Unity Can’t Be Manufactured

Unity! We are one! We are brothers and sisters! We are connected in covenant! We are connected in Christ! One God- one people!
These are some of the phrases from this year’s annual sessions of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our theme this year is “We Are One: Connected in Covenant.” We have a great logo emblazoned on all of our Annual Conference stuff. Our worship has lifted up unity, at times more than God. Every speaker has dutifully used the unity tag-line in their presentations.

It’s usually an accurate assumption that when something is overemphasized to the fevered pitch of of cult-like refrains, that same something is glaringly absent. On the one hand, I get it. Our United Methodist Church’s near schism over the issue of human sexuality is something we must address. Most of us want to move through our impasse on whether or not to fully include LGBTQI+ persons while holding our church together. So let’s do all we can to lift up our desire for unity. But on the other hand, it all sounds so contrived. It’s manufactured unity. It has sounded and felt forced.

I’m saddened by the fact that we sing the songs of unity but so far have not adequately demonstrated that we know how to unify ourselves. We caucus ourselves based on ideology. We clothe ourselves based on ideology, i.e. wearing a rainbow-colored stole or not, and what it may mean if we wear one or refuse. In our huddles, we talk about “them” and what “they” are doing to the church. We have a hard time fully respecting those whose views are different from our own. Many are afraid to openly express their views for fear of social and even professional repercussions. Just in what I’ve observed over the last couple of days, I see and hear so many examples of folks writing off others, making snide remarks, or making disparaging comments about a speaker.

If unity is going be a reality beyond a spiffy conference logo and lovey dovey liturgy, we need to change our behavior. I’d like to passionately suggest to my brothers and sisters of the Baltimore-Washington Conference that unity could look like this:

  • Respect one another. I know many people on either side of the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people. They are deeply committed to Jesus. They champion his gospel. They are people of high integrity and deep theological, biblical understanding. They are worthy of my respect and the respect of those who differ with them. That said, if we truly respect them and at the same time desire unity, we must make room for these folks to be who they are in Christ and to be in ministry in the ways in which the Holy Spirit leads them.
  • Listen to one another. Listening springs from a desire to understand. A desire to understand comes from a place of humble love. And that leads to a third thing needed for unity…
  • Hold a humble love for all. When we choose to love in humility, we recognize that our side of the story is not the only side. We’re teachable and moldable. We’re flexible and practical, even when we stand on core principles. We desire to be servants, not victors in an ideological struggle. Even when we strive for justice and righteousness, we can do that with a desire to embrace our sisters and brothers whose vision of justice and righteousness is different from our own.

As I read what I just wrote, I’m struck by how unoriginal these ideas are. In fact, they sound like variations of lessons I learned in kindergarten. Treat others with respect. Be a good listener. Be a good learner. Learn how to get along with everyone. Don’t be a bully.

Yet somehow our adult big ideas and firm principles have mingled with unresolved fear and have overridden our childlike abilities to respect, listen, and humbly love.

So… what if we put aside our fears, took on Jesus’ heart, and build true, short bridges between one another? Then, we might have a unity worth celebrating and not just fabricating.


Filed under The United Methodist Church

2 Responses to Unity Can’t Be Manufactured

  1. Edmund Metheny

    It is inherently difficult – not impossible, but difficult – to be respectful of those whose views inherently include disrespect for something we value highly. Pro-inclusion people view anti-inclusion people as being inherently disrespectful towards their friends, family, and loved ones. Anti-inclusion people view pro-inclusion people as being inherently disrespectful towards their specific interpretation of scripture.
    that makes satisfactory resolution difficult, as the UMC has clearly demonstrated in its decades-long struggle.
    The problem is made worse by the fact that there is no compromise position possible. There is no shading of equality. Equality is something that there either is or isn’t. Any compromise on that simply leads to a different status quo of inequality, which those who desire equality may settle for at a given moment, but in the long run will not be satisfied with and will continue to push to change.
    There is even the meta-issue of how the scripture is intended to be read. Pro-equality people argue for a holistic reading of the arc of scripture as a whole, whereas anti-equality people tend to focus more on adherence to specific passages of scripture. So the two sides cannot even agree on the nature of the problem (metaphysically) let alone come to an understanding.

  2. Edmund Metheny

    I was doing a bit of historical research for your most recent post when I was reminded that the then Methodist Episcopal church underwent a schism in 1845 over the issue of slavery after the General Conference ordered Bishop James O. Andrew of Georgia to desist from exercise of his office while he continued to own slaves and Southern Methodists responded by forming the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
    Unity is a laudable goal. But everything has its price, including unity. The question then becomes which price is worth paying – the price of unity, or the price of equality?

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