The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. Acts 4:32 | Common English Bible
The United Methodist Church is a hot mess. There is so much to love about this church but we work so hard to undermine it and hasten its demise. Our church is like a company whose different product lines continually attack one another, picking each other apart with the skill of one who knows the others’ worst secrets, and has not the slightest concern that they are eroding a shared bottom line.
I’ve been to General Conference a couple times as a communicator and I’ve seen the anger, frustration, and pain that shroud an event that should be a celebration. I’m not smart enough to know why the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem present in our conversations at General Conference but I’m observant enough to notice its absence. One has to wonder if we wouldn’t be better off seeking some sort of amicable separation.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t covet the idea of division. I value the social benefits of a church that is willing to provide true sanctuary for transformation – personal and corporate. As much as we may need churches willing to take strong stands on social issues or theological principles, we also need places where partisanship takes a back seat to relationships; communities where hearts open and minds change as folks meet and worship with people who challenge their stereotypes.
I only wish this was The United Methodist Church we experience on a denominational level. Instead of being a church comfortable with the diversity of God’s good creation, we bully and intimidate those with whom we disagree; progressive, conservative – it makes no difference. We kneecap the efforts of leaders who would take us down new paths displaying a lack of trust that is deeply troubling. We file charges against those whose ministry choices impact us in inconsequential ways while others judge whole regions of the country, and the world, as backwards or nonintellectual.
Have we so little faith in God’s ability to work through us?
If behavior is indicative of our real convictions, I’m troubled by our collective answer.
While the context of Acts 4:32 suggests a materialistic interpretation when it says that the Jerusalem community “held everything in common”, let me suggest that this is too narrow a way to understand God’s desire for the church today. The church our world needs is one that is robust enough in charity and love that it can hold our many, different opinions in common.
In the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen wonderful moments of sharing across significant theological divides; moments where an under-appreciated truth is spoken and a shared respect forces all to hear it. It’s a beautiful thing to experience and such moments can really shatter one’s preconceived notions of the other.
Of course it is also true that I’ve seen and heard tales of really terrible behavior as well; misdirected anger and frustration over the denomination’s stance being taken out on a theologically conservative colleague; The Book of Discipline being used as an excuse to neglect the importance of another’s story. These moments reinforce a narrative for many that the connection is irrevocably broken, or worse, that God has given up on this church.
I started this post by declaring that the UMC is a hot mess and I realize that not everyone would understand the phrase. A ‘hot mess’ is defined as a situation “when ones thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.”
Despite all its flaws, The United Methodist Church has a beautiful theological heritage and a powerful tradition of hearing and empowering people to make a difference in their communities. But today, we are undeniably in a state of disarray. It just feels like we are doing it wrong and that there is no place in the structure to gather our thoughts.
As we move through the coming trials and tribulations, I pray we will each seek to avoid the “This is mine!” mentality while striving to hold all things in common.