Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


I think it was Robert Schuller, of all people, who said, perhaps 30 years or so ago: “If the Methodist Church did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.”

His point was that all other denominations were either on the right or on the left of the theological/social spectrum. Only Methodism occupied the broad middle.

Chinua Achebe named his classic novel of African culture clash Things Fall Apart, from the line in W. B. Yeats poem, “The Second Coming:”

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.
 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

That seems to be the way with the United Methodist Church as the center of the theological spectrum. Things are falling apart. The center is not holding. Anarchy is loosed. We are all saved by the blood, but some are more saved than others. We have lost our innocent conviction that the arc of history, or at least the arc of the church, bends toward justice. There is both a weary absence of conviction and misplaced passionate intensity.

In a similar vein to Schuller, U.S. Grant often said that America had three political parties: Republican, Democrat, and Methodist.

Methodism has always been the quintessential American denomination, the broad middle. As such, we have always harbored the best of Christian conviction and the worst of Christian separatism and exclusion and everything in between. In the Methodist manifestation called The United Methodist Church, the separatists and exclusionists have prevailed. Grant, a life-long and committed Methodist--committed to defeating the exclusionists without excluding them--must be turning over in Grant’s Tomb. [1]

Methodism, though, has never been primarily a church. It is a movement, and as such, it now must move on to new manifestations. Soon The UMC will be just a footnote in the history of bigotry, but Methodism will go on. I regret the demise of The UMC, but I am a Methodist, not just a United Methodist.

It turns out that The UMC does not have open doors, open hearts, and open minds, despite its claim, but the movement of Methodism has always had such, and continues to be open to all, regardless of how closed the doors and hearts and minds of its largest ecclesial entity might be.

Maybe the absent proofreaders had it right all along: Soon I shall be an Untied Methodist.

John Robert McFarland

[What it means to be a Methodist]

Do all the good you can
In all the ways you can
To all the souls you can
By all the means you can
In all the places you can
At all the times you can
As long as ever you can

[1] I highly recommend Ron Chernow’s biography of Grant, a recent Christmas present from historian daughter Katie Kennedy.


  1. Yes. I did not want to see this time coming, but I think it has. Even if the UMC survived the departure of one "side" or another, it will be compromising and compromised. I think of myself as Methodist. But UMC does not have the corner on that, thank God. And on certain things, I am no longer willing to compromise. I have waited more than long enough.