendance congregation to one with 800 with a satellite church of 175 in Oswego. The church he left, Naperville’s Salem-Wheatland, saw the highest percentage of members attending services (68%) in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Methodist progressives have tried since 1972 to change church doctrine regarding the acceptance of sexual practices which evangelicals consider unbiblical.
The part of the church in northern Illinois is among the most liberal in the world. It also has one of the fastest declining membership.
Church doctrine is set by quadrennial conventions held the same years as America’s political party conventions. Voting strength is determined proportional to membership.
As the church in America has seen declines in membership, which is now 7.3 million in the United States, explosive growth has occurred in Africa.
While remaining church members in the United States tend to be progressive, those in Africa are not.
The increase in voting strength for Africans has cut voting strength locally. From Northern Illinois sixteen delegates in the 1970’s, the representation has shrunk to just three.
All Northern Illinois delegates have recently come from the progressive wing, pre-approved by the local chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
The conference’s new Bishop Sally Dyck (pronounced “Dick”) endorsed the Illinois same-sex marriage bill, even though church discipline specifically prohibits Methodist ministers from performing civil union or gay marriages and states “homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity.”
This year, conference delegates were encouraged by Dyke to attend the liberal caucus’ dinner where Frank Schaefer, a Pennsylvania Methodist minister defrocked for disobeying Church Discipline by marrying his son to another man, was scheduled to speak.
Since his ordination, Field has attended seven General Conferences. At four he was the floor leader for the evangelical side of the church.
Headlines trumpeted the 2012 convention in Tampa as the one which would change the direction of the international church.
That did not happen.
The Discipline remained unchanged, despite the best efforts of progressives.
And, despite their political defeat, the progressives have not given up.
Ministers like Field see the fight over the acceptance of homosexuality as a big diversion from the Great Commission that Jesus gave his followers.
Saving souls should be the church’s mission, Field believes.
Field is a signatory to a recent ministerial letter [see article about it here] calling for the consideration of separating the Methodist Church.
He does not see the “implosion” of the church in demographic terms, but notes that “many of our members have transferred their membership to the Church Triumphant.”
Rather, he sees it in terms of “organization atrophy.” He notes that the organization is “admirally organized should the 19th Century return, but not the 21st Century.”
Field asked four questions:
1) What’s up?
Quoting W.C. Fields, he said that “sometimes you have to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.”
That’s where his suggestion of “amicable separation” came up.
“We are already at least two churches,” Field stated.
Then, he quoted Jesus about a house divided not being able to stand.
Field called for a “serious discussion of separation.”
Pretending that things are OK is not preferable to facing reality, he argued.
Four American bishops (from the Pacific Coast’s Washington to New York State) have outlined a methodology for ignoring the upholding of the Discipline on homosexual weddings.
2) Where does that leave us?
We are at a place where we have competing and irreconcilable ways of enforcing Church Discipline.
The Council of Bishops offers no leadership.
Field called the lack of leadership “incomprehensible and unconscionable.”
A 2006 statement by retired Drew Seminary Professor Dr. Tom Oden was evoked concerning the “crisis of Biblical authority.”
Ministers are announcing they will not be bound by the Discipline of the General Conference, Field said, pointing to Illinois Methodist Ministers announcing on Equality Illinois’ web site that they will perform same-sex wedding.s
“One bishop cannot abide the decision of another annual conference church court.
“We are already de facto separated.”
3) What’s next?
“We are already in two churches not only in beliefs, but in practice,” Field pointed out.
Progressives want local churches to make the decision.
“I don’t imagine that will [result in what they expect].
While progressives call people like Field “schismists,” Field believes
“the process we’ve worked on for forty years has brought the UMC to a biblical, global,and nuanced position regarding homosexuality. It is not acceptable, however, to progressives.”
He doesn’t seem to expect it though.
From my experience with Saul Alinsky devotees, when they don’t win, they disrupt…much as they disrupted the Tampa General Conference, shutting it down so there would not be enough time for the majority to pass resolutions it favored.
To put it in Field’s words, “If we don’t like what you do…we will shut you down.”
Field then cited a Claremont Seminary professor who argues that if progressives envision ome kind of vibrant progressive Christians movement, their best opportunity to acheive that requires separation.
Pointing to the parts of the country where the progressives are strongest–the West, Northeast, Upper Midwest–he predicted, by the time they would win, Methodism in those areas would be “essentially extinct.”
Referring to the Northern Illinois Conference, Field said, “We’re barely a bump on the backside of whatever animal you choose.”
He predicted that in 2024, the General Conference won’t be held in the United States and that progressives in other churches will not join their Methodist colleagues to fight the battle that has been won elsewhere.
Returning to his theme, Field asked,
“Wouldn’t it be better if we just blessed each other and went our separate ways?”
The Claremont professor supposes that if even 10% of “traditional” members walked if the progressives took control of the church, the financial impact of their departure would create a a collapse of the denomination’s infrastructure.
That would “cripple” the church.
Progressives don’t win by just continuing on, the Claremont guy predicts.
4) What? Me Worry?
“It’s coming to your church,” Field told the audience.
“It’s in your church.
“I’m deeply, deeply saddened. I’m deeply disappointed.
“I’m tired of fighting this battle.
“We have not had bishops who would enforce the Discipline,” he said, yet they expect to continue being paid.
“We could have a bunch of trials and spend untold millions over time.”
“A more merciful thing would be to separate [and go our separate ways].
He urged those in attendance to support “respectful conversations so we can get to work gaining disciples.
“What are the limits of disobedience?” he asked rhetorically.
“Is this only about gay marriage or does it apply to apportionments?” (Apportionments are an assessment on local churches of about 10% of the amount contributed.)
Winding down, Field observed,
“We can work our way through a process of separation that will allow both progressives and traditionalists to pursue their vision of the church of the future.”