Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The People We Are Called to Be

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
II Samuel 11:1

As Bible verses go, the first verse of the eleventh chapter of Second Samuel, is hardly inspiring. But it is instructive.

To paraphrase a popular TV commercial, “If you’re a king, you go out to battle in the spring. That’s just what you do.” (But that verse also tells us that in this instance the king stayed home and let his soldiers do the fighting for him. Wars have always been designed and declared by those in power, and fought by those who are powerless.)

Spring is also the time, every four years, when United Methodists go out to battle. At General Conference, every four years, representatives come from all over the world to re-write our Book of Discipline and chart the course for the church. This year, on May 10-20, that gathering will be in Portland, Oregon.

This year there will be resolutions on terrorism and refugees and climate change, but most of the energy will be devoted to more internal matters. 

There are proposals aimed at making us into a doctrinal church, stipulating that everyone, particularly pastors and seminary professors, need to believe the same thing—and attaching those beliefs to ancient creeds. Fortunately, I don’t think those ideas will get very far.

There are proposals relating to our exclusionary policies regarding our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. Some are aimed at tightening the regulations and increasing the penalties for pastors who officiate at same sex weddings and bishops who tolerate them. Other proposals are aimed at removing the exclusionary language and becoming a more welcoming church. 

Sadly, we now stand alone among mainline Protestant denominations in our exclusionary stance. We have been wrong long enough. This time we need to get it right. (For a look at the history of this conflict, click here.)

Some of those going to Portland are actively considering the possibility that the church may split, into two denominations; one in favor of inclusion and the other against it.

My hope is that we can agree to disagree; that we can remove the offensive exclusionary language from the Discipline, but recognize that we do not all think alike on the issue. One of the great strengths of United Methodism over the years has been our diversity. Since the days of John Wesley, we have agree to “think and let think.” 

When our United Methodist Church in East Greenwich voted to become a Reconciling Church, we adopted a statement affirming the full inclusion of all persons in the life of the church, and we concluded with the affirmation of a core Wesleyan principle: 

“While we recognize that there are differences among us, we believe that we can love alike even though we may not think alike. It is in this spirit that we invite all people to join us in our faith journey.”

Historically, we have not always been that people. But at our best, that statement is a description of who we are and who we are called to be.

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