As my brothers and sisters in Christ, all United Methodists by name, leave St. Louis to return to their home churches around the world, I read the news reports of the major decision they have made. By a small margin, 53% to 47%, the decision was to remain “traditional,” doubling-down on the church’s long-time ban on gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex marriages.
I’m sure nearly everyone reading this news has their own opinion on whether or not this was the right decision. And certainly, whether one believes the decision to be a good one or a bad one, the truth is that a decision did need to be made. The Methodists, like most Christian denominations, have been struggling with this issue for decades. And all the while, precious time, energy and resources that might have been directed toward more important Christ-centered causes have been spent, only to leave the 12-million members of the Methodist Church more divided than ever.
My blog today is not meant to add to the woundedness, nor is it to say that I could have done better. My heart goes out to both “sides” of this divisive, difficult-to-solve issue.
But, here’s the rub.
Over the last two thousand years, the Church of Jesus Christ has been plagued by having to resolve countless difficult-to-solve issues. As I see it, as long as you and I live down here on planet earth, we will never escape the need to wrestle with difficult-to-solve issues. As Jesus of Nazareth so wisely stated…
I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16: 33 (NIV)
You see, Jesus gives us the answer to how we, as Christ-followers, are supposed to respond when difficult-to-solve issues hit the fan.
Stay in Me, so that in Me you may have peace.
Yet, whether it be a huge issue like ordaining or marrying homosexuals or a smaller issue of deciding the color of carpet we put in the narthex, the opportunity exists for you and me, as church-goers, to choose one or the other…
Unity or Division.
I recall the story from Mark’s Gospel…
John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using Your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.” Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use My name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut Me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in My name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.” Mark 9: 38-41 (MsgB)
Could it be that in St. Louis, neither “side” was the bad guy? In other words, the 53% who voted to remain “traditional” are not enemies of God, nor are the 47% on the other side?
Which begs the question…
Was the issue of ordaining and marrying homosexuals worth splitting up the 2nd largest Protestant denomination in America?
I would dare say that some of you reading this article would reply, “Yes!” And a good number of you would say, “No!”
Here we go again!
Division vs. Unity.
It’s interesting that another option was available to my Methodist friends besides Division. It was possible for a majority to favor a “One Church” plan that would have kept an umbrella of unity over the Methodist Church while allowing each congregation to decide this prickly issue at a local level.
As I see it, that could have allowed for the greatest unity amongst Christ-followers, but sadly, more folks decided to follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ disciples, preferring to judge the other side as not being one with us.
And yes, I know, some of you are saying, “Marty, keep reading what Jesus says in Mark 9:
If your hand or your foot gets in God’s way, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owner of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell. Mark 9: 43-48 (MsgB)
Yeah, you’re right, Jesus does say that about evil. But my response is this…
“Jesus tells me to cut off my hand or foot if it gets in God’s way…but He doesn’t tell me to go cut off the hand or foot of another brother or sister!”
Jesus ends this story by saying…
Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace. Mark 9: 49-50 (MsgB)
Well, my friends, I wonder if yet another opportunity for Christ-followers to preserve the peace has once again been rejected.
For that, I’m sad.