Showing posts with label Christian unity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian unity. Show all posts

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dividing the UMC is No Solution - Try Local Autonomy

Dividing the United Methodist denomination is a bad idea. (Click here for some background info.)

I thought we were supposed to be a mission focused church. I thought we were supposed to keep the main thing the main thing. I thought that meant an outwardly focused orientation. I thought we were followers of Jesus Christ.

Dividing our denomination does none of those things. Division does not align with our mission. Division is definitely not the “main thing.” Division is the most inwardly focused thing we could do. Division of the body of Christ is incompatible with Christian teaching.

And you know what? You know what would happen if we spend the exorbitant time and money and energy on dividing the denomination?


Nothing would happen. Nobody would care. The people who aren’t coming to United Methodist Churches now would not magically start coming to the Gay Methodist or the Straight Methodist, or whatever Silly Methodist name we would come up with, just because where there used to be one there were now two denominations. Or three, or six, or a dozen.

Nobody would care. And when I say “nobody,” I mean nobody who is supposed to be the “target demographic” for our mission. (For the record, I do not like that term, since it objectifies people in overly simplistic and rather demeaning ways.) In fact, just about everyone who’s not already heavily involved in church has stopped reading this post by now, and is on to more interesting things, I’m sure.

For the record…

…I reject the idea that the body of Christ should be divided as a way to avoid confronting the controversies.

…I reject the idea that it is possible to categorize the diversity present in our denomination into an either/or, us and them, ally and enemy paradigm.

…I reject the idea that all gay people would feel comfortable in the liberal congregations, and all conservative people would feel comfortable in the “not gay” congregations, and every possible permutation of these labels and categories.

…I reject the idea that almost 300 years of Wesleyan tradition isn’t worth as much as a disagreement about sex.

…I reject the short-sightedness that laments the amazing, exponential growth of African and Asian United Methodist churches. (This lament is offered because these regions generally don’t affirm marriage and ordination for all people.)

I reject all of it. I reject it in favor of mission: the “main thing,” an outwardly focused drive into our communities and around the world. It is a drive to share the love of God made known in Christ Jesus. It is a mission that is equipped and empowered by the living presence of God’s Holy Spirit. It is a mission known by various terms and phrases, but at the core it is quite simply to make disciples of Jesus Christ who are transforming the world for God’s sake.

As such, what makes sense to me for the immediate future of the United Methodist denomination is local autonomy with regard to the question of marriage and ordination, a General Conference shift from “shall” to “may,” if you will.

So, according the Book of Discipline, pastors currently have authority with regard to marrying couples. The pastor does not have to marry every couple that asks. A simple extension of that authority would allow individual pastors to marry same-sex couples, or not, depending on their personal convictions and their community context.

Similarly, the Annual Conference is given the authority to ordain individuals. Each Annual Conference has its own variation on that process anyway, whether in mentoring, the role of the various boards, the interaction with the DS, the candidacy process, the residency time, etc. Each Annual Conference could easily be given authority to determine whether a candidate’s sexual life is a significant enough stumbling block to prohibit their ordination.

And voila! A solution with which no one will be completely happy! Sounds like a compromise to me. Some will say it is condoning sin. Some will say it is too random. Some will say it will create a complicated mess of “safe” and “not safe” congregations and conferences. Some will say that it essentially divides the denomination, if not formally then practically. I completely understand where all these perspectives would come from.

But we cannot simply stay status quo; status quo is a steady decline toward an impending tsunami of Weemsian proportions in North American Methodism.

We cannot divide the denomination, for the reasons I stated above. And the same reasons also apply to the “civil disobedience” option in which pastors or conferences intentionally break the rules to force a confrontation. Not missional, not Christlike, not outwardly focused, etc.

The best option is local autonomy. Local autonomy represents an option that is missional, faithful, hopeful, and most importantly, grace-filled and loving. It is not the cleanest option, but we live in a messy world, don’t we?

