It was supposed to be amicable, as divorces often begin. “We’ll be adults,” we said. Because, you know, the mission is the most important thing. This is simply an inter-nicene dust up that we can move past. Never mind that the dust up has simmered for almost 50 years and the erupting culture war of the last 25 or so has exacerbated the breakup.
Yes, things conspired against us. A plan was devised after the disastrous special session of General Conference in St. Louis, to amicably break the UMC up. And yes, the divorce revolves around understandings of human sexuality and the resultant issue of ordination of LBGTQ persons. General Conference 2020 scheduled in Minneapolis sought to settle the matter and let folks get on with their lives. Then came COVID, basically closing the world. We have never fully recovered from that, at least as it pertains to the US State Department and the issuance of travel visas. An idea was floated for another Special Called session of GC, but it was scrapped due to logistical hurdles that simply couldn’t be overcome.
General Conference is now postponed to 2024. In the meantime, those wishing to leave the UMC have established a foundling denomination (or two) and are moving ahead with disaffiliation. Disaffiliation is governed by the UMC, with whom the congregations have had their home, as such there are some requirements for congregations to leave with their real estate. Litigation is erupting across the UMC as legal remedies are sought. Paul’s directive in I Corinthians (cf. 6.1ff) isn’t holding. All in all, it is a very messy divorce; one being played out in public.
Here we are. What are we to do? First, while we do not agree, we are all striving to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Consequently, we should look to Jesus. I usually begin with his great ethical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). In it we learn several important responses to invective we encounter.
First, Jesus calls us to be peacemakers (5.9). This is the most difficult work we can do because we are called to help create situations in which conflict is unnecessary. We are called to extend grace and love. Jesus always invites us to self-examination, being aware of the “log in our eye while identifying the speck in another's (7.3-6).”
Even Paul is very clear on the matter. We are called not to turn up the heat, better known as repaying evil for evil (Ro. 12.17).
We live in the least private time in history. Posting and re-posting on social media without forethought is akin to airing your issues in the public square. If you want others to know about the log in your eye, be reactive. Rather, reflect on your response. How can I be a peacemaker? How can I extend grace? How can I display the most faithful witness to Jesus Christ? I know this is trite, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!
We live in very corrosive, reactive and difficult times. They call for renewed faithfulness. Keep your eye on Jesus. Listen for his voice. Experience the healing, encouraging presence of the Holy Spirit. Encourage one another.
May God in Christ find us faithful as we strive to be instruments of grace and peace.
Sunday we finish our work in “Hebrews” as the author leaves us with final admonishments (Ch. 13).
See you Sunday,
To respond directly to Pastor Paul, email him at email@example.com, or contact him at 816-724-0080