UMC schism, a holistic take

a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.  



We are stuck!!!

Jesus Christ’s Church is just fine!

However, the fact that The People Called United Methodist are having extreme difficulty presenting an embodied witness to Christ’s holistic community is an existential threat to the UMC.

The quick backstory is that the “two sides” have been in conflict for fifty years — most viciously (i.e., demonizing each other) over the past 30 years. Apparently, we misunderstood what Jesus was doing by ‘casting out demons.’ Consequently, the ‘two sides’ have been busy trying to cast each other out. [cf. 2019 Do No Harm series



In June of 2016, Tom Berlin wrote a helpful piece: Getting to Church Vitality. In it, he offered a typology he’d borrowed from Tom Lambrecht. In this missive, I mean to adopt/adapt their typology in the hopes of tracing the genesis, mechanics, and structure of extremism; and the existential danger created through our (apparent) values chasm.



I want to piggyback on Berlin’s 2016 “Vitality” piece. My concern here is relevant, helpful witness. Vitality and relevance make good teammates. 

I suspect the language that Tom Lambrecht used (and Berlin borrowed) was selected for familiarity, i.e., the “incompatibility clause,” e.g., “same-sex relations are incompatible with ‘Christian teaching.'” I don’t know why Lambrecht used the term “non-compatibilists.” Perhaps to avoid direct association with the term “incompatibility,” as there is no one who is “incompatible” with Christ. It would be rather ironic if that’s why he did that. Even so, somehow, the ‘incompatibility clause’ still makes sense to a number of folks, including Lambrecht. But what number?

Adapted typology

I like graphics, as I’m inclined toward visuals. So, I’ll be using some graphics that I’ve created as illustrations for this missive. I’m adjusting the language a bit, and I’ll note that as we go. First, Berlin used sugar packets and so didn’t scale his groups. We’ll be using scaled graphics as visual aids. Notice, I’ve substituted “Inclusivist” for “Progressive,” and “Incompatibilists” for “Non-compatibilist.”



The everyday term, “compatible,” doesn’t fit, because, while holistic community is beloved, it’s rarely “without conflict.” Yet, churches are expected to be good examples of how holistic communities and persons handle conflict well. Snip:



Lambrecht/Berlin obviously realized that philosophy provides a pair of technical terms that work well for our typology, because they describe relationships in a way (i.e., absolutist vs non-absolutist) that matches-up with our context. So, “compatibilist,” e.g., nonabsolutist positions. Snip:



And, “incompatibilists,” e.g., a mutually exclusive, no coexistence, absolutist position. I note irony in that some/many/most Calvinists likely dwell within this compatibilist/incompatibilist philosophical sphere. Snip:



OK, in his 2016 piece, Berlin wrote: “I would guess that 70% or more of us fall into one of these two [e.g., his ‘traditionalist’ and ‘progressive’ ‘compatibilist’] areas.” I’d estimate it’s more like 75-80%.

OK, the new “Centrist” category (non-partisans et al.) that I’ve added may have scaled something like this before 2010.



Thanks to the ubiquity of *political technologies* and the efficiency of two processes that political scientists call ‘sorting’ and ‘polarization’ (cf. Ezra Klein), I’d estimate the present “center” more like this:



Face value

I’m taking the two ‘incompatibilist’ groups at their word they’re absolutist, mutually exclusive, and it’s their-way-or-no-way. Notice the graphic indicates that 1 and 5 are separated from 2, 3, & 4. Their can’t-coexist, absolutist ideology causes that. In spiritual warfare terms, they cast themselves out of the holistic community, unwittingly revealing their control spirit to others. Sadly, 1 & 5’s control spirit often remains invisible to them within their own shadow, even after it’s “cast out” (exposed). 

Extremism runs on absolutism, chiefly certitude, and it drives 1 and 5. Compatibilists (2, 3, & 4) are not absolutists. The “10%” figure for both 1 & 5 is generous, imho, more like 5% each. There’re just not that many absolutists. Thanks to *political technologies*, sorting, and polarization, extremist influence is extremely oversized.



Instead of asking, “Who should leave?”, perhaps we can recognize that some have already gone through their absolutist ideology; yet their messaging is dividing/killing us?

