Stop fighting over something Jesus never even mentioned

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Key points:

  • Korean American churches are caught in the middle of the church divide over human sexuality, as many of them are theologically traditionalist congregations located in progressive conferences.
  • Jesus never addressed the subject of human sexuality, the main issue dividing the denomination.
  • Even if we are divided, we share common history and values as Methodists and still need to be mission partners.

The Rev. Chongho James Kim. Photo courtesy of the author. 

The Rev. Chongho James Kim.
Photo courtesy of the author.

Commentaries

UM News publishes various commentaries about issues in the denomination. The opinion pieces reflect a variety of viewpoints and are the opinions of the writers, not the UM News staff.

Last week, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was announced that the United Methodist General Conference is now further postponed until 2024. While our denomination’s problems are inherently different from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, I see similarities between them.

In both cases, tensions evolved into a much-complicated conflict after the collapse of a buffer zone. The current heartbreaking situation in Ukraine is the consequence of tensions and tit-for-tat strategies that have been building up for decades between “the West” and “the East” vis-à-vis Russia and China.

With another delay of the General Conference, there is now greater uncertainty around “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation” and increased possibilities for internal conflicts.

This is a concerning situation for Korean American churches, which make up less than 1% within The United Methodist Church. Korean American churches have strong presence in most of the progressive conferences in the U.S. However, many of them tend to hold a traditionalist theological perspective. Many fear hostilities.

Had the proposed protocol been approved, it would have been up to local churches to make the best decision for themselves. Now that the possibility of amicable separation is jeopardized while facing a greater threat of division, numbers of Korean American churches will have to decide whether to leave the denomination preemptively.

The lectionary reading of the first Sunday in Lent included Luke 4, which depicts Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Jesus, filled and led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, fasts for 40 days and resists temptation by the devil.

The devil’s temptation comes with false promises to fulfill human desires in the most glorious ways. A common thread connects the three temptations, whether it be turning the stone into a loaf of bread, receiving the glory of all authority of all the kingdoms or wowing the crowds by throwing oneself from the pinnacle of the temple. The thread offers a false set of expectations that God would meet the desires of our hearts if God truly loves us. But Jesus resists the temptation through the Word of God: “One does not live by the bread alone” (v. 4); “worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him” (v. 8); and “do not put the Lord your God to the test” (v. 12).

The devil is tempting us. The temptation continues to feed us expectations that our churches will become bigger, stronger, more justice-seeking and even more biblical. We know that Jesus did not fall into the trap of the devil. Nor did Jesus respond to face the challenge of the devil. Instead, Jesus stood on the ground found in the Word of God: We are to love God and serve God without doubting God’s love for us.

Immediately after overcoming the devil’s temptation, Jesus proclaimed “the Great Ministry Manifesto” (Luke 4:18-19). This proclamation of the year of Jubilee is Jesus’ mandate for the church today. But our denomination has been held hostage by the issue of human sexuality for too many decades. Progressives will not stop the battle unless their way of “justice” prevails. Likewise, traditionalists want to see their way of “biblical value” expressed.

Of course, social justice is important. Yes, the church needs to safeguard biblical truth. But frankly, Jesus never said a word about the subject of human sexuality, which holds our denomination hostage.         

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Jesus said that the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). The word “devil” comes from the Greek word ‘diabolos,’ which means “to divide” or “to throw against.” I am afraid that the delay of General Conference will bring out devils in us. The triptych temptations mentioned above symbolize what we see in our denominational conflicts today: fulfilling our desires, accomplishing our goals and taking strategically higher ground than others to rule.

But Jesus did not want anything to do with those. Rather, he focused on saving and loving people, not political agendas.          

I have been invited many times by Eurasia United Methodist Bishop Eduard Khegay to teach at pastor schools. When I taught at a pastor school in Ukraine right before the pandemic, both Ukrainian and Russian pastors came to learn, worship, fellowship and take part in the Lord’s Supper together. We were all United Methodist pastors regardless of our nationality.

It truly breaks my heart to see the Russian army invading Ukraine. We don’t want a hostile takeover of our church by any side. I hope and pray that the protocol will be honored and respected at the 2024 General Conference.         

Even if we are divided as Global Methodist Church and United Methodist Church, we share common history and values as Methodists. We will still need to be mission partners. Paul and Barnabas parted ways after they experienced a disagreement, but they respected each other as mission partners. It will be a work of the devil to make us enemies with each other. Whether you go or stay, we all are given “the Great Commission” to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).           

Let’s focus on what Jesus said and did rather than engaging in a battle over something he never even mentioned. There must be a good reason why Jesus never said a word about human sexuality, the issue that divides us now.

Kim is senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Flushing, Queens, New York.

News contact: Joey Butler or Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Friday (weekly) Digests.

 


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