Home Conversation The Church is a Hot Mess

The Church is a Hot Mess

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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.


Image Credit: “Christmas #25 by Flickr user Kevin Dooley was used as the background for the featured image, some rights reserved.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Patrick
    First I appreciate your attempt to be welcoming / open to all. I believe that is one of the major premises you hold up in your article. And, I agree with much of what you said. Especially, toward the end where you said, “it feels like we are doing it wrong, & there is no place in the structure to gather our thoughts.” Well said, and in my opinion very true.
    I would like to lovingly disagree with your 3rd paragraph, if I understand what you’re saying. You mentioned that is “May” be good to have churches take strong stands on social issues or theological principles, but need places where partisanship takes a back seat to relationships. It would be my humble opinion, that anything that attempts to replace the basic theological focus of Jesus or the Bible, in the name of seeking relationships that ignore major issues / problems, would not be something any church should be seeking.
    and, I agree bullying / intimidating is not very Christian or winsome!
    Thanks for writing, and thanks for allowing a place to meet, even if it is in cyber-space! Blessings in our Jesus. Pastor Steve Hartman Stronghurst / Carman U.M.C.’s in north-western Illinois.

    • Steve,
      Thanks for reading and for engaging the question.

      I’m not sure that we are at complete points of contention. Churches have a right, and indeed a need, to define their basic identity and the types of conversations they’ll be having. But I think we can hold even strong theological opinions while being very generous to one another. The churches I’ve attended where partisanship took a back seat were still engaged in spiritual development and in provocative dialogue from time to time. The spirit present in those conversations was (almost) always generous however and people were able to see their political/theological opponent as a child of God first.

      Thanks again for reading!

      Patrick

      • Patrick,
        Don’t want to keep you busy with just one person, but thanks for replying… to the reply… I am a re-tired {can you say re-tread?} pastor, currently serving as an interim, and have only been in ministry for a bit over 25 years. It saddens me greatly that the spirit of generosity, charity, high-idealism so often takes a back-seat to yes, even disagreements. I have been on our Conference’s Conflict Mediation Team, and have seen 1st hand that (MY observation) SO many in the pews are so “prickly.” The spirit of humility and a desire to see the best in the ‘other’ seems so side-tracked in our churches, and in society. I am a believer that the ONLY real answer is Jesus. The changed and Philp. 2 humbled life, is the only way we will ever be able to love the other, and ourselves as I believe Jesus would want us to. Thanks for writing. Blessings. Steve Hartman

  2. As a liberal Christian with no current corporate home, I’ve followed the recent UMC issues surrounding LGBT issues with great interest. In addition to the current specific issue (the trial), your comment “If behavior is indicative of our real convictions, I’m troubled by our collective answer,” is quite relevant to Christians in the US as a whole right now. Thank you for your insight and faith. Peace.

    • I believe you’re right about this being a larger Christian issue. I suspect it is actually more symptomatic of serious theological divides that our attempts to mitigate and legislate frankly don’t honor.

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