By this act of presumption, I have probably just disqualified myself from consideration. Bishops generally frown upon clergy who attempt to appoint themselves to things- and for good reason. But since we find ourselves in unprecedented times, why not try an unorthodox approach and see what happens, especially as the fate of my beloved United Methodist Church hangs in the balance? Believe me, I will offer myself to anything that keeps us united and focused on our mission.
Yesterday, the General Conference voted to follow our Council of Bishops’ recommendation to select a special commission to review all of the language in our Book of Discipline dealing with human sexuality, and if necessary rewrite it all. The results of this commission’s work will come before a special gathering of General Conference for their vote in 2 to 3 years’ time.
Bishops, just in case you’re still reading, and aren’t totally put off by my effort to volunteer myself, let me tell you why someone like yours truly would be a good choice for such a commission.
For far too long, we have done the same thing over and over again, only to find ourselves in a worse predicament. Yesterday, Rev. Jeremy Smith reminded us that this would the the sixth attempt at a special commission or study on human sexuality. So while I applaud your leadership and the General Conference’s trust in your leadership, how would this latest go around finally do the trick?
Some have attempted to argue that this time, things are different. In America at least, we’re at a different ideological place than we were before. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Therefore, the circumstances for us are much more dire now. The stakes are higher. And this would be the most hands-on that our Bishops have ever been with a commission like this.
A whole new ball game? I’m not entirely convinced.
Undeniable fact: no matter what this commission comes up with, it will still have to survive an entrenched, bitterly divided General Conference who are not of one mind about even staying together!
The only variable that could make a difference- perhaps, and a long shot at that- would be the kinds of people the bishops select to be on this new commission. And that’s where someone like me comes in.
I’m new blood. I’m not a General Conference delegate. I have been spending 10 years attempting to mediate a solution that would include everyone at the same table of grace- no matter their views on what the Bible says or doesn’t say on human sexuality. I haven’t been elected as a delegate, but I certainly do all I can to voice my vision.
I have my own understandings, yes, but I’m not so entrenched that I can’t stretch to embrace a creative view or approach that could bridge a divide. I’m not in this thing to make sure my stance on human sexuality becomes the prevailing one. I’m in it to keep our church unified around Jesus Christ and his mission to advance the kingdom of God in the world.
So, Bishops of the United Methodist Church, if you’ve hung in here this long, but you’re still not accepting my offer to serve on your commission, let me offer some ideas on who would be the most ideal kinds of people to serve:
I fully trust that you’ll make the commission diverse. So there’s no need to say more on that.
Pick some new blood. If all you do is selected General Conference delegates, there is much higher risk of merely getting the same kinds of results. After all, we seem to be electing the same people or the same kinds of people to General Conference each quadenium. Shake things up. Get some fresh energy, creativity, and perspective in the mix.
Pick some younger people and give them leadership roles. Our LGBTQI members and our young people are the ones hurting the most from this debate. Young people see things differently than prior generations, so it is their kind of outlook and leadership we need to trust now if we expect to have a future with fruit and relevance.
Pick people who are moderate in their approach. I’m not saying that participants need to be moderate in their viewpoints. They can be passionately progressive or conservative. But one can also be moderate in how they live and advance their views. Moderate folks are open to listen, flexible, and don’t have to have everything their way or else. They are passionate, but not rigid.
Pick people who like to think and act in unorthodox ways. Alongside people who uphold and play by the rules, select a few mavericks. These are people who aren’t always bound to follow and uphold every rule. They like to push the envelope and chart new waters. They are entrepreneurs. They are apostles. They are the John Wesleys, Richard Strawbridges and Sojourner Truths of our time. Where would we be without faithful people like these?
Again, my offer is still there to serve, and I would do it gladly and faithfully. But just in case our bishops are not inclined to pick me, I have one request:
Please, for the sake of Christ and his church, fastidiously avoid any concession to make status quo choices.
