Thursday, March 30, 2006

Two churches already?

I know - I need to be working on homework, but this is too much for me to just set aside. I just read an article from (put out by the publisher of Zion's Herald magazine) called "Methodism is Already Two Churches" by William A. Holmes, a retired pastor in the UMC. The article, on top of the fact that I've been reading Methodism @ Risk, really makes me think about this concept of unity in diversity, as I talked about a couple of posts ago. Is it really possible to hold all of these tensions together within our denomination? Why do we want to?

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, both the book and article mentioned above talk about the work of the Good News movement within (or perhaps on the fringe of) the UMC, partnered with the IRD (Institute on Religion and Democracy). I will admit that I'm not an expert on either of these two groups, but I have experienced their message enough times to know it's not one of unity. This group, as explained in Holmes' article, continually sets up their own alternative to official UMC agencies and groups - their own women's group (RENEW) as an alternative to UMW and the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, their own mission group (the Mission Society for United Methodists) as alternative to the GBGM mission personnel, even their own publisher (Bristol Books) as alternative to Abingdon, the official UM publisher. Holmes' point is - and I have to agree - if this isn't already two churches, what is?! General Conference 2004 saw the Good News group talking about "amicable separation" from the greater UMC, and we can all debate on what "amicable separation" might look like, but has the separation not been going on for quite a while already?

Holmes brings up many other questions and excellent points in his article, so I would encourage everyone to at least read it through. For example, "Homosexuality is only the most volatile issue roiling our church today; it is symptomatic of an even more profound division. We are without even a common understanding of what is meant by “making disciples of Jesus Christ.” I have talked before about how I see two of the fundamental differences between variuos groups of Christians being (1) biblical authority and interpretation and (2) what "Christian love" means or looks like, but Holmes makes me add (3) Christian discipleship. Perhaps this could be considered part of Christian love, but I'm choosing to list them as separate issues at this point. Holmes address biblical interpretation in his piece as well, but the notion that we all mean something different when we say we "make disciples of Christ" is really important. We read that statement as part of the UMC's purpose in the Book of Discipline, but do we talk about what that means? We often talk about concepts like grace, love, worship, community, etc. but do we know what we're talking about? If we don't make it explicitly clear, do other people know what we're talking about? But then if we do make it explicitly clear, perhaps we make the definitions narrow, and run the risk of becoming exclusive. Who's to say that what I think of as discipleship is right or wrong? Who are any of us to say that what anyone thinks is right or wrong? I know I want to say Good News is wrong - they are legalisitic and exclusive and not expressing the love of Christ, but can I really do that??

I understand the love of God, taught and exemplified in Jesus, to require inclusion and hospitality to all people - even if they don't want to include me. That means I'm supposed to include Good News at my church table. I'm supposed to tolerant towards those who are intolerant. But how far can that go? Realistically, the Good News movement has been in existence within the church for decades and now that they are talking about leaving, I have a hard time fighting to convince them to stay. I don't think that it's what God wants for us - to develop divisions around any kind of issue - but I also don't know how to continue to have the same conversations over and over again without changing anything. I don't know how to keep inviting people who tell me to get lost. How much rejection can someone take? I guess if we look at Jesus as an example, you take it all the way, even to death. But the counselor part of me wants to talk about self care, self respect, etc. Are these contrary to the Christian call? I don't think they are, and yet finding a balance seems impossible. I think about Paul's concept of the Body of Christ - we're each different parts with different functions, and while we may not like the way another part looks or functions, the fact is that we all work together. Perhaps Good News is that foot that I can't understand as an eye. Perhaps there's a bigger picture that we can't understand and we DO need to find a way to keep everyone at the table. But can we still call ourselves "united" methodists?

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