We ARE they

When I was in seminary, I was taught in my theology classes that you had to pay close attention to prepositions. You know, those (often) small words that express relation (like “in, under, towards, before”), or various roles of phrases (“of, for, with, to”).

In that light, I want to also suggest that pronouns matter, maybe even more here at General Conference.

In several settings this week, I have heard people use the phrase, “they are saying…”, or “they are doing…”.

In truth, “they” is really “we.” If WE are a family, a United Methodist family, aren’t we all one? How quickly “we” fall in to the divisive language of us/them, we/they.

I have a friend who is a retired United Methodist clergy. For years, Jim has delighted in complaining about the actions and inactions of his annual conference. “They don’t know what they’re doing,” he would often say.

To which I would reply, “But Jim, you ARE they! You’re a clergy member of the conference. You ARE they.”

For these two weeks in Portland, Oregon, United Methodists are gathering in a huge community. This is generally a time of forward-looking hope. But this morning, my heart broke as a member of the BWC delegation stood before me in tears.

She had taken to heart all the sniping and griping, belittling and behaving. She was downhearted as the people around her demonstrated by their behavior their answer of “no” to the question, “Will they know we are Christians by our love, by our love?”

Here at the Oregon Convention Center, there’s a person walking around outside the building wearing one of those advertising sandwich boards, which simply reads, “Love Means All.” I’m told that at one point yesterday, two white men, both delegates, approached the message bearer and proceeded to taunt him, asking him if that love would extend to animals, to insects. Love of all, love of LGBTQ people, their actions showed, was a joke.

That’s partly why this member of my delegation was in tears this morning. The harsh, divisive, disrespectful treatment that is unfolding among people who seem certain about the will of God is doing more to destroy our church than anything else. Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, in the episcopal address, spoke eloquently about this. He called on us to recognize each other as beloved children of God.

And yet, it is so easy to complain, to judge, and ultimately to sit back and do nothing. Fine; that is your right and your privilege. But until we find a way to become truly “we,” instead of the current “we = us/them,” then WE (as in ALL of us) are in trouble.

Unless we find a way to be church, this morning’s tears won’t be the last. 


Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
Global Health
Dr. David Boan. Photo courtesy of the author.

Pandemic not over, church must stay engaged

Even when the pandemic ends, its consequences will continue for decades, especially among the most vulnerable children.
Judicial Council
The Holston Conference’s Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor embraces the Rev. David Graves following his election as United Methodist bishop at the 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. Taylor is among the 11 U.S. bishops who retired last year, and Graves is among the bishops now taking on extra work because of the retirements. The Judicial Council issued a decision May 20, addressing the question of whether jurisdictional conference can meet to elect new bishops. File photo by Annette Spence, Holston Conference.

Ruling opens door for bishop elections in 2022

The United Methodist Church’s top court ruled that the Council of Bishops has the authority to call jurisdictional conferences to elect and assign new U.S. episcopal leaders but not to change the date when those new bishops take office.
Theology and Education
Dr. David W. Scott. Photo © Hector Amador.

Autonomy, international division mark United Methodist tradition

The recent move by United Methodists in Bulgaria and Romania to leave the denomination is the latest in a history of separations within the Methodist tradition.