He climbed to the top of a mountain and sat down. His disciples took their usual places around him. If they had wanted to be alone, no one would ever know because right after they arrived, the crowds of people who had been following them around Galilee made their way up the mountain to listen, too. Then Jesus began to teach.
Surely the significance of this scene wasn’t lost on those gathered there. Burned into their collective memory is the story of Israel assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. God’s voice thundered the commandments. And now, Israel was gathered once more to hear the Word of God speaking in a new age.
Jesus began to teach with blessing. Who are blessed? The blessed ones Jesus lifts up are the people who are most often cursed. They’re forgotten, pushed aside, and stomped on. Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn. Blessed are the meek and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful and pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness and because of Christ.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
Until I attempted it, I never knew how painfully difficult peacemaking can be. While people applaud the efforts of peacemakers, it’s a lonely business. It’s almost always a misunderstood business.
In 2005, I began my journey of being a peacemaker in the midst of the LGBTQI debate in the United Methodist Church. Instead of taking and advocating for a firm stance- either affirming the Discipline‘s language or advocating to reverse it- I chose to be in the process of bringing people together from very disparate points of view to build and rebuild new community. Hopefully… prayerfully… efforts like this would keep our church from splitting apart. I have always had my own views and still do, but I’ve chosen to keep them in the background, working instead to be a reconciler.
It sounds like glamorous work, but it’s not. It’s not sexy. I have a lot of cheerleaders but very few helpers.
Meanwhile, I am often unfairly labeled by the very same people I’m trying to rally. I’ve been called a fundamentalist. (I’m not). I’ve been labeled a liberal. (Heck no.) People have accused me of abandoning the Bible. (I strive to live my life harmoniously with the inspired Word of God, thank you very much.)
And the worst label of all- a moderate. (These days that’s code for wishy-washy, weak, and ideologically confused. A sell out.)
Aside from being misunderstood, there are two major challenges to peacemaking: getting people to the table, and helping people to see how similar they really are. Especially in today’s debate over LGBTQI, people are well beyond talking. For conservatives, it’s a settled issue; sin is sin and has no place in the church. Period. For progressives, the time is now to once and for all put exclusion and bigotry behind us and to fully include, marry, and ordain people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer, and intrasex.
Both sides know what they want, are bent on it, and will tolerate an exodus or a split in the church if that’s what it comes down to.
Then there are people like me in the midst of the storm trying to advocate for different options to keep us all together as one Body of Christ. I do recognize that our different viewpoints are simply incompatible. However I also recognize that if we split or exit, we’ll all be weaker for it. United Methodism is a connectional church, relying on all of us together to fulfill the Great Commission and advance the kingdom of God. Apart from one another, we will each walk away with much less than we have now, greatly truncating our collective effort to fulfill the Great Commission and build the kingdom of God. Still not convinced of that? See 1 Corinthians 12.
Reading all this, you might conclude that I’m playing the martyr:
O woe is me, that my all-too-righteous efforts go unappreciated by the stiff-necked masses bent on their own destruction!
Well… I confess to complaining a little. (But Hey, Jeremiah complained a lot more than I am! He even accused God of being a deceptive brook run dry.)
More importantly, I’m inviting you into the blessedness of peacemaking. It’s hard work, but it is blessed work. Jesus says it is. There’s a price to pay for it, but the gift from God is a powerful vision of the peaceable kingdom to come, which all of God’s children will inherit. We all know that at present we live in a bitterly polarized time which unfortunately our church reflects. However, we peacemakers have the audacity to believe that it doesn’t have to be that way- that it won’t be that way for too much longer.
General Conferences will come and go. Sometimes even denominations come and go. Still, if the peacemakers rise up and dare to fill the gap, we can bring more people together into a community which is a foretaste of much better things to come. Thanks be to God for that blessing!
From the back corner door in a tense, crowded convention hall, a short, modestly dressed middle-aged man appears. He wears a beige shirt and pants with street-worn brown shoes. His face bears jagged, careworn lines from an arduous life of work and great sacrifice, and yet there is an otherworldly serenity about the way he carries himself. His eyes have a sharp intensity to them- critical, sad, and yet longing. He has olive-colored skin, a balding head with sparsely greying dark hair, and a thin beard. He doesn’t have a Conference delegate badge, and yet he confidently walks into the room as if he had always been there. Hardly anyone notices his arrival at first, but in a matter of moments, all of that is about to change.
