The nation is perilously divided along political, racial, economic, gender, and cultural lines. Hatred, disrespect, and cruelty toward “the other” have become acceptable public behavior and a normalized political strategy.
Tribalism and ideological warfare threaten any sense of commonality and mock the ideal of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Where is the church, particularly the denomination which has shaped my life–The United Methodist Church?
At the general church level, we are mirroring the divisions within the nation! Groups are quarreling over human sexuality and the interpretation of Scripture.
Local congregations and individual members are being pushed into ideological corners with secularly devised labels of “traditionalists” and “progressives.”
This isn’t the first time Methodists have mirrored national divisions. We divided over slavery and, thereby, the church became complicit in the violence of the Civil War.
Current arguments and rationalizations echo those advanced by preachers in 19th century. Once again the Bible is being used as a weapon of ideological warfare rather than as the authentic witness to God’s mighty acts of salvation, supremely in Jesus Christ.
Just at the time the nation and world need a model of unity amid differences, United Methodist leaders seek ways to separate; thereby, countering our “oneness in Jesus Christ” and weakening our witness to the Christian gospel.
Whatever rationalizations we may use to convince ourselves that we are defending truth and upholding morality, to the world a division will bear witness to our brokenness and hypocrisy.
Let us, instead, bear witness to the core gospel truth that God has already acted decisively in Jesus Christ to reconcile all things (Colossians 1:20). God has called the church to be instruments of reconciliation.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NRSV).
This isn’t about unity for unity’s sake! It’s unity as embodiment of witness to the gospel! God in Christ has already made us one! He has already broken down the dividing walls of hostility! That’s the gospel truth!
Failure to embody that good news in our life together as a denomination will mock the central message of the Christian Gospel: In Jesus Christ, God has broken down all dividing walls of hostility and claimed ALL as beloved sons and daughters!
The issue of homosexuality will not be resolved by legislation or denominational restructuring as proposed by any of the plans to be presented at the forthcoming called session of General Conference.
Resolution lies in living the oneness already existing in Jesus Christ by humbly struggling together to fully grasp God’s vision for the world and the church. “Traditionalists” and “progressives” need one another! A first step may be to do away with such simplistic labels and commit ourselves to God’s reign of compassion, justice, and hospitality.
It seems to me that the One Church Plan being proposed to the General Conference has the best chance of enabling United Methodists to pursue and live God’s vision for humanity expressed in Jesus’s prayer that “they might be one.”
Make no mistake about it: the world is watching! May our leaders bear witness to a unity that transcends uniformity, a unity God has already wrought in Jesus Christ.
Beautiful and inspiring, Bishop Ken. Picking up for UM Insight. Thank you!
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Not really. It is arguing unity for the sake of unity despite what the article says. LGBTQ is an abomination as is the One Church Plan https://reformedtruths.com/2019/01/10/a-way-forward-the-one-unbiblical-church-plan/
Again, we are being successfully tempted by the evil one to lay aside all the important work of the church in order to fight this battle of opinion. Again, the meager scriptural references are being used to support opinion. This is so wrong.
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Well said, Ken. As you so often do, you point to a future of hope and how we might walk together in grace-filled ways.
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I do love the idea of unity and togetherness. However I find that when I have a desire to have the difficult conversations about defining sin and how to approach it in the church, all I hear that that I’m wrong and I need to not take the Word so literally. While I wish it were that easy, I’m not hearing any guidance on this, and I haven’t for quite some time. I believe it is possible to love those who disagree with us, and to treat them with kindness and hospitality, however I do not believe we are called to ignore some one who lives a sinful lifestyle, which is what I’ve been taught my entire life is what homosexuality is. The United Methodist church has offered me nothing in the way of guidance on this matter, and as a father of three now, I feel terrified not knowing what the church will teach my children about such things. This is why I’ve stepped away from the UMC, not because I’m angry, not because I’m filled with hate, but because the church has no idea and no plan on how to deal with these types of very difficult faith questions. It makes me very sad, because I love my church, and the people in it, but I can’t trust that they have what’s best for my family in mind right now, and therefore I must leave. I hope that the church can figure this stuff out soon, because it’s tearing us apart.
Thank you for your response and the challenge to the church to provide moral guidance. I also appreciate your love for the church and desire for unity. I realize the issue of human sexuality is complex, as are most issues we face as a society and church. That’s the reason we need one another to stay in conversation, even though the conversations can be painful. A point I want to make in the blog is that the Bible’s declaration that we have ALREADY been made one in Jesus Christ must be lived out as surely as declarations about other specific behaviors. Division is as much a moral issue as sexuality. You and I may disagree but we are commanded to love one another as Christ loves us. I don’t see how we can obey that command by turning our backs on one another and implying that we can only live in unity with those who agree with us. I want the church to be the conscience of the community but it must be first and foremost a compassionate community in which the love of Christ is made visible. I truly sense your compassion and commitment and the United Methodist Church needs you. I, too, hope we can “figure this stuff out” together.
Thank you, Bishop. I copied some of the scripture and a few words of yours in front of it, to Tweet to Vice-President Pence, who has said that abortion will be gone from our country. I had already sent a message to him that women will always need this and will resort to foul methods to achieve it—abortion will never be gone. His “Christian” views anger me.
(I left out any reference to the topic you were addressing—UMC unity. But I appreciate your whole message, and I agree. I’m afraid for the Holston Conf, however.)
Anne Loy, Knoxville, Central UMC
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The One Church Plan is an abomination as is this whole debate. https://reformedtruths.com/2019/01/10/a-way-forward-the-one-unbiblical-church-plan/ The church needs to stand on the word of God. The LGBTQ lifestyle is sin. Period. End of discussion. The sooner people return to the Scriptures, the better.
Everybody wants to return to the “Word of God.” The NT says that Jesus is the “Word of God” in John 1. I believe everything He said about the issue…which is nothing.