By Bill Mefford
I am no longer a United Methodist and, literally barring a miracle, I will never join another United Methodist church again. Though I have been a United Methodist all my life, and though I have worked in various levels and positions in the United Methodist Church since graduating college in 1990, though I have suffered burnout and have experienced tremendous pain and disillusionment at various points along the way, but continued to stay in the United Methodist Church, I honestly now feel like I am ready to leave it entirely. And you know what? It feels a little liberating.
I must confess from the beginning, for years (if not decades) I have been done with the institutionalism of the church and the utter wastefulness that accompanies vertical hierarchies. In fact, there is nothing I find more antithetical to faithfully living out our walk with Christ than the institutional demands on one’s highest allegiance. Though the church began as an egalitarian revolution (read Peter’s quotation of the prophet Joel in Acts 2) we now have transformed an organic and dynamic movement into a corporately structured morass of selfish political games, which is utterly bereft of transformative power. We are supposed to be salt and light to the world; a living example of a complete transvaluation of all that the world holds dear. But our vertical hierarchies just show us to be just another corporation, though terribly ineffective and growing more and more bankrupt by the day. And in the midst of all the talk about splitting up because conservatives and liberals no longer share similar passions or visions for ministry, the main thing that holds us together is money. It will cost too damn much money to split up and those who occupy the elite positions in the United Methodist Corporation will never allow a split to take away the positions of control and prestige they hold on to like grim death. As I look at the current fights within United Methodism with a certain amount of detachment I am realizing that the fights are no longer over the mission and soul of the church; the fights are the reason the church exists at all.
After being a United Methodist my entire life I have left the church. Though I do not doubt there could be times I attend in the future, I will never again join a local United Methodist Church again simply and solely because I refuse to spend one more dime of my money or one more minute of my time or energy giving support to the utter fallacy that vertical institutions steeped in an ass-kissing bureaucracy can truly bring about a Kingdom revolution. It simply will never happen and I refuse to align myself with that which cannot bring about what we are called to live into. I am out and I sincerely hope and pray many, many more will leave as well. Liberation awaits us.
I am actually amazed that there has not been a widespread insurgency at the repressive nature of the institution to this point in time. I have known so many dear friends; gifted people all, who have had dreams and passions for the Kingdom and world and those dreams and passions have been trampled underfoot. People have been discriminated against because of who they love and others have been marginalized because their dreams do not fit within the rigid doctrinal confines or, even more, within the budget restrictions which is what shapes the nature and extent of our mission. We plant churches where we can get rich people to attend so that the beast (institution) can generate the most profits. Likewise, we look past ministries among the poor because they are not “sustainable.” Sustainability becomes more important than missional faithfulness in the economy of the United Methodist Corporation.
Now, when I talk about the lack of an insurgency I am not talking about the fraudulent revolt happening among conservative groups which are shamelessly using terms like “biblical faithfulness” as a thin cover for their prejudice against LGBTQ people. Missional insurgencies against the corporatization of the church are first and foremost about creating space for more people, not excluding and demonizing people.
What surprises even me is how unemotional I am in leaving the United Methodist Church. I am not sad or angry. If anything, I am a little frustrated at how easily assuaged my fellow United Methodists are with such a lack of leadership. We are indeed a revolutionaryless people, stiff-necked with our gaze fixated upon institutional maintenance and the constant sideshow of institutionalists jockeying nonstop for institutional advancement; a never-ending pursuit for meaning and significance that never truly fulfills or bring abundant life. We get distracted by institutional politics – who will get what position – and we lose sight of the fact that we are drifting aimlessly without a clear vision of where we are called to go. This kind of drifting is seen in that we have become not only comfortable but reliant on institutional statements regarding issues of justice rather than missional mobilization to stand with those directly impacted by the injustices committed. We lack leadership to move us missionally so we settle for institutional statements that call for prayer or that eloquently describe the latest outrage, but which are short on action or relationship.
But we “like” the statements our structures make and put on Facebook. We share them and it comforts us that our institutions say things that sound vaguely prophetic. But they don’t do a damn thing. They don’t change the wind; they don’t even change the rhetoric. It’s just noise.
Our institutions are dying and we need them only to comfort us with the façade of justice, but not the real thing. Our allegiances remain unaltered and our values remain not just untransformed, but even uninspired. Just talk us to a sound sleep and remind us that you are watching the world unravel – not doing, not changing, not mobilizing, not organizing. Just watch and make occasional statements. It’s just what the oppressors want.
Well, this isn’t for me anymore. I want to be part of a movement. I want to change the wind, not merely listen to the rush of it go by. I want to have real connections with others based on shared passions and a vision to change the world starting with our local context. We don’t need bureaucracies or large institutions anymore. They are our obstacles. We can have connections outside these enormous and terribly expensive structures – and in fact our connections will be far more effective and transformative.
Finally, I truly want to have leaders I genuinely look up to and desire to emulate. Vertical hierarchies rob us of genuine leadership, especially the leadership that exists within us. Current ordination processes are so riven by conference and institutional politics that we miss that the greatest leaders have no letters after their names. Remember the priesthood of all believers? That isn’t supposed to be an arcane thought or ethereal concept. It’s a real thing. It exists. I want to rediscover the priesthood and I can’t as long as I remain put to sleep by the beast.
So, I am done. I am done with an institution that does far more harm than good. The UMC has accomplished some good and for that we can and should be grateful. But I urge you, if you are currently a member, to leave as well. Let’s imagine together what a church will look like that truly loves ALL people, stands incarnationally among those directly impacted by injustice, and advocates for real and concrete change. Let’s imagine a community following Jesus that LOVES. It is indeed time for new dreams, new connections and new leaders. I am ready. The old has gone, the new has come. Lord Jesus, come.