Is today the day the United Methodist Church becomes something else?
One could argue "united" is something this global ministry of Jesus Christ most definitely has not been when it comes to issues involving homosexuality and how the church responds.
After years of debate, delegates to the church's General Conference are in St. Louis today for an extraordinary session. Three possible paths forward were on the table entering this legislative process:
• Continuation of the church's long-held stance that, while all are God's children of sacred worth, homosexuality's practice is incompatible with Christian teaching.
• Removal of that language, providing room for regional authorities within the church to open avenues for ordination of gay clergy and performance of same-sex marriages, but would not compel individual churches or clergy to engage in those practices.
• Creation of three branches within the global United Methodist Church to which individual churches could associate: one that would feature full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people; one that would maintain the traditional stance; and one that would neither forbid or require individual churches to take one path or the other.
Or delegates could fashion some other response, but almost certainly, members in churches this morning in Northwest Arkansas and beyond may have spent their last Sunday morning in the United Methodist Church as they've known it. Many in the denomination believe a major transformation will arise from St. Louis regardless of which decision comes.
Much of the power of the United Methodist Church to perform its many ministries around the world comes from its size as a global organization. Some are concerned that a split on the question of homosexuality, ordained clergy and same-sex marriages will diminish that strength, and it certainly seems reasonable to believe a reduction in resources would hurt ministries.
A powerful question earnestly weighing on the minds of United Methodists is whether such bureaucratic concerns -- the church's organizational power based on sheer size -- should trump serious theological matters.
Ultimately, the United Methodist Church is a man-made organization that has admirably performed under the power and grace of Jesus Christ. It is an almost 51-year-old structure created by a merger of now-gone churches affiliations. The questions United Methodists might answer in St. Louis this weekend are significant in the way we humans interact with our faith and treat one another, but faith is and always will be a personal matter of the deepest kind.
If I can fault my denomination -- and others, too -- it's for sometimes getting caught up in "church" structure above and beyond the concerns of eternal significance.
It may be that in the end, people of differing perspectives of what the Bible demands of practicing Christians very well may have to go their separate ways to be in service in a manner true to their convictions. That is an outcome of our human frailties and have been represented in religious institutions since, well, since there have been religious institutions.
Our human organizations cannot operate without definition. If we are to join together in any human endeavor, there must be some fundamental agreement as to what the organization wants to achieve and stands for. It's difficult enough with secular organizations. Throw in the questions endemic to faith and a force that brings unity can be just as powerful a force in bringing disagreement.
Nonbelievers may find it easy to cast aspersions, perhaps accusations of hypocrisy toward a faith rooted in the teachings of Jesus. Faith in Jesus, however, is no path to easy answers, just lasting ones. For believers, such matters extend well past the concerns of this world. They are wrestling with eternal matters.
What can be said with certainty among the people of the United Methodist Church is God's grace is fully capable of bringing all people of the faith through these challenging times. Ultimately, it's not one's relationship to a church organization that matters.
Commentary on 02/24/2019
Print Headline: Methodists seek answers in St. Louis