I’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?