It is late-afternoon on May 18, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The delegates of the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church are once again embroiled in an emotionally passionate debate that has eventually taken center stage of every General Conference since 1972. It’s the debate over Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people. What should the church think about them? Is the practice of homosexuality and transgender people compatible or incompatible with Christian teaching? Is it right or wrong to host and celebrate their marriages? Can LGBT persons be ordained as clergy?
One can glance around the room at the delegates and feel the immense weight of everything they must consider and vote into church law. Whatever they decide could determine the fate of the United Methodist Church as we know it.
Emerging from a back corner of the convention hall, the visitor slowly makes his way up an aisle and to the desk of the presiding bishop. With a hand cupping the microphone, she quizzically engages this stranger. At first the bishop seems annoyed but then suddenly freezes as the color drains from her face. She gazes up at the stranger for a few moments longer and then slowly stands. Her eyes never leave him.
Speaking into the microphone, the visibly shaken bishop says, “Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, our General Conference has voted on parliamentary rules which I am required as your Presiding Bishop to uphold, but I am making an extraordinary decision. I am unilaterally suspending these rules in light of the person I am about to introduce. Brothers and sisters, I yield the floor to none other… than the Apostle Paul of Tarsus.”
Stunned silence overtakes the room followed by a rash of whispering. “Is she crazy?” “Who orchestrated this?” “She doesn’t have the authority to do that!” “Who did she say he is?”
Amidst the clamor, Paul begins to talk in a clear, calm voice. He adds no hint of polish or flourish to his words, and yet he speaks with a methodical, earnest passion:
“My dear brothers and sisters, yes, it is I, your brother Paul of Tarsus, an apostle sent not from any person but rather from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have watched your proceedings with great interest over these last 44 years, and at the bidding of Christ Jesus, I have come to bring you a word from the Lord. May the Holy Spirit enlighten the eyes of your heart to my gospel, which I faithfully preached throughout the world. I now proclaim this same gospel to you.
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to embrace any form of legal marriage, but another embraces only heterosexual marriage. The one who embraces both same-sex and heterosexual marriage equally must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not embrace same-sex marriage must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
“One person considers one form of marriage more sacred than another; another considers both same-sex and heterosexual marriages alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards only one form of marriage as sanctified does so to the Lord. Whoever regards same-sex marriage equally sanctified with heterosexual marriage does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever does not, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:
‘”As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.'”
“So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that all monogamous, covenanted marriages are right and holy. But if anyone regards something as not holy, then for that person it is not holy. If your brother or sister is distressed because of your convictions, you are no longer acting in love. Do not let your advocacy for what you deem to be just and holy destroy someone for whom Christ died. Do not let what you know is good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of sex and marriage, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of sex and marriage. All legal marriages are good, but it is wrong for a person to advocate for what they deem to be just and holy in a way that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to self-righteously or angrily advocate for your beliefs and convictions or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
“So whatever you believe about these things, keep yourselves humble and open, as if this matter was between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they force themselves to go along with something they believe to be wrong, because their acquiescence is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written:
‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
At that, Paul bowed his head, backed away from the microphone and quietly exited the hall.
Everyone was subdued into stunned silence. No one shouted “amen.” No one protested. No one flinched. Then after a few minutes, an elderly statesman of the church stood up from his seat and said, “Bishop, for the sake of our whole church, conservative and progressive, gay and straight, of any gender, and of any conviction thereof, I rise to offer this motion…”
Once again, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church will be discussing and voting on resolutions that seek to fully include LGBTQI people into the life of our church, accept and normalize same-sex marriage, and to stop trials for those clergy who violate our Book of Discipline by conducting same-sex marriages. It’s yet another chapter of a debate that’s been raging in my United Methodist Church since the subject of homosexuality first came up in 1972. Yes, we’ve been debating this subject for 44 years, longer than I’ve been alive.
