Keeping Unity with Diversity

January 1st, 2020
This article is featured in the The Future of Methodism (Feb/Mar/Apr 2020) issue of Circuit Rider

Last year, we had a “holy conferencing” session at our annual conference. Annual conference delegates were mixed in small groups, with no one person from the same church in the same group. Clergy and lay were all mixed. The purpose of the holy conferencing was to share honest opinions regarding human sexuality.

I was in a group where one of the group members shared her frustration. She wore a rainbow stole and was outspoken, saying, “I do not understand why some people do not accept LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. God is love. We should love everybody. What part of the love don’t they understand? Why are they so stubborn and legalistic? Can anybody help me at least understand them?” Then everybody in the group looked at me. I was the only Korean American pastor in the group. Korean Americans have a diverse spectrum of opinions on this issue, but people believe that “all” Korean Americans are traditionalists. That belief is simply not true. However, I can say that I understand both progressive and traditionalist positions.

I told her this story: I am serving a congregation with many elderly citizens. When I walk with them, I have to slow down. If I walk at my natural pace, I would be walking alone, leaving many of my church members behind. They would shout out to me, “Wait for me, Pastor Lee!”

I have felt this way many times at our annual conference and general conference meetings. I can tell that we are all fast-walkers on some issues and slow-walkers on some issues. Our progressive brothers and sisters are walking faster when they talk about human sexuality. Our traditional brothers and sisters walk slowly when they talk about our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. We walk at different paces on this issue. This issue does not mean that progressive brothers and sisters are more progressive in all areas. On another issue, illegal immigration, suddenly some of the so-called progressive groups became defensive and did not want to allow undocumented foreigners to come to the USA. Some of them wanted to build a wall and not a bridge. Traditionalists are fast-walkers on evangelism, but progressives are slow-walkers there.

When we value unity, however, we need to slow down or speed up to walk with others at a different pace. We all know that God guides us toward full inclusion of all persons. We know the direction of this walk. However, it is the pace of the walk that matters. Sometimes, I want to say to my progressive brothers and sisters on this issue, “Wait for me, I am out of breath!”

"The Beginning of Difference" by Theodore Hiebert. Order here:

When I told my story, she opened her eyes widely and smiled. “You are the first person who makes me understand why they are so stubborn! They are out of breath! I walked too fast for you! I am sorry. But can you speed up?” We all laughed.

After the holy conferencing session, I thought about the Exodus walk. I read Exodus and Numbers and wondered how the Israelites could walk in the wilderness together. When I read the Bible, I found that God had to stop the walk many times so that the slow walkers could catch up and continue the journey with fast walkers. The pillars of fire and cloud sometimes stayed for many months. In this way, they were able to walk together for forty years in the wilderness. That example has been our journey together in The United Methodist Church for the last several decades; now we have come to the point of decision making. We have arrived at the Jordan River, figuratively speaking.

Recently, UMC leaders met and proposed a Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation. This idea was expressed in the 2019 General Conference as a “Gracious Exit.” Now, they have modified it and signed the protocol in order to walk at their own pace. This protocol does not mean that either our traditionalist or progressive brothers and sisters will stop their journey. It simply means that we walk at different paces, but we will walk together until the end as one body.

When the Israelites arrived at the lands of Jazer and Gilead, the Gadites, the Reubenites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh decided to stay there. Moses was angry at them first, thinking that they did not want to be a part of the journey and that they wanted to discourage the whole nation. However, when Moses found out that those two and half tribes were still willing to journey together until the end, Moses allowed them their territory on that side of the Jordan. (Numbers 32)

I interpret the Finance Agreement suggested by the protocol as liken to the agreement between Moses and the two and half tribes. The Methodist denomination pursuant to the protocol will use the money to vitalize new Methodist denominations. Whether we are on the east side of the Jordan or on the west side of the Jordan, we can still work together. The protocol allows ecumenical support between the post-separation UMC and the Methodist denomination pursuant to the protocol. Boards and agencies will be shared by Methodists of all expressions.  

This protocol, a compromise, is one way we keep unity with diversity. If adopted, some groups will stay at in Gilead. Some groups will cross over the Jordan River and move to the land of Canaan. Different areas will be assigned to different groups for God’s mission and ministry. Everybody will have a difficult job to do. However, I am confident that we all can “make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world” in this new structure!

comments powered by Disqus