Right now, in Tampa, Florida, 988 United Methodist delegates are deciding the fate of the denomination. Homosexuality, Bishops, and Church restructuring, oh my.
I'm worried. My allusions to a movie about a comical satirical apocalypse make that obvious, yes?
Think of the possibilities. The terror. Part of me really wishes I was joking. Where to start.
How about with God? The Methodist Church strives to be like Christ and make God happy. This is simple when you look at how Christ lived and what Christ did in his life/death/resurrection. The veracity of previous decisions aside we have the opportunity now to choose correctly. What if we don't? We become an ungodly church. I can't think of a worse possibility. Well, there are these people I care about...
How about with my friends/church? The unity of the Church is important to me because we are a diverse church. It means a lot to me that we don't all look the same or think the same things. I have friends who like how things are now in the church. Friends who are unhappy with how things are. Those friends who are unhappy? They diverge too. Some think people who are gay shouldn't be married or in church leadership. Others think they should and we perpetuate oppression when we don't speak inclusively. Some want the UMC to have fewer boards, etc. Others want us to spend more money. It goes on and on and on. What could happen if General Conference moves the Church one way or the other? Well people will leave. The threat is of course - look at the PC USA or the Episcopal Church or UCC - all of the other churches that have become inclusive are "dead." Look at the churches that have clung to exclusion of gay persons - all the churches that have been exclusive are bigoted and hated by the world. The threats are everywhere.
One of my greatest fears is that regardless of the direction the church goes, someone I love will say, "That's it, I'm gone." Frankly, I can't imagine Jesus not grieving the division. Personally, I want to be confrontational with such statements and point out how self-centered that statement sounds. Really I'm just sad that trying to be like Jesus would actually divide a church.
How about with the world? The great anxiety for me about this is regardless of the decisions we make, people will still have plenty of reason to rip on Christianity in America, and soon, maybe even more reason to rip on the United Methodist Church. You know, changing the Discipline won't change hearts as much as we'd like. Just because we have a fancy statement won't change the divides. The problem is inside us, not inside the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.
So, what to do?
I had a comforting revelation that I had to share.
Christ has won. You are loved.
Our biggest screw ups have already been answered. Lest you think that I mean we can do whatever we want, I'll point out that my appreciation for such grace actually encourages me to try harder. I think I need to love the opportunity to get it right, instead of fearing the chance to get it wrong. Scripture is clear that no matter how bad we mess up (or even get it right!) Jesus will continue to be the Christ. Resurrection will continue to spring from death. God's weakness is still stronger than our strength.
Maybe General Conference should be like a massive hydrogen bomb with Bishop Will Willimon playing the role of Major T.J. "King" Kong.
We can get it right, even after the bomb drops. We should face this future unafraid. Let me bring the whole thing a little closer to home. Regardless of what happens at General Conference, I will continue to love people like Christ. Regardless of the anger, pain, sadness, or pure joy that springs from General Conference, we will still have a job to do as a Church in living into these laws we are enacting. Little steps in local congregations will continue to define what the United Methodist Church is - hence one reason I think our conversations about vital congregations is so...right? We need all kinds of congregations but they all need to be vital!
Yes, we need to be a godly Church that pursues a Micah 6:8 mentality. Yes, we need to love like Christ loved and see past labels or our own insecurities. Yes, the laws of the Church are important and needed and will define the very institution they are meant to protect. Yes, we can strive to be a better church that loves more completely and always questions of we have gotten to perfection yet. Yes, unity is hard.
Yes, the Holy Spirit is still working on me and the Church I love.
So let's stop worrying. Love it. Embrace it. Check it out yourself: http://www.umc.org