We were discussing part of yesterday's lectionary reading, Matthew 18:15-17, in the prayer meeting this morning. It's the section about how to deal with another church member who's sinned against you:
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
I think this is something the church as a whole fails to get right. At one time, a significant number of our ladies had been drummed out of other churches, for getting pregnant and/or being in relationships with men they weren't officially married to. All of them were in committed relationships, some of which had lasted for many years. There has to be something wrong here; our view is that the church should celebrate such relationships, regardless of whether or not the couple have paid for a ceremony and a legal ticket. The problem doesn't lie with such couples, but with a culture which has developed a historically narrow understanding of marriage.
Coming back to Matthew, this is an area where the Methodist Church has a real problem. Some of us were discussing our experiences round the country, and between us we covered quite a number of Districts. In every one, we'd all found the identical problem. Cliques and little tinpot dictators. Nobody wants to start expelling church members, but we go to the opposite extreme of allowing small numbers of people to alienate potential church members, or drive existing members away, in large numbers, for the sake of childish ego games. Anything rather than challenge these people, and sort the problems out. My view is that we should sometimes be willing to vote people out of office, but even this seems to be too difficult. Once someone's elected, an office all too often becomes a lifetime appointment, and if the church has appointed the wrong person, it's in trouble.
I don't pretend to have instant solutions, but a denomination which is in long-term decline can't afford not to tackle its awkward squad.