The way forward for The United Methodist Church

January 27th, 2016

As The United Methodist Church continues its struggles over issues related to homosexuality, perhaps we would do well to recall other such times in church history. All of our creeds, for example, the historic Apostles and Nicaean Creeds, were wrought by hard compromise. The sides were so bitterly divided that some condemned others to hell, while some simply murdered and maimed their adversaries. The creeds themselves totally satisfied no one, but all memory of conflict has slid into oblivion. In fact when we recite one creed or another during worship, the vast majority of the congregation neither knows nor cares how the words came to be; they just are. Only church historians remember that new words were coined to accommodate the reality of the Trinity, which is itself a non-biblical word. We too must find a way to compromise, even if we have to invent new words.

But unlike the creeds, we are not delineating the nature of Jesus and his relationship with God and the Holy Spirit, but for some the stakes are just as high. The debate over doctrine related to homosexuality is about how we live as followers of Christ and how we understand the Bible’s authority. It is a commentary on our times that as good United Methodists, some still see the need to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the land” as we define it, but not enough of our congregations get excited about it to make a difference. They have other priorities. Perhaps they are busy bringing Christ to a hurting world. So this doctrinal debate is condemned to be a conversation for the select few up the chain of structural hierarchy. This means that the totality of our church will not own whatever decision General Conference reaches, so we must find a way to live together despite deep differences.

By definition being a Christian disciple means that we follow Jesus Christ. As followers we don’t get to dictate terms. The church does not belong to us. It is Christ’s Body after all; however, this is the crux of disagreement—how we interpret what Christ wants from us. And here is where complications arise. But what does God require of us? He has already told us: to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). How does a Christian act? We love God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37). What are the characteristics of Christian behavior? These are listed in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Want to spread scriptural holiness? Start here.

But let’s be honest, this is not just a disagreement over theology or cultural values. It is also about church organization and polity. Who is in and who is out; and who gets to decide. It’s about us. And until we confess that sin, our butting heads over issues related to homosexuality will only result in bruised foreheads.

Is there a way forward for The United Methodist Church? Yes, of course. Will we find it? Yes, we will. Will there continue to be vigorous disagreement? Yes, but that is nothing new.

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