For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
About a year ago I was sitting in the upstairs area of Wegman’s, sipping on a cup of coffee, while my computer, Bible, and United Methodist Hymnal were out on the table in front of me. I was there in the hopes of stringing together a worship service and a sermon, but I was distracted. My distraction stemmed from the, at the time, recent Special General Conference in which the UMC doubled down on its language regarding the so-called incompatibility of homosexual Christians.
Every time I lifted my hands to get something down in writing, I was at a loss of what to say.
So I sat there and I sipped on my coffee and I rested in my distractions. Until a man walked over from the other side of the space and asked if he could sit with me. I noted that there were plenty of other empty seats available, but motioned for him to sit down. He paused for a moment, and then asked, “Are you a pastor in the UMC?”
“Did the hymnal give it away?”
“That, and the glum disposition. I read about the big church meeting in the newspaper the other day. You know, I used to be a United Methodist once upon a time.”
“Oh really. But you’re not anymore?”
“Nope. I can remember when the church really was together on everything, as if we were all on the same page. But then it got so divisive that I just decided to call it quits.”
“That’s too bad. Well, what kind of a church do you go to now?”
“Oh. Um, I haven’t been to a church in years to be honest… Anyway, I’m not really sure why I came over but, good luck with the church. I think you’re gonna need it.”
I’ve had a lot of interactions like that one over the last year, some with total strangers and some with people I’ve known my whole life. People who have approached me because of the United Methodist Church’s position on human sexuality, their struggling to come to any sort of conclusion about it, and their admission that church really isn’t for them anyway.
I’ve found each and every one of those conversations to be remarkably enlightening. For one thing, they demonstrated that the church does remain in the cultural consciousness for those outside the church, though they tend to only think about it one-dimensionally. Secondly, people are hungry for conversations about things they do not understand, even if they can’t articulate it. And thirdly, a whole lot of people inside and outside the church believe the church can only be the church if the people in the church are unified.
Spoiler warning: The church has never been unified.
If it ever felt unified, whether it was last year or 1,000 years ago, it was because particular voices were being stifled or kicked out altogether. We, in the church, have often confused unity with uniformity, and uniformity is only achieved through suppression.
The church is a strange and wondrous thing. I have noted on many occasions that the church is the last surviving place where people willfully gather with people who are different from themselves – to be clear, not every church is like this, but there are some where the people in the pews on Sunday share one thing, and only one thing, in common: Jesus.
The church is at its best when we are all busy changing each other and being changed by one another. The church is not some static institution that was the same yesterday, today, and forever. It is a living and transforming thing that is guided by the voice of the Lord that continues to speak even into the wilderness of our sin.
Or, to put it another way, the church gathers again and again to remember that while we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly. And, though it pains us to admit, we (all of us) are the ungodly for whom Christ died.
If there is any unity in the church, let it be that.
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You got a point here. And periodically someone like yourself trots out our essentials as a thought problem. But what we’ve got now is advocacy dressed up as righteousness. So many of us are “homeless” because of this. One of my district superintendents claimed the traditionalists were the “train wreck of the church.” Why? Because they were impeding the fast-track new righteousness. He was up to his eyeballs in error but sloshing around in it like it was a spiritual hot spring.
You act like that if progressives had prevailed at GC2020 that traditionalists were going to quietly stand by and be part of a church that endorses same gender marriages and every other relationship that exists in the acronym that describes the ever expanding new and improved sexuality ethic that progressives are pushing. The reality is we are not unified in Christ because nobody is on the same page as to who Christ is and what that means for our lives right here and right now. Either way GC2019 played out, the United Methodist Church as we think we know and understand it is already over. Just like the man you talked to, I am tired of the mess and inconsistencies. I have spent quality time with John Wesley; the UMC does not even come close to being a variation of what John Wesley did to bring Methodism into existence. Because of my longtime association with the local UMC, I still show up on Sunday mornings for worship, but that is the limit of what I am willing to do because I am now a member of a church I never joined. The man was right, things went a lot better when we seemed to be on the same page about who the church was and what it is it needed to be doing. This current iteration of the local church comes nowhere close to enriching my life like the previous church did that formerly inhabited the same space. I am no longer surprised that the American UMC is in 50 years and counting of numerical decline which has the potential to make it disappear regardless of what General Conference decides about sexuality or anything else. This sums up my feelings about the problem with the UMC :
“By the end of my tenure as NAUMS President, which coincided with my tenure on the General Commission on United Methodist Men — which is to say, by the dawn of 2012 — I had finally grasped the essential nature of The United Methodist Problem™:
The United Methodist Church is dying because a) we cannot agree on what story to tell, and b) we treat people like sh*t.
The first part of that problem is theological, and our theological confusion/conflict has been debilitating; however, the second part of that problem is no less true, and just as debilitating. Who wants to belong to an organization that treats them so badly?” https://aefenglommung.livejournal.com/1623966.html