A Desire To Flee From The Wrath To Come And To Be Saved From Our Sins
The past few weeks have seen a whole lot of heated discussion about the United Methodist Church, about General Conference, and about how to talk to one another about these matters. The fact of the matter is, the Internet is a lousy medium for serious discussion of serious issues, unless you are willing to take the time to police discussions and ensure everyone stays on topic and keeps a civil, even if enraged, tongue in their heads.
I thought it might not be a bad idea to take a few steps back and ask a far simpler question than whether the floor of General Conference should be closed to all but elected delegates; to the nature of doctrine and theology; to the social and cultural location of those advocating different positions; to the nature of debates and discussions on the internet, specifically the sometimes heated but generally forward moving discussion about General Conference and the future status of sexual minorities in the denomination. These are all important topics, and should be discussed more, without fear, with a willingness to enter the fray even as feelings rise and tempers flare. For the moment, however, it might be nice to go way back and ask: “What does it mean to be a United Methodist Christian?” For all our differences evident in our multifaceted public discussions, the title of this post sums up, in John Wesley’s words, what it takes to be a United Methodist.
Now, of course, Wesley being Wesley, he didn’t stop there. Wesley was both wise enough and faithful enough to understand that the Holy Spirit should provide evidence through the lives of believers. He set forth what Bishop Reuben Job has called Three Simple Rules, and they are in fact taken directly from Wesley: First, do no harm; Second, do as much good as often as you can; Third, attend upon all the ordinances of God. If you want details about what Wesley thought comprised evidence of “doing good” and “doing no harm”, you can read Bishop Job’s book (and isn’t it awesome we have a Bishop whose last name is “Job”?), or consult the Book of Discipline.
All this stuff we’re arguing about is important. At heart, however, I believe all those on all sides of all these very important issues meet Wesley’s criteria. Furthermore, I think that no matter how heated things have become, we have never forgotten that our positions, even when diametrically opposed to one another, flow from our deep, abiding love for the United Methodist Church, its mission, its ministry, and its people. Playing the game “Someone said something wrong on the Internet” can be fun. It even has its place – even in our discussions! Still, we should be careful we do not allow the medium to dictate the message. Never forget – we are not going to decide in this forum what should be done in other forums. Nor are we going to sway anyone’s mind one way or another.
Even more than enter in to the arguments of those with whom we disagree, I would go a step further: I think we should, all of us, the big and the small, the important and the non-entity (like me) gather at a place and worship together, including sharing in the sacrament together. We can disagree. Shoot, we can even be disagreeable. There’s no reason to assume we can all be fast friends. I have no illusions we’ll particularly like one another. Being offered a place at God’s Table, where we share together in the life-giving and -sustaining meal of the sacrifice of Christ for all of us, theologian, clergy, lay, powerful, and powerless we can be reminded that, at heart, we are all sinners seeking salvation, to flee the wrath to come, and serve God faithfully as we are called to do in our settings and contexts.