Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's In a Name?

Within the United Methodist Church exist several unofficial groups, organized for various reasons. Two of these groups are named the “Good News Movement” and the “Reconciling Ministries Network.”

The Good News Movement exists to ensure that people who are gay are not permitted to be ordained or married. The Reconciling Ministries Network exists for exactly the opposite reason, to ensure that people who are gay are permitted to be ordained and married.

So, in our big tent of a denomination, it has become customary to identify people who belong to one or the other of these groups by using the name of the group. And so: “She is a Good News person” and/or “He is a Reconciling person.” Just hearing those words associated in any way with an individual in our denomination seems to immediately color one’s opinion of the person in question, often without even actually knowing them. Which is sad, but so it goes.

I want to talk about those names, strategically chosen to identify these two polar opposite ends of our United Methodist spectrum. “Good news.” “Reconciling.” Have these terms become nothing more to United Methodists than political identifiers?

Truthfully, I am a “Good News” person. And truthfully, I am a “Reconciling” person. And I want to be both of those things without having to explain that I don’t want to carry the bitterly divisive baggage associated with each.

I am a Good News person because I believe the Gospel. I believe God loves the world so much that Christ Jesus laid down his own life so that the world might live an abundant, everlasting life. I believe that the teaching of Jesus, the promise of God, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit are all inherently good news for all people, as well as for each person uniquely.

I am a Reconciling person because I take very seriously the idea that God has entrusted the church with the ministry of reconciliation. I believe that God’s desire is for unity, for people to be one community, to encourage one another and lift one another up. And I believe that God has called the church to make connections, build bridges, and heal broken relationships.

And I’d like to ask very kindly … can we have our words back, please?

No offense or anything, but I’d like to be able to use the terms without having to explain that I don’t mean either of those groups. (I feel the same way about the world “evangelical,” by the way.) I’d like to claim to be a person of the Good News without people wondering if that means I don’t want gay people to get married. I’d like to claim to be a minister of reconciliation without people wondering if that means I was protesting at General Conference.

And while I’m at it, let me share a couple other things that I’d like to be able to do.

I’d like to be able to claim that one’s sexual orientation should not be a barrier to ordination or marriage, without having my faith questioned, without someone accusing me of disobedience to God, without someone callously observing that I don’t take the Bible seriously, without someone assuming I am breaking covenant with my denomination.

And on the flipside, I’d like to be able to say out loud that change is happening in our church from the bottom up via a movement of the Holy Spirit; and I’d like to be able to affirm that the official legislation is going to catch up to that movement of the Spirit eventually rather than lead it, as it should be. And I’d like to be able to do that without being accused of not wanting justice now, without being compared to a “white moderate” of Dr. King’s day, without someone telling me I have somehow “sold out” and become a part of the system.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m a good news person. I’m a reconciling person. I’m an evangelical person. I’m a progressive person. I’m an orthodox person. I’m a social justice person. I’m a conservative person. I’m a peacemaking person. I’m a Bible-believing person. I’m a truth-seeking person. I’m a Wesleyan person. I’m …

I’m a Jesus person. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I try with everything I am to follow him as closely as I possibly can. And I get it wrong as often as I get it right, and I thank God for grace every single day.

I still believe, despite the anxiety in the system, that we can figure out a way to stay together as a denomination. I still believe that some on the edges will end up leaving as a result of the Bishop’s commission’s plan. And I know that some already have, pushed to do so by Bishop Oliveto’selection. Part of me grieves this; and another part of me is resigned to it. So it goes.

Some will say that our unity arises from our doctrine; if we do not ascribe to the same set of teachings, we should not be a united body. Others will say that our unity arises from the Holy Spirit; that we are mysteriously joined together with sacred bonds that transcend doctrine.

I find myself believing the latter; our unity is deeper than our doctrine. I’m a Jesus person, with all that comes along with that. And I trust, hope, and pray that the Jesus people who call ourselves Methodist will figure out a way to become the church that God is calling us to be.


Cynthia Astle said...

Hey, Andy, terrific post! I'd like to reprint on UM Insight. Let me know if you have any problems with that. Thanks! -- Cynthia Astle

Andy B. said...

Thanks Cynthia. Permission granted!

Andy B. said...

Thanks Cynthia. Permission granted!