[Note: This article has been edited from the original post. "Latin American" in the original has been replaced with "Asian." I apologize for the error on my part.]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Great Weekend to Go to Church

This weekend is our national celebration of Memorial Day. It is a weekend that people traditionally … (how shall I say this?) … don’t necessarily make worship a part of their itinerary. Outdoor activities, get-togethers with family, and travel frequently diminish participation in Sunday gatherings. And that’s fine; I’m certainly not bashing the occasional three-day weekend spent connecting with our families!

But I’m just wondering about this Sunday, coming at the end of a week in which our neighbors in Joplin, across the state, and throughout the region have been devastated by especially harsh weather. 125 have been confirmed dead in Joplin, and 232 are unaccounted for. The number of injuries is staggering. The destruction of property is mind-boggling. We are shaken, stricken, and scared.

What better time to gather together to remember that God is good, all the time? How could there be a more opportune moment to affirm that the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? When else would it be more appropriate for us to reaffirm Christ’s call to help those who need help and truly love our neighbors as ourselves?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if sanctuaries across the nation were filled to overflowing this Sunday morning? If people travelling made a point to find the nearest church so that they could go to worship? If people with guests would bring their guests to worship with them instead of using them as an excuse to be somewhere else?

Wouldn’t it be great if followers of Jesus gathered in record numbers this weekend to proclaim one gigantic NO! - the devastation of this world is not the end of the story! There is more!

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Church assembled for worship this weekend with no regard at all for denomination or congregation, but simply and powerfully as the body of Christ, affirmed an enormous YES! - There is hope! There is resurrection! There is life!

This started out as an email to the people of Campbell UMC to encourage them to be at worship this weekend, but it has become a bit more than that, I suppose. My hope is that all who are reading this, wherever you are, will go to church this Sunday and worship God with as much passion, energy, and devotion as ever. No, with even more!

God is good! ALL the time!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Appeal - A Follow-Up

If you read my last post on Enter the Rainbow but not on Facebook, you missed the 50 comment dialogue that happened there. My post was about Christian unity. The comment thread ended up being about homosexuality, which certainly was not directly responsive to what I had written, but perhaps provided a case study for the point I had actually intended to make.

To be sure, there were several commenters whose remarks were germane to the post itself, but a handful of those commenting were actually responding to the first commenter, Steve. I went to Camdenton High School with Steve – sang in the Bel Canto Singers with him, in fact. I haven’t seen him since then, and only just recently “found” him on Facebook again.

In one of his comments, Steve wrote, “Try reading the scripture and taking it for what it says instead of what makes you feel good.” This statement, of course, did not win him any fans. Because, as soon became apparent, the people who were disagreeing with him had, in fact, read the scripture and were, in fact, taking it for what it says. It just so happens that their take of what it says differs from Steve’s.

Rather than get into the specifics of their conversation, I’d like to remark on the conversation itself, and on the people participating.

One of the first to respond was Clayton, who I went to Northeast Missouri State University with – he was a few years ahead of me in the music department, in fact. He is now a UM pastor, and one of the smartest human beings I know. Clayton and I share the distinctions of being nerds in two separate areas of interest: music and religion!

Clayton’s thoughts were echoed by Cale, with whom I went to college also, but he was a few years behind me – sang in the NEMO Singers with him, in fact (or was it Cantoria by then?) He’s a few years younger than me, and he married his husband (who has almost no vowels in his name, by the way) in California.

Cale was talking back and forth with Cindy, with whom I went to Camdenton High School also, though she was a few years ahead of me – sang in the Bel Canto Singers with her, in fact. She briefly described her religious life in her comments, and I have to say it is fascinating. I’d love to hear more about how she practices her faith.

Cindy was asked a couple of questions by Kory, with whom I go to Campbell United Methodist Church – sing in the praise band with him, in fact. Kory just got married this summer and, in addition to leading the praise band, keeps track of all of our computer stuff at church. He is a poet, and a deep thinker with an artist’s soul.

