Photo Credit: “Pepsi or Coca-Cola” by Flickr User by Roadsidepictures, Creative Commons
I had the pleasure of attending the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, TX as part of a seminary class. I remember going out to eat one evening and the waiter asking me what I wanted to drink. My standard response is always Dr. Pepper. But I have learned over the years that when you ask for Dr. Pepper you might get Mr. Pibb, and believe me Mr. Pibb is no substitute for Dr. Pepper. So I asked “Do you have Dr. Pepper or is it Mr. Pibb?” The waiter looked at me and said “Son, in Texas we serve Dr. Pepper.” While Dr. Pepper is a specific brand, Mr. Pibb is generic version of Dr. Pepper. For some people the difference doesn’t matter, if a restaurant doesn’t have Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb will do. The same could be said for Coke and cola.
Some people can go to a restaurant and ask for a Coke and have the waiter say “We only have Pepsi,” which prompts them to say “whatever.” They don’t care if they get Coke or Pepsi, cola is cola to them. But then there are those people that would rather drink water then to allow Pepsi to pass their lips. For these people, Coke is not just in option, it IS cola and Pepsi is something different altogether.
As the 2012 General Conference begins this week, delegates and the church as a whole will discuss a variety of issues, probably most importantly the future of The United Methodist Church. There are many petitions and recommendations to change the church, from administrative structures to shifting understandings of Scripture and God. I think one of the biggest struggles for The United Methodist Church is that we must decide if we are Coke or cola people.
From my viewpoint as a United Methodist pastor, we as a denomination can’t decide if we are Coke or cola. We say that there is a “Methodist” way, but as a whole we can’t agree what that way is. We can’t agree on itinerancy, appointments, structure, who can and cannot be ordained, and even what worship should look like. As a friend recently tweeted “Worship in UM churches is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” But at the same time we want to lift up what makes us unique, which includes itinerancy and appointments.
I must admit, that for me, at times the difference between The United Methodist Church and other denominations does matter and I want to serve and live in The United Methodist Church. But at other times I understand the beauty of The United Methodist Church is that each individual church is able to decide the best way to live out their mission and ministry for their community in their own way.
The thing is we can’t have it both ways. We need to decide what we are and truly live into that. As a pastor and lifelong Methodist, I will commit myself to live in the church God has called me to lead. But the church needs to decide who and what they are. This General Conference has the ability to go a long way toward defining if The United Methodist Church is Coke or cola. The question isn’t about what we decide but whether or not as a denomination we will live into the decision.