Most everyone would agree that we are locked in an irreconcilable debate between two disparate points of view. To state these views concisely:
Our Reconciling (progressive) friends say that fully including LGBTQI people into the life of our church– into membership, leadership as lay people, marriage, and ordination– is a matter of biblical love and justice. God does not exclude anyone from the gospel and the body of Jesus Christ. God also shows us how the Holy Spirit is at work in and through our LGBTQI members as disciples of Jesus Christ who serve and lead the church just as powerfully as anyone else.
Our Transforming (conservative) friends say that this is all a matter of two things: the authority of Scripture, especially the Scriptures’ teaching on human sexuality, homosexuality especially; and the preservation of marriage and family, as established by Scripture. The bottom line: the practice of homosexuality is a sin and therefore outside of Christian teaching established by Scripture and 2,000 years of church tradition.
Here’s the problem with this debate in a nutshell. They are talking past each other. These two “sides” are speaking two different languages- the language of inclusive love vs. the language of biblical authority.
Yet there’s an irony to all of this. Both sides read the same Bible and hold to its authority as the inspired Word of God. And both sides believe in an inclusive, loving church!
Now– let me stop right here because I can sense that both my conservative and progressive colleagues are already chaffing against what I just said.
Friends, I’ve made these observations after having spent hours upon hours talking to people on both sides of the LGBTQI debate. There are some eerie similarities between both sides. Here are two striking commonalities:
First, both conservatives and progressives read the same Bible and they take it seriously as the authoritative, inspired Word of God. Or, if we want Wesleyan common ground to stand on, we all can affirm that, “The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation…” (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, ¶104). By and large, progressives do not simply toss out passages of Scripture they don’t like. They wrestle with them through the lenses of careful biblical study, criticism and experience- something that everyone from any ideology does. Our ideological differences stem from how we interpret biblical teachings on human sexuality and hermeneutically apply them to our present-day circumstances.
Second, both conservatives and progressives strive for an inclusive, loving church, and in this case with our LGBTQI neighbors. It is simply wrong to assume that all conservative Christians hate gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer and intrasex people and don’t want them in their churches. We all want and strive for an inclusive church. Where we differ is in the nature of inclusivity. What are we including? Many of our conservative colleagues advocate for and practice radical hospitality to their LGBTQI neighbors. They love them, even if they cannot affirm the ways they live out their sexuality or gender. This is not hate or exclusion, at least in their eyes and hearts.
However, I want to say here that this does not at all diminish the real painful histories that LGBTQI people have experienced being ostracized, hated, and excluded from their families, friends, and church. This still goes on. That said, conservatives (and everyone else) have come a long way in getting rid of bigotry and homophobia. Much more needs to be done. Yet we can confidently say that a large and growing number of my conservative colleagues are weeding out hate and homophobia, extending love and grace to all, while at the same time upholding what they believe the Bible teaches about human sexuality.
To sum up what I’ve just said: by and large, both progressives and conservatives read the same Bible and advocate for a loving, inclusive church. Albeit, there are noisy, visible exceptions who always show up to steal the limelight. Put them aside, and we still find these striking similarities between a vast majority progressives and conservatives.
If it is true– and I firmly believe it is!– that progressives and conservatives on LGBTQI issues affirm biblical authority and an inclusive church, then I believe there is a scriptural way forward for all of us. Call it a third way apart from either extreme, and yet it can be a place for all of us to stand together.
Basically, in this passage Paul addresses a dispute between Christians of the ancient Roman church over eating meat that could have been offered to an idol. There were those who believed, based on firm Scriptural premises, that eating this meat was taking part in idolatry and so for the most part, they lived as vegetarians. Others in the community had the faith to believe that idols and idol worship is false anyway, and had no qualms with eating this meat. Then there were those who believed that the Sabbath (and other Jewish holy days) are sacred and must be strictly kept. Meanwhile, others saw everyday as holy.
