Not Calling for a Split

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m not a lifelong Methodist. I grew up in another denomination and at some point I began to question what I was being taught and what I had always believed. It was thanks to my wife that I joined the United Methodist Church and came to realize that what I had always felt in my soul was true about God and scripture most aligned with Wesleyan theology. Whether I realized it or not, I have always been Methodist even if it wasn’t in name. The Wesleyan-Arminian hermeneutic (I’m in seminary so I might as well use a fancy preachin’ word) is, in my opinion, the best way to articulate the gospel and to live it out.

The United Methodist Church was where I  began to learn the most about Christ and my identity in Him. Jessica and I were married in a UM church (Decatur United Methodist Church – Decatur, Mississippi). My first time to preach as a lay speaker was in a UM church (Richton United Methodist Church – Richton, Mississippi). I made the decision to answer the call to pastoral ministry in a UM church (Central United Methodist Church – Meridian, Mississippi). The people within the United Methodist Church are the ones who have affirmed that I have the gifts and graces necessary for pastoral ministry and who have invested in my seminary education (MEF). The United Methodist Church is where I have served as a pastor (Oak Grove United Methodist Church – Meridian, Mississippi), and where I am currently serving as a pastor (Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, Kentucky) while I attend Asbury Theological Seminary (not a UM seminary but they are an approved school and turn out a ton of UM clergy).

The United Methodist Church is where I hope to serve out the time of my ministry. Among the many reasons that I have an affinity for the UMC is the fact that there is so much diversity. The UMC is a global church with churches all over the world. While Africa tends to get a lot of the attention, the UMC also has presence and is seeing fruit in several countries in Europe and Asia. There are also many vital ministries that the UMC facilitates such as Imagine No Malaria, The United Methodist Committee on Relief, and countless others which are done at the Annual Conference and district level. There are many UM congregations which take outreach to their communities seriously and who spread the love of Christ both in preaching and in action.

And we do all of this in spite of our differences. We are diverse in our thoughts on all sorts of topics and even some nuances of theology. We are conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, and everything in between. We come from the entire spectrum of backgrounds and modes of living. We are a multitude of races, speak a multitude of languages, and, yes, some of us are LBGTQ. And yet, in spite of all of these differences which could divide us, we still typically find ways of working along and with one another. In any given congregation you will find people who fit any of these molds or even none of them. Regardless, the gospel is preached for all people to know that there is forgiveness, transformation, redemption, reconciliation and love available to one and all.

I’m not ready to give up on the United Methodist Church. I don’t believe that God is ready to give up on the UMC either. Unfortunately, a lot of people are. Just today I have seen two people – both of whom I respect greatly – publicly call for a split of the denomination over the human sexuality issue. I’m saddened by the fact that there are people who, in spite of the denomination having much to offer, wish to make the UMC a one issue church. Well meaning people who are entrenched in their positions are ready to give up, take their toys and go play in another yard. One of the biggest problems in this debate, in my opinion, is that people who are on the extremes of the debate are being heard while people in the center are being shouted down.

Several claim that the majority of people in the UMC are ready to split. I beg to differ.

I believe there are more people, like me, who are in the center than the people on the extreme ends realize. We are just not being heard. We try but people on the extreme left and right are much louder in spite of there likely not being as many on their respective sides as they think. People in the center are unfairly vilified as being wishy-washy, lukewarm or simply trying to preserve the institution. While I’m not sure that any of us have the answers as to what to do, we do believe that a way can be found for us to remain united in spite of our differences. We want the UMC to be about more than just one issue.

We want to build bridges, not blow them up.

In the Service of Word and Table as found in the United Methodist Hymnal and United Methodist Book of Worship, there is a line which reads, “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.” At chapel services at Asbury, the congregation says these words along with the celebrant (typically, only the celebrant says these words) and it’s something that I think I will start to have my own congregation say together as well. But as I ponder this in light of the ongoing debate on human sexuality in the UMC, I have to ask this question…

Do we really mean these words or are they just words on a page or on a screen?

Ponder that.

UMC General Conference: Rumors and Games

Yoda-QuotesI am not at the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Portland, Oregon but I have been watching through social media and the video stream when I’m able. It has been stressful to watch so much fighting among people who I greatly respect and even admire. Today has, by far, been the worse.

It all started during the night when rumors were released by the Love You Neighbor Coalition (LYNC – a group which advocates for LGBTQ inclusion) which claimed that the Council of Bishops were set to announce a plan for schism which would divide the UMC into liberal, progressive, and centrist factions. This afternoon the President of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Bruce Ough (pronounced “Oh”) addressed General Conference to deny these rumors and say that the rumors were the result of conversations that the Bishops have, indeed, had (from his tone, I speculate these conversations were no different than conversations many people within the UMC have been having) but that nothing pertaining to separation or schism was going to be presented or advocated by the Council of Bishops. In short, the rumors were pure bunk.

Assuming all of this is correct, I have to say that I feel that this was nothing but a publicity stunt perpetrated by LYNC. Personally I find such stunts pulled by any kind of special interest group of any kind to be sickening. These people have played and heightened the fears of many within and without the General Conference and I can not denounce their actions enough.

I don’t have time for games and neither should they.

I have no time or desire to play these games when we have a world with hurting people in it. We have people who desperately need the gospel and when I’m trying to figure out how best to reach out to them, I don’t have time for games. I don’t have time for games when I live and serve in a county with one of the highest rates of poverty and drug addiction in the state of Kentucky. I don’t have time for games when I have people within my congregation who I am trying to care for when they are sick, dying, or uncertain about their faith. I don’t have time for such games when there are people who have been harmed by the church and those within it who I am trying to show love to.

If you feel that you have time for such games, I encourage you to check yourself.

I am one of the people in the center of this debate where I believe we can find a way to coexist in spite of our differences. Unfortunately, people in the center are not being heard because those at the extreme ends of the homosexual issue insist on being heard because it’s “our way or no way.” My desire is for the table and those at it to be increased, not hindered in any way. I don’t have the answers but I hold to the hope that a way to coexist can be found. In Being United Methodist in the Bible Belt, F. Belton Joyner used the analogy of the church being intended to be a large bus with lots of people on it as opposed to a two-seater convertible with “just me and Jesus.” We need to strive to keep it that way.

Even if the bus is a double-decker, the point is we would still be on the same bus.

I have not been a Methodist all my life (my wife gets the blame or the credit for bringing me to the UMC); I grew up in a church within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) which broke off from the PCUSA way back when. I’ve seen first hand the damage and the scars which are left from such splits. I constantly heard comments like, “those liberals are ruining that other church, I’m glad we left. We don’t want them here.” If the UMC splits and further fractures the body of Christ, such is what awaits us. I can not, in good conscience, support any talk of a split when I still feel that it can be avoided.

Let’s stop playing games, spreading silly rumors, and let’s stop the nastiness toward one another. Let’s work for unity and the good of the Body. Let’s be the church and stop the foolishness.

Submitted for what it’s worth,
Jonathan