One of United Methodism’s most distinguished theologians has suggested a “Mexit” facilitating orderly departure from the denomination for dissenters from the official church teaching affirming marriage as male-female.
William Abraham of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas proposed Mexit at a conference of 28 theologians addressing United Methodism’s debates over sexuality, hosted by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry on March 9-12 in Atlanta. The event was called “Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness.”
But Abraham, with some others present, did not think church unity possible with dissenters openly defying church teaching and law, including last year’s election by the church’s small Western Jurisdiction of an openly lesbian and partnered bishop.
“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.”
The over 12 million member global United Methodist Church affirms sex only within male-female marriage, prohibits celebration of same sex rites, and ordains persons who are celibate if single or monogamous in male-female marriage. This teaching has been debated at the denomination’s quadrennial governing General Conference every four years since 1972. The traditionalist side has always prevailed.
Due to the denomination’s growing membership in Africa, where over 40% of the church lives and where the church is conservative, United Methodism has not followed other USA Mainline Protestant bodies in liberalizing its teaching about marriage and sex. As United Methodism continues its 50 year decline in America, ongoing church growth in Africa almost ensures the denomination will retain its orthodox teaching.
“The relevant point is that the debate is now over,” Abraham said. “The United Methodist Church has stood firm across the years; there is not going to be a change of mind and heart. So the time has come to recognize the moral obligation to allow The United Methodist Church to abide by and implement its decisions.”
Abraham warned against a general denomination-wide split for United Methodists:
If we are driven to explicit division then we all know that the consequences will be radical and long-lasting. Think for a moment of what it might mean for our seminaries, colleges, and universities. A whole raft of legal and ecclesial changes would ensue that would be abruptly out of control. Or think of the impact on a host of local churches. Many would be torn apart at the seams if decisions have to be made on what group to join.
Instead of such a split, Abraham said “it is time for progressives to be given their own space to follow the will of God as determined by their own best judgments rather than mine or by those represented in the decisions of the General Conference.” He further explained:
Clearly this way of moving forward would be preferable to the disruption caused by formal division where votes would have to be taken across the whole denomination. In case of exit we work with the default position of keeping as much as possible the way it is for now. Those exiting would be treated fairly as far as property and assets are concerned.
In advocating a “Mexit,” Abraham said:
Those who have already decided to walk alone should be given the opportunity and freedom to follow their convictions in their new edition of Methodism. Equally, those who support the canonical teaching of The United Methodist Church should be given the freedom to uphold and implement their convictions. As we move forward we should seek to be as least disruptive as possible.
Abraham urged that the “only way to avoid the option of more permissiveness and antinomianism is to develop the canon law that sets relevant standards for sexual morality for membership and ordination.” And he further warned: “If we do not take up the option of an orderly exit for those who reject the teaching and practices of the church, then we are headed for division.”
Such division, Abraham noted, would entail “massive constitutional changes, potential votes all the way down into local churches, and ongoing litigation in the courts.” It would be less disruptive to “implement an exit for those who cannot accept the teachings and practices of The United Methodist Church on matters related to human sexuality.”
Extending the debate within United Methodism on marriage and sex serves little purpose, according to Abraham. “It is implausible to think that any new arguments or information is going to make any significant difference to where the various protagonists stand on the contested issues before us,” he said in Atlanta. ” The discussion has gone on for over forty years.”
Besides Abraham, the Atlanta event included professors from the 13 official United Methodist seminaries in the U.S., along with independent Asbury Seminary, which graduates the most ordinands to the church, and a Mozambican seminary, plus a Scandinavian theologian. Each theologian shared a paper, all of which will be published in a book later this year.