Next week The United Methodist Church's General Conference will meet in Tampa, Florida. This is a pivotal time for our denomination. We are gathering as a global church to determine a number of issues, including a restructuring plan, guaranteed appointments for clergy who are Elders in our church, issues around homosexuality, financing of our shared ministry, the structure of our general agencies, and how we will move as a denomination into the 21st century.
There has been a lot of lead-up to this global gathering. Organizing bodies have planned worship, arranged for space, processed petitions, and coordinated meeting schedules. Bishops have prayed and discussed upcoming legislation. Groups have petitioned the body about numerous issues important to them. Annual Conferences and individuals have weighed in on the pluses and minuses of the different proposals. Advocacy groups have met, discussed and planned strategy to deal with their concerns about the proposals. Facebook groups have debated the issues on every conceivable level. Blogs and articles have been written, disseminated and discussed. And this does not even begin to cover all of the preparation for this gathering.
But despite all of this - we will more than likely continue to disagree on a number of the core issues coming before our governing body. We are a church that have members around the globe and who would be found up and down the political and social issue spectrum. We are younger and older persons as members. We come from developing nations and developed nations. We come from mega churches, rural churches, , suburban churches, village churches, tiny house communities, new church starts, declining churches, growing churches, multi-cultural churches, staff-led and single pastor led congregations, and much more. Our churches are led by Elders, Deacons, Local Pastors, Lay Leaders, and other leaders both trained and volunteer. We are as diverse as a global group can be.
But we are also similar. We share a Wesleyan heritage of social justice ministry. We have a common theological framework of grace - prevenient, justifying, and sustaining. We rely on the scriptures as our core guide - but we also interpret them with our tradition, experience, and reason. However, despite these similarities we do not always agree. The very way to we look at scripture leads us to differing meanings in the texts we read.
With the diversity in our members and our faith understandings, it is no wonder that we have failed on several occasions to even agree that we disagree on key issues facing the church. But at this General Conference we are at a crossroads. We come together at a time of great cultural and political turmoil all across the globe. We come together at a time when we need holy conferencing more than ever before. We come together needing to find common ground. We come together at a time when we have to re-vision what our structure needs to look like to be more nimble and efficient in the future.
But this ground will be hard to find -- if we do not listen with open minds, love with open hearts, and fling the doors of our churches open to all.
If I had all of the answers I would offer them here. Unfortunately these major decisions will take a lot more than one person offering their opinion. It will take many persons on the floor of the General Conference offering opinions and listening one to the other. It will take concessions on both ends of the spectrum. It will require compromise.
Once a seminary professor of mine asked the class she was teaching what we thought of compromise in the church. One student answered rather flippantly, "It is an agreement that pisses off both groups." The prof laughed. The class laughed. Then the prof smiled slyly. Then she agreed with the statement, saying, "That’s so often what it takes."
So I ask my fellow United Methodists ... are you ready to be a little bit “pissed off?”* Because I think in order for us to move forward we are going to all have to find room for flexibility about some long held beliefs and opinions. To move forward we likely will need to embrace other options for faithful discipleship that are not in concert with our own. To move forward we just might have to agree to disagree - which at this point would be a step forward.
So I pray. I advocate. I pray. I talk to others. I pray. I write about my own opinions. I pray. And I wait for my church to speak - hopefully after allowing themselves (and by extension all of us) to grow and stretch together.
And I pray that if we do get a bit “pissed off” at each other - may it be a good thing as we have listened well, loved mightily, worked through our differences, and found common ground. God has already told us what is expected of us.
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8 NIV)
Lord, make it so.
*While some will not like the use of this language - it is vital to my story and appropriate to the feelings I have at this time.