The Apostle Paul framed this debate by calling it “disputable matters.” In other words, these Roman Christians were not differing over basic Christian dogma or doctrine. None of these things were in question. They were debating disputable matters of ethics, matters that do not inform essential Christian dogma and doctrine.
Paul’s solution was both simple and genius: accept each other at the same table of grace. Don’t force your beliefs onto the other as a stumbling block to them. Respect each other’s convictions as holy convictions, unto the Lord. Give each other space and room to live as they believe the Holy Spirit has led them to live. Strive for the things that build each other up, not tear each other down. Be patient with each other. And above all, be like Jesus, who humbled himself to be crucified for all of us. Welcome each other in the spirit of our crucified and risen Lord.
What would this look like in practice here in 2016, dealing with the LGBTQI debate? We would accept each other within the same church. We would make room for each other to live and practice ministry as the Holy Spirit has directed us. We would remember that our unity does not need to be based on our agreement over disputable matters like human sexuality; rather, our unity is based on our unified embrace of the dogma and doctrine of our church, our shared Wesleyan heritage as United Methodists.
This is more than merely “agreeing to disagree”. I can agree to disagree with someone without having to maintain a relationship with them. But, if I say that I accept someone whose views on disputable matters are different from mine, then we agree to stay in a covenanted relationship as siblings in Christ within his body. We need not part ways or remain locked in a debate that paralyzes and polarizes our church into winners and losers.
Having said this, let me address some possible objections:
1) “So you’re saying that we should just accept sin and let it remain. I cannot be in a church that passively accepts sin.” The fact is, we the church have always debated what is within and outside of God’s will. Take the issue of remarriage after divorce. In many places the Bible condemns remarriage for divorced persons. And yet, for pastoral reasons, we’ve made room for these persons while allowing our differences over this matter to remain. (I am a divorced and remarried person, ordained as an Elder. No one has ever held that against me, even though one could condemn my remarriage on biblical grounds.) Also, there are a number of other sins we passively overlook– greed, gluttony, gossip, etc. How well are we doing actively pointing out and condemning each and every instance of these sins? The point is this: we are all growing disciples of Christ, always discerning what is sinful and what is not, while growing in holiness. We can still accept each other, even in our differences over what is sinful and what is not.
2) “So you’re saying that we must live in a church which tolerates exclusionary attitudes towards LGBTQI persons? Where is the justice in that?” I think we all need to drastically lower the volume of our individual convictions on human sexuality. I’ve found that it is very possible to work side-by-side with someone whose convictions are very different from my own on LGBTQI or any other range of issues. How do we get along? We simply don’t go there. We value the wonderful things we have in common, and we value each other as people. On the matters we dispute, we simply give each other space.
This third way of biblical acceptance will require the progressive and conservative sides of the LGBTQI debate to change tactics. We can no longer afford to impose our will and views regarding human sexuality on the whole denomination, no matter how biblically correct we feel our view to be. It is a disputable matter.
However, the third way of biblical acceptance will give us all tremendous freedom while keeping our church united around the essential things which already unite us. We can all freely hold and live our convictions on human sexuality while keeping our church from further fractions and schisms.
Then the prayer of Jesus will be more fully realized in our time:
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20b-21)
(This is an edited version of a previous blog post.)
I’m absolutely disgusted at the state of the United Methodist Church. And the state of my beloved UMC is perfectly exemplified in the behavior of our main governing body, the General Conference, now meeting in Portland. These are the cream of the crop- delegates elected by every Annual Conference throughout the world to further the mission of the church.
And what have they done in the last several days? Nothing. They spent 2 1/2 days fiercely debating the rules of the session, laying out how they will do their business together. At the heart of the debate was a particular rule, the now infamous “Rule 44” which called for delegates to… [gasp!]… have small group conversations and discernment around very difficult issues, especially those concerning human sexuality. After one parliamentary trick after another, the measure was finally defeated.