Antidote to *extremism*

We’ve always held the answer, e.g., holistic community. But, extremism feeds on absolutism, e.g., mutually-exclusive division.

Graciously, between the two 5% extremes:

In the middle: the vast majority of churches who are trying to live life together despite the chaos of extremism. I mean, in most of these (holistic community) churches one finds people at any point on the traditionalist/inclusivist compatibilist spectrum.

Sometimes, the way it goes isn’t a bit pretty, and sometimes, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Yet, no one has words to describe how it works exactly. It works on tacit knowledge, and it’s messy, often awkward; and sometimes, it’s unwittingly harmful. The only way it can work is with an abundance of grace and room for the other, no matter what.

“Nice nice very nice, so many different people in the same device.” —Kurt Vonnegut

The two mutually exclusive “sides” aren’t native to 2, 3, or 4. The “sides” are the absolutist, red-lined-rhetoric projections of 1’s & 5’s channeled through their messaging and, thus, extremism is unwittingly internalized by 2, 3, and 4. 



More next week (here).

NOTE [8/25/22]: errors in this initial ‘a holistic take’ piece are rectified in a piece published on 8/28/22: “[UMC] fixing an early error.”


[cf. double bind]



Your thoughts? 





43 thoughts on “UMC schism, a holistic take

  1. I pretty much disagree with this article, both in terms of your conclusions and with your percentages for the various groups. I think there are more extremists than you realize. I also don’t think there is a compatible position for the UMC to take. For a group to think that a group of people aren’t welcome because of their race or sexual identiy, is not compatible with Christ’s teaching, and therefore should not be compatible with anyone who seeks to follow Christ and bring healing and love to the world. That doesn’t mean that I can’t love or pray for the extremist homophobes or racists within the UMC or in the world, but I cannot worship with someone who is continually seeking to hurt, insult, and ban other children of God because of who they are. IMO those people aren’t United Methodists because they don’t have open minds, doors or hearts, and they aren’t Christian or are only marginally Christian. Rather, they are Bibleists or religionists. They are like the Pharisees and Sadducees. If they were willing to have a problem with LGBTQIA or people of color, but not broadcast that, shun those people or try to change UMC polity or local church culture to their point of view, I would have no problem with their staying, but they cannot and will not.

    Being Christ to the world, and showing love and acceptance of others is a trillion times more important than staying “united” just for the sake of unity. That’s like couples staying together in a loveless marriage who lead their own separate lives,operate at cross purposes, have little in common, and don’t work together.

    Would you seek to have unity with a group of people who were: lynching people of color? sexually abusing children? physically abusing women? psychologically/emotional damaging/hurting others and driving them from the church and faith? IMO anyone who takes their faith seriously would not do this.


    1. Craig, thanks for writing!

      I think you’ve missed some of my points.

      Partisans may likely have difficulty seeing/hearing what I’m saying. The piece explains why that may be the case, even for “compatibilists.”

      I disagree with your assessment about the percentage of incompatibilists. By your arguments, you are an incompatibilist, so it is not surprising that you believe that the percentage is greater.
      However, contra that, Rev. Adam Hamilton did a large-participant survey (1,200 congregants at the all-church meeting called to discuss the issue) at Church of the Resurrection to test the percentages. It’s not surprising that C.o.R has a higher percentage of “progressive compatibilists” over “traditionalist compatibilists.” A more traditionalist church than C.o.R. might get results that invert that. The interesting part, however, is the percentage of incompatibilists, e.g., just ~3% on each extreme. Even lower than my 5% estimate. 

      Hamilton talks about it in this video from this May. It’s worth listening to all of it, however I have this link cued to the spot I referenced.


