Today I read a blog article by Mark Tooley entitled, “‘Mexit’ for United Methodist Sexual/Theological Dissenters?” Tooley has quoted United Methodist theologian William Abraham as follows:
“I think that the way ahead lies with an exit plan for those who cannot accept the canonical teaching and practice of the church rather than a plan for division,” Abraham announced, coining the term “Mexit” for this Methodist departure.
Abraham suggested “those who disagree with the teachings and practices of the church should follow through on their own convictions and recognize the moral obligation of exiting The United Methodist Church.”
For many of us who participate in Wesleyan or Arminian theological traditions these conversations are becoming increasingly common. Whether we’re speaking of the divide between Arminians and Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention or whether we’re speaking of the push to affirm same-sex unions and/or a fluid understanding of gender identity in the United Methodist Church or whether we’re speaking about the dismissal of ‘inerrancy of intent’ in the Church of the Nazarene, both the cultural and religious environments of the United States are becoming increasingly hostile to those Wesleyans and/or Arminians who continue to assume the unique, God-breathed authority of the prophets and apostles as preserved in the Christian Bible.
Dr. Abraham’s suggestion that those who wish to depart from the teachings of the prophets and apostles and the historic stances of the church on sexuality and gender depart from the United Methodist Church is indicative of the way many of the fault lines are falling. We are reaching an impasse. It seems inevitable that someone must choose to depart.
As a self-identified evangelical in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition myself, I’ve been thinking much about a way forward, and I’m beginning to believe that it lies among us to embrace a new exodus. I believe we evangelicals are the ones who need to leave.
Several teachings of Jesus undergird this costly recommendation. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus has taught us:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
So long as we continue to fight for our traditions and institutions, I fear we will continue to divide our witness and diminish the evangelical Wesleyan-Arminian voice in Christianity. If we are being asked for our cloaks, perhaps we should give our tunics, as well. Perhaps we should hand over our buildings and our traditions and our universities and our councils. Perhaps we should leave all the strappings of the kingdoms we’ve built and follow Jesus into a new exodus, back into the wilderness, and trust that the Lord will care for those who remain faithful to His chosen spokespersons as their testimonies and voices have been preserved in our Christian Bibles.
Perhaps Wesleyans and Arminians who are committed to an evangelical understanding of Christian faith and practice might come out of the Southern Baptist Convention, out of the United Methodist Church, out of the Church of the Nazarene, and out of any other tradition in which our remaining would perpetuate the division and infighting that we are presently enduring. Perhaps we all might gather together around a simpler set of convictions, allowing greater diversity of interpretation than our present denominations allow within the wider convictions we together share. Perhaps we might embrace a new identity that truly lives into the proverb, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity.”
My proposal is that we consent to gather around three core articulations:
- The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed with respect to our understanding of God and Gospel. (read HERE)
- The 1978 Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy with respect to our understanding of Scripture. (read HERE)
- And the statement on humanity articulated by the Society of Evangelical Arminians in article 5 of that society’s statement of faith. (read HERE)
I recognize that the thought of leaving structures and cultures in which we have invested, in which our forebears ministered and served is daunting. However, the Kingdom of the Heavens is not a kingdom of this earth. There was a time in which these structures and traditions and institutions did not exist. And, if God is with us, there will be a time in which they might be established again. I suspect the cost of clinging to the things we have built or fighting to retain them will prove too high. We serve a God who can bring bread out of the heavens; a God who created all that is; and a God who will care for us as we endeavor to persevere in the faith entrusted to us.
Perhaps by leaving behind ‘all we have’ and giving it to those who would take it from us by force of will, we might find a new freedom we have long since forgotten. We’ll allow God to begin again in us, as we meet in homes and community centers and function halls. We’ll allow the legalism that has so often accosted our tradition to remain behind with those who would shame us into denying the God-breathedness of the testimonies and interpretations of the prophets and apostles. Perhaps it is time again to follow God into the wilderness that we and our tradition might be renewed.
Perhaps Jesus’ words to the ruler in Luke 18 might speak to us afresh and anew:
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”