Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. I hope you and your church are being blessed by your journey through Lent and the resurrection joy of Easter. As we come out from underneath the cloud of General Conference, let me remind us all that no conference, no special session defines who any of us are. No conference ever defines who United Methodists are. Each of us define who United Methodist Christians are in our communities.
We Methodists had a very public argument about inclusion, polity and doctrine. We do our theological and polity work communally and individually, and sometimes it is very messy and loud. The very nature of our theological tasks as Methodist Christians belongs to the whole of Methodism; not just a bishop, or Pope, or one committee, or an individual church. It is a dialogue among all of us, and this time, it got ugly.
Our dialogue at the special session ground into a negative argument that was a gut-wrenching experience full of sadness for our beloved church. I am reminded by John Wesley in his sermon “A Caution Against Bigotry” that theological controversy can endanger our holiness. John further writes, “Nor are any animosities so deep and irreconcilable as those that spring from disagreement in religion. For this cause the bitterest enemies of a man are those of his own household.” I witnessed this truth at our special session of General Conference.
Friends, this way of arguing is not worth it! Wesley commented on a group of Methodists in his journal of October 7, 1753, that they “had disputed themselves out of the power and well-nigh the form of religion.” In other words, sometimes the consequences of such heated debate ruins the very holiness one is seeking to gain. The United Methodist Church was born out of religious pluralism with a 19th century polity and structure that could not have imagined such a diverse culture and understanding of human behavior that indeed is reflected in the 21st century United Methodist Church found in the United States.
We were created to be a big tent with at least two theological streams and many regional differences. However, we were not meant to hold together unlimited differences, much less, irreconcilable differences.
Where is this all going for our beloved church? I’m not sure. I believe the 2020 General Conference will be the ultimate crossroads for our denomination.
In the meantime, I’m going to focus on what I’ve always focused on: The mission of Jesus to transform our lives and the world into Christ’s likeness. I’m going to focus on our Missouri Conference vision, “to lead our churches to become outwardly focused and spiritually centered Christ followers.” I’m going to follow my Lenten journey to walk with Christ to the cross, through the grave and into the resurrection of life in Christ here on earth as it is in heaven.
I invite you and your church to do the same and to be in prayer for what steps need to be taken in the Missouri Conference between now and the 2020 General Conference. I will continue to lead with an abundance of grace as we work our way through these unique times.
Psalm 103:2-4 (NRSV)
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,