Yesterday at the table my wife Erin said, “I wonder what would happen if there was a tornado in Topeka and Westboro Baptist Church was destroyed.” In all of the hullaballoo about their phantom protest in Joplin, I must say that is one thought I never heard uttered.
How would people react if that happened? The better angels of our nature might like us to think, “Of course, we would send rescue teams and clean-up crews and mission teams to rebuild the community, including their church building.” But I wonder.
I wonder if we might feel a certain smug satisfaction; “They had it coming.”
I wonder if there would be people who said God was punishing them for their behavior.
I wonder if, even if we didn’t say it out loud, we might think it to ourselves.
And I wonder how Christlike that would be.
This weekend United Methodists from around Missouri will gather for our Annual Conference in Springfield. It is a time to renew the connection and affirm our mission as the Body of Christ in the world. This year, a lot of our attention and energy will be invested in communities like Joplin and Sedalia that have been impacted by harsh spring weather, and the response of the church in those communities.
We also spend time this year electing representatives to go to two other conferences, sort of the next levels up from our state - Jurisdictional and General. It breaks my heart that, during voting years like this, often our differences are highlighted more than our unity. And most of the time, those differences emerge over social issues, left and right, conservative and progressive, yada yada yada. It is rarely pretty.
What a strange confluence these two weeks! The Joplin devastation shakes everything up. The overwhelming response is a powerful symbol of unity. The hints of the Westboro protest create division. Annual Conference is the unity of the connection embodied. The election of delegates, rather than celebrating Christian unity, often highlights our differences, differences that the Westboro group has falsely magnified to the point of ridiculousness.
It’s maddeningly wonderful, isn’t it? To be the church in 2011? It will drive you crazy at the very same time it is filling you with deep and abiding joy. Sure, there are times I wish following Jesus was easier, but the truth is it’s not. It’s hard to follow Jesus. It is so hard to love people with the same love Jesus has for us, love deep enough to die for us!
Following Jesus means that we are going to love people that we may not be inclined to agree with. And being the church means that we love with our full capacity; as the Body of Christ we really have no other option. I was thinking the other day about just how insignificant the theological, political, and social differences are when people are working together to clear rubble, distribute supplies, and rebuild homes.
We are many; we are one. We are the church. My prayer for Annual Conference this year is that we will remember to love with our full capacity as we all help one another in becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.