I ask you to be earnestly praying for our church through February; both for our local congregation and the global UMC community.
On February 23 United Methodist delegates from around the world will gather in St. Louis Missouri for a special meeting. The General Conference, our denomination’s top decision-making group, normally meets every four years and the next regular session is scheduled for 2020. This special session has been called solely to discuss the church’s stance and policies related to human sexuality.
Many of you are aware how difficult these conversations can be in a local church where we know and love one another deeply. These delegates are coming together without such bonds of affection. I ask you to pray for each of them that they may have both wisdom for the future and compassion with one another.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about fear in worship. These are fearful and anxious times. Some fear the church they love will change and change always carries risks. Some fear the church they love will reject them and rejection is life-threatening for humans. Many of us fear what the prolonging of this fight will do to our witness and our communities.
In the midst of the uncertainty, these things I know to be true:
- The Church is instituted by God. We are meant to live together and support one another; it is an integral part of salvation. The world needs us. The Church has survived many attacks and divisions, and it will endure until Christ returns.
- The Church is made up of humans. Humans are fallible creatures; we don’t always get things right, and we don’t always agree. Learning to be comfortable with that is hard.
- We are called to be faithful, not right. If being right all the time was a path to salvation, then the Law would have been sufficient. But none of us is rendered righteous by our deeds or opinions; our salvation lies in Christ. As it was for Abraham—his faith was regarded by God as righteousness—it is for us. We are saved by grace through faith. The moment we focus on proving we’re right, the outcome of an argument no longer matters, because we’ve already lost our souls. In the end, we must each be able to say “I was faithful to the gospel of Christ”.
- Faith will result in action. Faith is not merely abstract belief. It is the core assumptions that create the way we see the world. What we truly have faith in, will dictate how we respond to one another, to opportunities, and to challenges. Humans are masters of self-deception; if you want to know the shape of someone’s faith, don’t just trust their words, watch how they behave.
- Faith in Christ cannot contain hate. You cannot love God and hate your neighbor. You cannot follow Christ and fail to care for one another.
- This is not a hypothetical conversation. We need conversations about how we read scripture, who we recognize to lead worship, and what rites can be performed by the church. But if we treat this solely as a conversation about policies and procedures we fall into the trap of the Pharisees. This is a conversation about the souls of real people. For DPUMC it is a conversation about people among us and in our care.
No person knows with absolute certainty what will happen in St. Louis or in the days that follow. Very little is ever gained by focusing on what we cannot know. Instead, I ask you to hold fast to what is sure and as you pray, to ask for wisdom for these questions:
- Who in Deer Park needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and does not have a church right now?
- Who in our family might experience harm over this season and how can I best care for them?
- What new hope might God be opening for our work of making disciples for the transformation of the world?
Finally, church, I ask you to engage the coming days as Methodist Christians. We are a people of “Three Simple Rules” (as Rueben Job put it). First, do no harm. Second, do all the good you can. Third, stay in love with God. If you read through the plans proposed, listen to any of the Conference, or have conversations about these issues, do not just ask yourself with who do I agree or who has the most support or who seems most certain. Rather hold these rules firmly in your mind. No path forward that inflicts harm on God’s children can be best. No path that seeks protection at the expense of doing good for our neighbors can be best. No path loves institutions more than God can be best. There may be no perfect options but hold faith that God is capable of guiding us to what is best.
The plans produced by the Commission on the Way Forward are available at umc.org . On February 27, our bishop, Scott Jones, will release a video message responding to the Conference at https://www.txcumc.org/vlog and on March 2 he will have a video Q&A. On March 3 we will have a Q & A in the Sanctuary at the Sunday School hour.
If you have questions, anxieties or would like to discuss the General Conference with me, my door is always open, and I have extra time set aside in the last two weeks of February for these conversations.