Monday, May 26, 2014

My Plea to Us United Methodists to Stay Together

     When I read the statement from eighty of my brothers and sisters in United Methodist Ministry declaring their belief that it is best if we surrender trying to stick together and figure out how to have an “amicable breakup,” I was not surprised.  And yet seeing it in print grieved me deeply.  I’ve invested much of my time, energy and passion into this church I love in general, and in particular on the issue that divides us.

     I could make my case against the looming divorce, or even the way we talk about our differences.  On both ‘sides’ (and the very concept of ‘sides’ in the Body of Christ grieves our Lord) we have those who strive to be holy and live out the Scriptures as best they know how; and on both ‘sides’ we have a lot of rancor, people who mirror the secular culture’s wars and platitudes more than they point to anything genuinely Christian or Methodist.

     I could ask for a reasonable explanation of the idea that, because you break the covenant, I withdraw? I could ask all of us, myself included, about our selective adherence to the Discipline, not to mention the literal commandments in Scripture. 

     I could reiterate my gloomy prediction that the split will not be win-win, but lose-lose.  Each congregation would be asked (I suppose), Will we be Progressive? or Traditionalist? Let’s say the vote in my parish is 2,137 for one, 1,792 for the other, with hundreds more abstaining.  What happens to the 1,792?  Don’t we in this way guarantee the most rapid shrinkage of membership imaginable, far more catastrophic than our current steady leakage?

     I could ask why, since we disagree on a great many things, this is the line in the sand? ...and we’d keep debating for a few more minutes, or decades.

     So, here’s my deepest, gut reason for resisting a breakup.  I do not wish to be in ministry, or to be a United Methodist, without any of the many wonderful friends I have made over many years.  I have longtime friends among the 80 proposing the breakup, and I have longtime friends among those who’d prefer to split but from the opposite side of the aisle.  I have grown to love progressives and traditionalists.  I’ve been loved by them, and I’ve been inspired by them.  I admire the faithful on both sides, and find strength, challenge, and hope in our differences.

     In my family, we have pretty ferocious disagreements about a great many things:  politics, religion, whether to cheer for UNC or Duke, personal habits.  We are covenanted as a family – but there is a lot of noncompliance, from my children, my wife, my cousins, my parents, and even from me.  But we love.  We don’t divorce.  We are a family.

     Thomas Merton, when asked about his views on whether those who believe differently are saved or not, answered, “I will have more joy in heaven and in God if you are also there to share it with me.”  At a personal level, I’m a little selfish.  I want the most joy, and I need all of us in the family for that joy.  I will never, ever look back and say “Whew, thank God we had that amicable split-up, and I don't have to deal with those wrong people any longer.”  I’ll lose too many who are beloved to me, and to God.

     God wants us to be holy.  God wants us to embody the Scriptures.  And holiness in those Scriptures tells me we keep our promises, and love.  I want to be right on every issue.  But love and personal commitments trump in over being right more than we're willing to admit.  I wonder if that's the holiness test before us today.  Let’s find the way to stay together – because I love so many of you, and need the joy.