Word for Word 3/20/19

Rev. Kim Gates
Rev. Kim Gates

Wow! We’ve had quite a winter roller coaster - cold then near record high temps in January then back to bone-chillin’ cold then snow, snow and more snow, yet spring is trying to break through! I believe, eventually, spring will prevail!

The denomination I am a member of has also had a bit of a roller coaster ride over the past year. For months there have been informational meetings, workshops, and prayer vigils concerning our special General Conference that was held in February. As a “mainline” church body, United Methodists have been fighting over the inclusion vs exclusion of the LGBTQ community for a very long time. There has been immense hurt and harm done to people and congregations “on both sides of the aisle.”

We are a global Church and are part of a connection that includes congregations from extremely different cultures than our American one. As part of the Universal Church that should not be a surprise but to many it should serve as a reminder that though we all claim to be Christians, the way that looks and is lived out is very, very different. At our special General Conference, clergy and laity from all around the globe were represented equally and tasked with making the decision as to whether the UMC would change from a position of “exclusion” where ordination and same-sex marriages were concerned or whether an option to become “inclusive” would be adopted. To the surprise of many American United Methodists, the vote was for a “Traditional Plan” that would not change the current language in our polity that states homosexuality is “inconsistent” with a Christian lifestyle.

Now, regardless which “side” a person was on, there was going to be a great deal of hurt and disappointment because the world-wide UMC is pretty much evenly divided. It was a VERY close voting margin. Often when hotly contended issues result in one side “winning” by a very slim margin, then the “losers” simply pack up and leave. (I’ve heard of congregations who have split over things as petty as china patterns on dishes but when it comes to human beings as the target of contention it’s a much greater matter!) And equally as often, during much of the debate surrounding highly charged disagreements, there is very little Christ-like behavior demonstrated as emotions run higher than discipleship.

I’m weary of everything being so politicized and polarized that when two groups of the same entity disagree there has to be a “break” from each other. And in the Church, where we exist to “make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything that [Jesus has] commanded...” (Matthew 28:19-20) one would think Christ-like compassionate loving hearts-n-heads would rule to avoid such things as schism. Sadly that is rarely the case because human brokenness seems to get the better of even the most faithful individuals!

So will there be a split in the United Methodist Church? Will there be drastic changes at St. Paul’s & Forest Mills? Your guess is as good as mine! After any General Conference, all voted “legislation” has to go before our Judicial Council to make sure it aligns with our constitution and Christian values before it is put into practice. Parts of the “Traditional Plan” had been ruled as unconstitutional twice before this last Conference, so when it goes before the Council a third time will this ruling change? And if it is ruled “unconstitutional,” then what does that mean for the recent vote? Again, your guess is as good as mine!

As it stands today, the United Methodist Church is still one, large global entity where many of our ministries continue unchanged - the hungry are still being fed, the naked are still being clothed, the thirsty are still given something to drink, the sick and imprisoned are still being visited, and the strangers are still being welcomed as mandated by Jesus in Matthew 25. What we need to work on is John 15:12 where Jesus said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” (capitalization is mine!)

I believe it is time for all Christians to focus on being Christ-like loving, humble, compassionate, active disciples of the One i.e. Jesus the Christ who won our salvation! And it is time to STOP making our “side” or “party” or “denomination” the driving, divisive force behind rhetoric designed to make ourselves feel superior. This life is not about “me, myself, or I” but about how well Christ is imitated. I believe when we get that right, the world will become “right” and the Kingdom will be established “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Rev. Kim Gates
Waukon St. Paul’s and Forest Mills United Methodist Churches

 

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