      1. You’re welcome. I may have missed some of your points, but you didn’t point them out clearly, so have no idea what they may have been. As far as percentages of incompatabilists, I may be mistaken, but I don’t think so. Church of the Resurrection is far from the norm in the UMC. I have lived in Dallas and Austin, Texas, in New York City, in Albany, Georgia, and several places in North Carolina. I grew up in and have attended conservative churches, but have served UMCs that had strong contingents of both conservative and progressive worshipers. Up until just a few years ago, I was more conservative than progressive, but thank God that I saw the light. I now worship in a more Progressive UMC, although it has a conservative element. While I am straight, being a professional musician and church musician, I have many gay, lesbian and transgender friends. I have seen this issue from both sides of the spectrum, and in my experience, I believe that there are more incompatabalists than you. We can agree to disagree. IMO the percentages are not what is important, but rather that the split must happen. The two sides live in completely different worlds, have differing views of who God is, who we are supposed to be, the role that Jesus takes, the role the Bible takes, and where our focus is supposed to be.

        It is sad that we must split, but I see no way in which the two diametrically opposed viewpoints can be overcome, and they are tearing the UMC apart. Each side believes its way of believing and practicing its faith to be “right” and are unlikely to change. IMO compatabilists are naive in thinking that those who see being gay/lesbian/transgender as living in sin will sit back quietly and accept gay/lesbian marriage, gay/lesbian pastors, etc., or will stop insulting/hurting/rejecting others who see things differently. In short, compatabilists are part of the problem in that they keep trying to keep everyone together under one big tent, when that is neither possible nor desirable.


      2. Craig,

        Doesn’t “the two diametrically opposed viewpoints” thing sound just like U.S. society in general, too, right now?

        We may not agree, but I tend to believe that society looks to see if the church has any healing wisdom to share in dangerously intractable times such as ours are in general.

        Is the church throwing up its hands and admitting that we have nothing to say, nothing to offer (in the way of a faithful witness to our calling to reconcile and heal), really the best we can do?

        Just wondering.


      3. Michael, that’s a good point, but I’m not sure that many in society look to the church now due to all the hypocrisy or perceived hypocrisy of Christians. Tell me how people who refuse a gay/lesbian minister, who don’t want ministers performing marriages of gay/lesbian people, and who reject people as perverted and a worse kind of sinner than murderers, adulterers, pedophiles, etc. and people who reject those ignorant ideas and LGBTQIA people are supposed to get along. What are your ideas for this? Both sides are entrenched. The “anti-gay” crowd refuses to listen or even accept the possibility that they could be wrong. They refuse to speak with and learn from LGBTQIA people. Many of us who support LGBTQIA were raised conservatively and then when we began thinking for ourselves, meeting and working with LGBTQIA people realized how ignorant and wrong we had been and how and ignorant and wrong those teachings had been. If the “anti-gay” crowd was willing to listen, meet with, and give prayerful consideration, then there might be some possibility for staying together, but they won’t. The constant battling in public and in the media is doing MUCH more damage to the UMC and to Christianity as a whole than the UMC splitting. At least it shows that some of us recognize the truth and are taking a stand for truth. It shows that we are doing as Jesus commanded, loving our neighbors and not judging them. John Wesley commended that we do all the good we can and to do not harm. Well, the “anti-gay” crowd has done a ton of harm and continues to do a ton of harm. Your efforts are well-intentioned, but naive and misguided imo. I respect you for trying, but unless or until you can get the “anti-gay” crowd to listen to Biblical scholars and accept that earlier, poorly educated ministers taught them wrong, and that Bible translations were changed due to human error, and that the Bible doesn’t speak out against LGBTQIA, but rather things like pedophilia and prostitution, and get them to listen to science, and to meet with LGBTQIA with open hearts and minds and make a sincere effort to get to know and understand them, there is zero chance that the UMC can all remain under one big tent, nor should it.

        The problem actually goes deeper than that issue. Many people don’t want to have to think for themselves. That’s too messy and confusing. They want someone to tell them how to think and live. They want everything to be simplistic, black and white, and that’s just not realistic for this world. They don’t want people who act and think differently from themselves or who look different from themselves. That’s human nature and fear, which is the opposite of love. Figure out a way to overcome that fear in people, and get them to think and use their brains rather than being brainwashed and dictated to, and then maybe we can begin to address the LGBTQIA issue.


