I am a United Methodist. I grew up a Missouri Synod Lutheran. I've had exposure to Catholicism.
I chose the United Methodist Church by accident, really. I had been invited to attend my church and I fell in love with the people and the pastors first. Then I learned more about John Wesley and Methodism and knew I had found the place where my beliefs about Christianity could align with a church's teaching.
Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.
What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.
Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.
I'm no expert on Methodism. I don't know a lot about how the rules are made. I know about the Book of Discipline and I know about conferences and states and worldwide membership. But I'm not on the political end of things. This week, however, I have been tuning in to the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, FL. It's a huge global meeting that, I think, happens every 4 years. There is legislation and worship and presentations and praying and committees and sub-committees. I can't keep track of it all.
My interest was sparked because I have been following some Methodist groups that are for social justice, equality, inclusion. Believe out Loud, Reconciling Ministries, Methodist Federation for Social Action. And there are many issues about social justice, equality, and especially inclusion on the agenda at this year's General Conference.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be going very well for the progressives. Again, I'm no expert and I'm not following this very closely. I'm reading some blogs from people who are there, I'm following some hashtags on Twitter.
One of the quotes above from John Wesley is very important to remember. Well, all of them are. Do all the good you can, all the time, to everyone. We may not all think the same, but we can love the same. And by teaching and learning tolerance, the next generation is prepared to go the next step towards love.
It seems like the voices of the delegates and attendees who are seeking change- those who want the church to put some backbone into the notion of being accepting of all people with the "open hearts, open minds, open door" idea by removing wording from the Book of Discipline that still condemns homosexuality- are loud. It seems that the worship experiences and the people speaking and the reports rolling in have a strong voice to love ALL of God's children but the power still rests in the hands of those barely able to tolerate.
Instead of getting caught up in all of the ceremony of the proceedings and following each vote, I'm going to work on staying true to the foundation of my faith.
Love God, love others, make Disciples. Love God. All the time. Love others. All the time. Make Disciples- teach people about Christ, demonstrate how a Disciple of Christ lives, be open and authentic in my faith.
The Old Testament gave us laws to abide by. The 10 Commandments. The New Testament gospels give commandments from Jesus. Jesus commandments were more than 10- I think it was 38 commandments given in the gospels. Commandments like forgive, don't keep enemies, don't swear, turn the other cheek, the golden rule, put God first, serve others, show mercy and more. But Jesus also made it clear what the most important of His commandments were.
Jesus was asked: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22:36-40
In addition, before he left the earth, Jesus gave what is known as the Great Commission. We have all of these commandments, we know which of the commandments are most important, and here is the action we must take.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
See? Love God, love others, teach.
And my point in all of that is simply this. If you call yourself a Christian, I urge you to deeply pray and consider the possibility that maybe you haven't been looking outside of yourself enough. Maybe it's time to start to reach out and find the people who need to be loved and shown mercy. I am currently reading "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan. In it, he shares a small story of realizing that he wanted to go out and buy things to give to those in need. But then he realized that he didn't know anyone in need. His circle was a safe and comfortable place where people's needs were basically met. He had to step outside of his comfort zone and seek out God's children who were needing care, mercy, and grace.
If you've been burned or hurt by the church, know that there are those who are seeking to bring this basic message to others in the church. One of the most beautiful pictures I've seen come out of the General Conference is of the silent vigil being held outside of where the conference is taking place. A group of people who are praying that the church will recognize the inconsistent messages... and are praying that hearts, minds, and doors will truly be opened. As Bishops and Delegates and attendees leave the conference, they walk past these groups in silent prayer, adorned in a colorful stole to show why they are there. And here is what I want you to see in this picture...
I want you to see the diversity in the faces of the people standing together, holding hands, praying. Young, old, middle aged. Male and female. Black and white. Check out this photo essay on the General Conference website and look at the faces. Go watch this video of Mark Miller and see who it is that stands with him. Go read this article about Jesus and homosexuality.
I find hope in that diversity. I find hope that there are others like me- those willing to stand up as an ally who are standing on the foundation of God's love and Christ's mission for our lives.