Now it’s back to business as usual- speeches, debates, votes. Worship services. Sermons. Blah blah blah… Meanwhile we claim that we’ve been called to holy conferencing, which I interpret to be the process of praying, listening, sharing, and carefully arriving at a shared consensus. But in today’s day and age when the church is far more diverse and global in its reach, the model of parliamentary-style conferencing we have been using- Robert’s Rules baptized with reports, singing and sermons- is simply obsolete.
Obsoletion. That’s where we’re taking ourselves. General Conference must create a denominational infrastructure nimble enough to resource the church’s mission for the first quarter of the 21st Century and beyond.
Instead, we are weighing ourselves down with an archaic form of structure and (in)decision making that is squashing the life out of the United Methodist Church. Most everyone sees the problem. No one likes it. But our delegates seem to lack the kind of wisdom and courageous humility to do anything about it. Instead, we hide behind history, rules, bumper-sticker platitudes and church as usual, labeling the other side of the room as the obstruction to progress.
In 12-step rooms they have a saying. “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve already got.”
The time for spiritual talk and high-minded moralizing about our misbehavior is over. The only real response to an implosion is an action of greater and opposite force: an explosion.
It’s going to take an explosion of bold, passionate, compassionate leadership that is willing to do whatever it takes to throw off the restraints to become Christ’s church in the world. With the Holy Spirit’s fire, we must to what must be done to reach and include people with the good news of Jesus. Now this kind of Christ-shaped leadership is not safe. Here are several things I think must happen:
If a congregation, an Annual Conference, a Central Conference or a Jurisdiction is convicted to fully include LGBTQI persons into membership, leadership, and marriage, then do it. Don’t wait for the structures to catch up. Just do it.
If the reverse is true, and the conviction is to maintain our Discipline’s current language on homosexuality, especially pertaining to marriage and ordination, then uphold it. Don’t worry about those who see things differently than you do. At this point, you’re not going to convict them to repent and follow the rules.
If a pastor or congregation feels compelled to minister to their community in a certain way but the current structures or rules of the church create a barrier, do it anyway. If they are inviting and forming new disciples of Jesus Christ while transforming their community, it’s hard to convincingly argue with that.
You may read this and think that I’m promoting anarchy and disorder. Actually, I’m advocating for classic Wesleyanism. In fact, we wouldn’t be here today without this approach.
In order to further the mission of the church and build the kingdom of God, John Wesley did things which did not fit the mold of his Anglican Church. He engaged in open-air preaching. Wesley started unsanctioned, unauthorized societies of Christians who arranged themselves in classes (small groups) for prayer, study, and accountability. He gathered preachers to exhort and teach. And… he did the unthinkable. In fact his brother Charles was incensed when he found out: unable to wait for the Anglican Church to ordain preachers for the American colonies, John Wesley ordained Thomas Coke. Wesley was not a bishop. He had no authority to ordain anyone. It was a clear violation of the rules. But to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, Wesley took a risk, and because he did, we are here.
Wesley orchestrated an explosion of the church in the midst of an imploding Church of England.
Still not convinced? Jesus did the same. He ate with sinners, challenged the norms around Sabbath rules, touched the unclean, and was willing to stand in the face of opposition, all for the salvation of the world.
It’s 2016. What are we willing to do now? What will our General Conference do?
We can either sit and watch the implosion and schism of the church happen before our eyes. Or we can decide to move forward together, giving each other the respectful space to be the church the way God is calling us- together as United Methodists. There may be some chaos for a while. Things will not be as orderly and predictable as usual.
But we would have the opportunity to see what the Holy Spirit can do through congregations unfettered by rules that hamper their ministry. We could see what works and what doesn’t work. And then we can reorganize an infrastructure that supports what God is truly trying to do through the United Methodist Church.
Admittedly my idea is a very rough sketch. Yet no matter what we do or fail to do, something along the lines of what I’ve described here is going to happen anyway. We can let it steamroll us. Or we can bless it and learn from it.
Implosion will only happen for so long until an explosion happens. It’s beginning to happen now. The question for our General Conference is how we will respond to it- with resistance or with blessing.