      4. Thank you for this video. I am very sad at the untrue statements and scare tactics that have been spread about the UMC. I understand and respect those choosing to go Global, but it makes me very sad to hear ” christians” spread lies and hate while claiming to be Christian.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll respond later on our website. Your comment can be found there but I thought I’d respond here. If your point was to state that you find traditionalists unreasonable and name-call, you did great. Using terms like absolutist, extremists, possessing a “controlling spirit” — doesn’t invite dialogue or indicate a respect for those you are describing. And then you through in the insinuation of Calvinism — really indicates you don’t have a clue who we are. For us, it’s fairly simple. To stay in the UMC, we will have to be in a church, share the same name and give apportionments to a denomination that we believe is promoting a practice that is sinful and that harms the lives and maybe even the eternities of people whom God loves. We can’t do that. That’s not a desire to control, that’s not an inability to appreciate that persons have free will, that’s not even an indication that we do not see many centrists and progressives doing good work for the Kingdom. It’s just that we cannot be in a church that promotes what we believe is sinful. If that makes us all the terrible things you claim us to be, so be it. Except for the Calvinist thing.


    1. Rev. Renfroe,

      Thanks for your reply!

      Your first salutation to me when I tagged you on Facebook about this was “hey brother.”

      That’s surely fair, and true, we are, as all humans are, siblings in Christ. Some are not even conscious of the relationship. Others would deny it if they knew. Of course, that relationship, recognized or not, does not guarantee agreement on everything. However, in Christ’s holistic body, there is ample space to disagree and there are recommended practices to follow in the local body to hopefully find reconciliation.  

      OK, for now I’m simply going to say that you may have difficulty trying to get that characterization of me to stick for anyone who has been reading what I’ve written for the past five years. I’ve consistently defended traditional values. What I have not defended is their imposition on others.

      I’m not the first to notice that your incompatibilist stance is the mirror image of your incompatibilist counterparts on the other end of the (so-called) “two sides” problem.

      I’ve surely never said that this series of holistic-lens posts is not a polemic, because it is indeed a polemic, I hope a fierce one. If it feels as though it is aimed at you, because you claim the *incompatibilist* identification (and, obviously, you have very publicly done so for some time), then it probably is aimed at you.

      I’ll address your reply under my comment on your web page when you get it written and published there. Here, I’ll simply leave a link for interested parties to read your, “Editorial: Be Forewarned,” post and my present comment under it that links back to this post.


    2. Hey Rob I totally agree with your stance but traditional Methodist have been polite and gracious for to long when addressing centrist and progressives. I hear traditionalist say about centrists and progressives let’s bless and send, how can we bless an apostate church. I don’t think we can even acknowledge that they do good work for the Kingdom when we know what kind of indoctrination people will get if they join their church.I love you brother an appreciate the work you are doing for the GMC, our church will be joining the GMC.


      1. I will be praying for you, that you will open your heart and mind and that God will remove the blinders from your eyes so that you can see the truth, that the GMC is NOT following the way of Christ. It is following the path of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. As Christians, we are called to love and serve, NOT TO JUDGE OTHERS or be doctrinists or zealots of the law. You have totally missed the boat when it comes to who we are supposed to be as Christians.


  3. In my opinion, framing this as a “two sides” problem, as though there is equal blame, is troubling. It is a “balance fallacy” which suggests that two sides are equally valid. In reality, one “side” (mostly Queer people) simply wants to exist and be included in the life of the Church. The other “side” desires power and control—to dictate scriptural interpretation and polity to everyone else and deciding who is worthy of belonging in the UMC. Suggesting that these two groups are equally extreme is a lot like suggesting that there were “good people on both sides” in the Charlottesville violence.

    The UMC has done irreparable harm to Queer people, and I would caution you against labeling those who simply wish to have their full humanity acknowledged by their Church as “extremists”. I would also caution you against placing the oppressed in the same category as their oppressor—which you have essentially done here.


    1. Rev. Tim Schaefer, thanks for writing!

      Thanks for reading! You’ve read part 1 of what is now a 4-part mini-series. The final installment, “Jesus wept (cf. Luke 19.41-42)” is part 5 and will be published this weekend (7/24/22).

      You’re misunderstanding my adapted typology in the same way that another interlocutor did previously. I addressed it in part 4. [cf. subhead: “false ‘false-equivalency’”]…

      …part 4:

      Thanks, again!

      imagine whirled peas,


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