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Commentary: As Methodists grapple with disaffiliation, the world is watching

Commentary: As Methodists grapple with disaffiliation, the world is watching


A pastor friend recently mentioned recent suggestions he had received about the disaffiliation issue confronting The United Methodist Church.

Some expressed strong opinions on why his church should remain affiliated. Others had equally passionate reasons why it should leave. Still, others wondered why his church hadn’t yet voted whether to stay or go.

But when I asked whether those comments came from members on one side or the other, he shook his head and answered, “No.”

Those voices came from community members not affiliated with this particular church. Many weren’t even United Methodists. 

Joe Henderson

The headlines focused for several years on the split in The United Methodist Church over the ordination of gay clergy and performing same-sex marriages in UMC sanctuaries have had an effect, whether we like it or not. The only way to counter that is for each follower of Jesus Christ to honestly answer the question he asks us all: Who do we say he is?

The Son of God? Well, of course. But was Jesus’ ministry more about outreach and loving each person without reservation, or did people have to meet a certain standard before he would accept them?

In Ephesians, Paul wrote: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

But in James, the Bible says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

What’s it gonna be? After all, the thief on the cross, forgiven by Jesus during the crucifixion, didn’t have much time to perform good works. But yes, as Christians, we desire to work to further the kingdom, bringing us back to the issue.

So again, the question begs: who do we, as individuals seeking God, say that Jesus is?

Does the Son of God value obedience to restrictive laws about who can lead his church over how well that church ministers to its city and neighborhood?

That’s not to say those with fundamental beliefs don’t do good works that glorify the father and bring comfort to the hurting. But it is saying that after Hurricane Ian devasted Southwest Florida, does anyone believe those in desperate need cared about a pastor’s sexual orientation?

Hungry and hurting individuals and families depend on the love Christians show without reservation. Our members help communities rebuild from disasters. They provide clothing, food, shelter, and hope when all seems lost. They do that for God’s glory, not their own.

If you want to talk about rules, Jesus has an answer: love God with all of your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.
In Matthew, Jesus says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

And yet, here we are, grappling more than 2,000 years later about what’s more important – rules, or living out that kind of love, remembering that each person is a child of God and accepting them without judgment, showing Christ’s love in our actions.

Failing to do that goes much further than whether a church stays United Methodist or moves in a different direction.

In the eyes of many, this issue reduced our denomination to a sort of tractor pull where people await the scoreboard to determine the winner and loser. It affirms the worst things many in the outside world believe about Christians.
In the media, where I spent my working career, the "winner-loser" might be the headline, no matter how it turns out.

Think a moment, though, about why we follow Christ.

What’s a win in something like this?

What’s a loss?

More importantly, are we showing the public a face filled with love for everyone?

We better have the right answer because they’re watching, folks.

Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for This commentary is one person’s opinion and does not speak for The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. To respond to this or any other commentary please email

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