Steve, Clayton, Cale, Cindy, and Kory – five people from three different chapters of my life, meeting together to talk about their beliefs. Now, Facebook is not going to be the place where we work out all our differences and end up in perfect agreement with each other. And it’s not as if that’s the goal, either.

But I’ve got to say that it was pretty cool to watch that conversation unfold over those three days. It was interesting to note that all the people in that mix are people with whom I have made music. It was a pretty good example of our vibrant, complicated, mystifying, frustrating diversity, actually.

I wish there was enough passion about the issue I was actually writing about to generate 50 comments. I’m going to keep writing about it, keep preaching it, keep living it. The unity of the body of Christ, a unity that transcends difference of opinion, a unity that celebrates diversity rather than fearing it, this unity is desperately needed as an alternative to the bitter divisiveness that seems to dominate our society these days.

Again I’ll emphasize, I hope we don’t blow it!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

An Appeal to the Church for Our Troubled Times

There is no organization better suited to respond to the current societal divisiveness than the church. Let’s not blow it.

The bitter “us” versus “them” mentality of so many people these days is directly confronted by the radical unity that Christianity teaches. The modern day equivalent of the “Jew” and “Greek” of Bible times (Galatians 3:28) find themselves inextricably, if a bit uncomfortably, drawn together in Christ. If it is indeed true that God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11), then who are we to do so?

It should break our hearts when we hear what passes for public discourse in our nation today. One of my wife's preshcool kids said to her yesterday, "Obama is a liar." Hmm...wonder where she heard that? And I'm much more upset by a preschool kid saying it than hearing it shouted from the floor of congress, to tell you the truth.

I just learned from my cousin Bryan that, in Germany, there are signs at the crosswalks that encourage grown-ups to cross with the light because it will set a good example for the children watching. Setting aside for a second the glennbeckian propensity to see an evil governmental plot to control our lives, isn't that a pretty good idea? Shouldn't we be behaving so that the example we set is a good one?

As adults should set examples for children, so should the church set the example for society. (It's a metaphor, not an analogy, so don't jump on that.) Simply put, there is no better time than now for the church to model for the rest of the world how people are supposed to get along. If you've read H. Richard Niebuhr, this is the time to bring a little "Christ Transforming Culture" into the mix.

You want to hear something radical? I believe in the devil, and I believe that the devil doesn't really care what we believe, as long as it separates us from one another, and from God. Evil does not manifest in individual person's beliefs; evil manifests in the way that people's beliefs, whatever they are, cause us to distance, then divide, then isolate, and ultimately hate the other.

If ever there was a moment for the church to counteract our societal craziness, it is now. But here is the tricky part - we cannot repay evil with evil, but must counter evil with goodness (Romans 12:17). In other words, the church cannot "go to battle" with divisiveness, for doing so would just add more divisiveness (and the devil would love it). Rather, we must counter cultural divisiveness with Christian unity, a unity that claims and celebrates a rich and vibrant diversity within it.

Christian unity does not ignore difference. It is not "colorblind," a term that I try to avoid using. Rather, Christian unity sees the differences and transcends them. That which unites is God's love shown through Jesus Christ and present in the Holy Spirit, and no earthly force can overcome that. That means that I'm different from you - in a lot of ways - and that's okay.

That's what the church is supposed to be - left/right, women/men, old/young, gay/straight, rich/poor, Royals/Cardinals, short/tall, UMC/AG, this race/that race, this nation/that nation, citizen/immigrant, this/that, blah blah/yadda yadda - and on and on and on. God loves us all; God wants us all to be better people; God offers us all the gift of salvation. To announce and embody this good news in all of its myriad possibilities is why the church exists.

How we treat each other matters. We should neither weaponize our differences nor ignore them. For the church, there is no "us" and "them" - it's all "us!" It's all us in all of our vibrant, complicated, mystifying, frustrating diversity. And it can be such a beautiful thing to behold.

This is our moment, church. Please let's not blow it.