The holidays are now past and those who were able to celebrate the season with family likely sat around dinner tables with people who have very different feelings about many of the major topics of our time.
In February our United Methodist family will gather around the table. The best way to describe our global church is as a family that is connected by meaningful traditions and beliefs that inspire many — despite differences in opinions, vocations and lifestyles.
Families that strike a healthy balance between disagreement and connection center themselves around the love they have for each another — a love that transcends generations and geography. Clearly, we have work to do as we have allowed differences in culture and perspective to tear us apart and to distract ourselves from our purpose as United Methodists.
Here are some key realities we need to embrace if we are to come out of this time of division better aligned for ministry:
- We need to acknowledge we are divided on much more than topics related to human sexuality. In fact, we have been divided on theology and societal shifts since we became united. We are divided on more than LGBTQ acceptance, but we have let this topic define our disagreements on many fronts. Focusing all our energy and attention on our division regarding LGBTQ acceptance is perilously unkind to LGBTQ persons and their families and friends. In other words, focusing all our conflict around this conversation is harmful to members of our United Methodist family.
- We must overcome the allure of division that is endlessly corrupting the world around us. The polarization of the world around us is making it abundantly clear why we need to stay together as a church. At our best we have stood as an alternative to alcoholism, segregation and the forces that always dare us to divide. We thrive as an alternative. If we commit to be a global church family that is loving and kind to each other we will again establish ourselves as an alternative to the noise around us. Division begets division. Instead of falling into this trap we must have faith in our common purpose together. Our not being of one mind is an asset. It means we are real and we relate to the larger society God calls us to serve. We live in divided times. To splinter into like-minded sects would remove us from the reality of those to whom we are called to evangelize.
- We need to seize the power of our relationships with each other. Our transformation as Christians is often the result of meaningful relationships with God and with each other. How are we each to be transformed through relationships with the other if we dismantle the connection that brings us together?
As a young person, I don’t want to go to a church where everyone agrees with me on everything. I want to be challenged. Navigating and embracing differences is a part of Christian discipleship and Christian relationships. What has been lacking in the midst of our conflicts of late has been a recognition that we are a global family of God. Are we really in such disagreement about human sexuality that we would want to split apart our family over it?
On Christmas Eve, I went on a hike in a range of mountains unfamiliar to me. Just as the sun was beginning to set I realized I was unsure of exactly how to get back to my car. As I descended I noticed a family frantically searching for their child. I quickly made the connection that the child they are looking for must be the young man I saw off by himself up the slope. I stopped and told the family where I had last seen him.
As I finally found my way to the path home in the dusk light, I heard a joyful reunion in the distance of the family and their child.
We may be experiencing uncertainty and division as a church family. We feel lost. But we must remember the purpose of our church is to show others the way. The lost. The hurting. The divided.
If we focus on our faith we will see that God is not only showing us the way to be a church family together, but that God is using us to show others the way.
Andrew Ponder Williams is a former General Conference delegate and now serves as a church consultant based in Scottsdale, Arizona. You can contact him at [email protected].