Holding our church together
Should the United Methodist Church talk about stuff that is divisive?
I've noticed there are many blog posts in the Methoblog concerning annual conference amendments. This week, there have been a flood of Swine Flu posts as well. Thats good though- wholeness and health should be an important concern for Methodists (holiness, anyone?).
One issue I don't find much among the Methodist blogs is the recent judicial council decision to uphold the Discipline with regards to gay marriage. You can find the official UMNS Article here. Sure, there are important things going on in our church - but this issue doesn't seem to be touched by anyone many people INSIDE the church. If you'd like to see how many people are talking about it on twitter, go to search.twitter.com and try "gay methodist" and just look at the wealth of people who have taken notice of the decisions we'd like to think are trivial.
The simple lack of material this past week concerning this judicial decision tells me there is a reason folks don't want to bring this topic up. Sooooo, I've decided I'm going to touch the issue of Gay marriage within the United Methodist Church. Not because I'm intelligent, but because I love my church and I want it to stay together. It hurts sometimes, but just bringing the issue up will hopefully help.
On my weakest days, I do not want to look at the issues that will divide us. Its easier to just keep my head down, be about ministry, and ignore what my ears are hearing. On my better days I engage the people around me.
What issues are most divisive? I think the discussion of what is sound theological teaching is what is really being discussed here. For me, the issue isn't whether homosexual marriage should be considered in our congregations. The issue isn't whether the sanctity of marriage is being destroyed somehow - the issue for me is why does this separate us?* The divisive issues are the ones that separate us. In their maturity, it leads to a break in fellowship. In Christianity, these very rarely have anything to do with Jesus and everything to do with how the Church is the body of Jesus. I mean, really, how many churches have left Christendom because Jesus ate with sinners or proclaimed grace to those who don't deserve it? Our divisive issues are almost always not problems with God but problems with other humans.
Is the marriage of two homosexual persons so important that we must break fellowship over it? Can Christ not bring together all who love him? If you cannot imagine a church where a person who is pro-choice and pro-life stand hand in hand before our God, then either your church is too small or your God is too small. The same would go for blue collar/white collar, young/old, pro-homosexual/anti-homosexual, republican/democrat, liberal/conservative, auburn/alabama, etc.etc.etc. - you get the idea. Aren't these things trivial in relation to the goodness of the love of our Jesus?
I don't know how anything could bring these people together other than Jesus. So maybe we just need a priority change. How do we bring more into the Kingdom of God without placing heavy burdens on believers' necks? In a word, I believe the body of Christ is inclusive.
What is the right way to be inclusive? Here is what I mean - surely God's greatest gifts are love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. To offer Jesus to those whom he loves, we in the UMC are careful to always offer Jesus first and let God sort out the rest. This is most clearly seen (for me) in the idea of the open table. Communion is not something we will deny someone, because it is not our place to
Which is better? Exclude someone in uncertainty? Or include someone in uncertainty? Would you rather deny someone Christ because they do not measure up to what you think is important to Jesus, or would you rather include someone that you aren't sure about?
Maybe holding our church together is not the correct priority in the first place. If it isn't, God help me, because I'm devoted to bringing people together, not tearing them apart.
And with that said, I'll offer my advice to you:
Speak your heart in love that only Christ can offer.
If you hate that the UMC is missing a golden opportunity to change its ways, I'm sorry. I hear you. How are you going to win others over in the name of Christ? Can you get over your own pride and hurt to love those who think differently than you?
If you praise the UMC for upholding its stance (or even think it hasn't gone far enough), congrats. I hear you, so how are you going to remind your homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ that you love them and include them?
Sometimes, yes, this love will be tough and it may divide us, but I hope that you use it not as a means of exclusion, but a means of inclusion. A means of grace and not condemnation. I am not screaming "peace peace!" and hoping to maintain an oppressive system. I'm screaming "peace peace!" and hoping we will align ourselves with the Prince of Peace.
* Maybe I will someday post about whether I think the UMC should marry homosexuals - and I promise you, I do have a stance on this subject (although I must admit it moves sometimes), but this is not that post. I'm simply trying to align myself with Jesus and get the rest of you to join hands with me, dagnabbit.