Just Thinking ...
Recently one of the great United Methodist theologians, Dr. Ted Campbell, spoke at the World Methodist Conference in Houston. “The question at this point is not whether we divide or not,” said Campbell, standing under a “One” sign that signified the unity theme of the conference. “That I fear is a given now.”
To say the least, I was once again dumbfounded that we allow the negitivity of our world influence our life together as United Methodists. "Spliting" is the easy way out; each side just takes their toys and goes to their own corners of the room and ignores the other. "Live and let live" is the old adage.
As easy as that sounds, it never works. We cannot stand for too long the fact that others are different from us. We eventually seek to force our ways upon the others because "God has told me to do so." (That is sarcasim, by the way.) Remember the Crusades and the "our church is better than yours" wars?
We can avoid all this if we remember that, as Christians, we are called to a life of unity as the children of God. The writer of 1 Peters states
"Finally, all of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves." 1 Peter 3:8 Common English Bible (CEB)
Division and "splitting" is the complete opposite of this command. In fact, division in the Church is not of God. Earlier this week in a sermon, Pope Francis (Yes, I know he is not a United Methodist.) shared the following bold and powerful statements:
"Commenting on the reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians — where St. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their contentiousness — Pope Francis said, “The devil has two very powerful weapons to destroy the Church: divisions and money.” And this has happened from the beginning: “ideological, theological divisions that lacerate the Church. The devil sows jealousy, ambitions, ideas, but to divide! Or greed.” And, as happens after a war, “everything is destroyed. And the devil is pleased. And we, naive as we are, are his game.” “It is a dirty war, that of divisions,” he repeated. “It’s like terrorism, the war of gossiping in the community, that of language that kills”: “And the divisions in the Church do not allow the Kingdom to grow; they do not allow the Lord to be seen as He is. Divisions make you see this part, this one against the other. Always against! There is no oil of unity, the balsam of unity. But the devil goes elsewhere, not only in the Christian community, he goes right to the root of Christian unity. And this happens here, in the city of Corinth, to the Corinthians. Paul rebukes them precisely because divisions arise, right at the heart of unity, that is, in the Eucharistic celebration.”
I know Pope Francis is talking about divisions at the celebration of Holy Communion, but allow me to take this, the Eucharist, as a metaphor and to consider the Table of our Lord. By dividing up God's holy and universal Church, we are saying only certain people are allowed at the Table (our Table), only certain people are welcomed at the Table. That goes against our very theology as United Methodists.
Secondly, and most frightening, we are siding with the devil when we seek to bring dis-unity to God's Church, and yes, to The United Methodist Church. I don't care what name you use for him... Satan, the devil, the enemy of God, or whatever; we are in opposition to the perfect will of God in Jesus Christ when we support schism and division.
There is room at the Table for all of us, my sisters and brothers. The Table is big and wide, and the God of us all invites everyone to come and dine. Who are we to split up God's invitation list just because we cannot agree on issues. I think Pope Francis has it correctly; we must not let the enemy of God, the devil, dictate to us who comes to God's Table. We are the United Methodist Church. Using our knowledge of scripture, reason, tradition, and experience along with the power of prayer and God's Holy Spirit, we can weather this storm and come out at the other side, beside the Table together.
I am a not a great theologian, but in this case I humbly disagree with Dr. Campbell. Imagine instead not if, but when we the people of God called United Methodists show the rest of Christiandom that we can live, serve, and worship together as One Body. What a day it will be!
I'm just thinking, my friends, just thinking and believing.