I struggle getting past the anger that rises each time I read about a congregation disaffiliating with the United Methodist Church. I ask myself rhetorical questions that turn up the inner thermostat. What is it that makes them feel they have to break fellowship with those who are just as earnestly trying to follow Christ? Why do they play the right/wrong, good/bad, divisive card?
These are just a couple of things I ponder. The Wesleyan Covenant Association/Global Methodist Church folks would have their answers, as well as questions of their own to pose. And around we go. Nothing resolved except escalating blood pressures.
I’m working on choosing another focus, though, when those stories appear in UM Insight and UM News Service. I can continue this dog-chasing-tail game each time I read one. Or, I can let the disaffiliating folks do their thing, praying that good will come from it for them and through them in some fashion. I can then put more focus on the good that will surface within United Methodism now that they are doing their own thing, apart from us.
I’m trying to focus on the fresh freedoms that lie ahead.
Freedom for letting the Bible speak for itself, instead of us speaking for it. No more treating it as a paper pope and snipping verses to prove points. No more apologizing for it, either. Just reading all of it, with the attitude of Jesus, and then marveling at its eternal freshness and relevancy.
Freedom for inviting people into discipleship through creative, authentic expressions of compassion and justice. No more demanding adherence to the letter of the Nicene Creed to pass the Christian litmus test. Now people may know we are indeed Christians by our love as well as by our professed faith.
Freedom for being authentic with our identity. Didn’t we think it a bit hypocritical for us to have had the motto a few years ago of Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors? Now we can really be open, and not just with words but words backed up by actions.
Freedom for being a louder prophetic voice. Sometimes that voice has been muffled by the pietistic legacy of the Moral Majority movement from decades ago, mixing in “thou shalt nots” concerning homosexuality, abortion, etc. Now we can focus on those things that affect our future as well as our present, declaring more loudly Amos’s “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The companion to anger is grief. I do grieve for the church I knew and served, because now people are fracturing it while claiming it has moved away from them. But as one person observed, “so much strength can come from paying attention to what’s happening now.” And what we’re witnessing now is the birthing pain of a church filled with promise and, especially, freedom.