Embodying Unity in Turbulent Times

As United Methodists are in for some turbulent times on the connectional level. There are many forces seeking to blow us off course, but it is crucial that we remember: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Some of the turbulence is coming at us from the current issues facing American culture. Specifically, a variety of forces have led our nation’s political life to be characterized by shallow posturing, inaccurate soundbites, polarized factions, demonizing insults and intellectual intolerance. Recent trends and events have led to anxiety about racism, law enforcement, income disparity, healthcare systems, immigration, and cultural change. Too many persons, including our leaders, are dealing with these issues by stoking our fears and jumping to false conclusions. These traits are far too common on all parts of the political spectrum.

Some of the turbulence we face is generated from within our church. Our structural deficiencies and doctrinal indifference are inhibiting us from addressing our opportunities and challenges in helpful ways. We are not as united as we should be. We don’t care about evangelism as much as we should. We are not focusing enough on Jesus. Bishops and conferences are violating the order and discipline of our church, and our decentralized system of church governance provides insufficient remedies.

How do we faithfully serve Christ in such a time as this?

Every day, as part of my private devotional time, I read Ephesians 4 which begins with these words:

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Scripture calls us to humility. It calls us to gentleness and patience. It also calls us to bear with one another in love. As I read these words, I am hoping to stay in dialogue with those who see issues from a different perspective than mine. I want to honor them. I seek to serve the unity of the church and lead all United Methodists. I embrace our racial, geographical, theological and political diversity. At the same time, we must be clear about our differences and speak the truth in love. We must not be “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

I will only be able to faithfully serve through these turbulent times if I am also talking with those who agree with my perspective and who will encourage me in the godly traits Paul describes. Our church is complex enough that gatherings of people who share similar points of view are necessary to discerning the best way forward.

I recently spoke to a gathering of the General Conference delegates from my Jurisdiction. Next month I will speak to the Wesleyan Covenant Association. I am in conversation with many other groups. In each of these settings I have the same message about the way forward: there is no win-win solution because the unity of our church has already been fractured by the principled disobedience of key leaders. Yet, as we find the best shape for the Wesleyan movement in the future, we need to treat each other with the strong love of Christ advocated by John Wesley in his sermon “Catholic Spirit.”

In difficult times, returning to the basics of our faith and our purpose is essential. The main thing is our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I am supportive of all efforts that focus our resources on serving that cause.

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