Every four years, during the already divisive American election season, 850 United Methodist delegates from all over Europe, Asia, the Philippines, Africa and the United States gather to conference together, worship together, and create or amend church law. The delegates are split evenly between lay and clergy. Beginning with a few pages at the Christmas Conference of 1784, we Methodists have accumulated a Discipline with over 800 pages of rules, histories, statements and guidelines. Over ten days the delegates gathered in Portland will consider hundreds of pages of proposed legislation submitted by Annual Conferences, churches, and individuals.
I know our eight Tennessee Conference voting delegates go to Portland with open hearts praying that the Holy Spirit guides the sometimes tedious and difficult work. They will spend the first half of General Conference in committee meetings seeking to consolidate, correct, and determine which of the nearly one thousand proposed changes to our rule book will get to the floor for a vote. There are proposals ranging from church structure to renewing outreach and evangelism. Most people focus on our church’s language in regards to issues around human sexuality which currently declares all persons, both homosexual and heterosexual, “as people of sacred worth.” We welcome everyone around our communion table, baptismal font and pot luck dinners, while prohibiting our churches and pastors from conducting same sex weddings and disallowing clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals. Over a year ago I wrote a long blog post about the Bible and Homosexuality (pastorpaulpurdue.com). No matter how our General Conference binds or loosens existing church law, a group of sincere, loving, and faithful Methodists will be disappointed.
Some folks see a denomination-wide break as the best solution to our diverse interpretations of Scripture. In 1844, our denomination spilt over slavery; 17 years later the Civil War broke out. We were the largest Christian denomination in America in 1844. Our division led the nation into greater division. How might a denominational divorce citing irreconcilable theological differences offer hope to our already tired, divided and hostile world? Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for the church is that we “might be one…. so that the world might believe.” It is easy to forget that in the midst of Paul’s greatest sermon, he confesses “we know in part” (1 Corinthians 13). Love matters more than prophecy, knowledge and even faith. Love is patient and kind. Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, irritable, resentful, or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love puts up with a lot. I ask you to pray for our TNUMC delegates: Jim Allen, Rev. Harriet Bryan, Holly Neal, Rev. Jacob Armstrong, Connie Clark, Rev. Stephen Handy, George Brown, and Rev. Jackson Henry. They are good people doing hard work.
I do not know what will happen in Portland. I do not know with absolute certainty what is best. “We know in part!” I do know that whatever happens over the next 10 days at General Conference, our food bank will open, children will memorize Scripturesl, we will make crafts with impoverished children, we will celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, honor our graduates on May 22nd, gather for a unified Memorial Day service on May 29th, celebrate VBS, send youth on mission trips, console the hurting with Grief Share, encourage young moms with Bible Study, launch Stephens Ministry again, form new LifeGroups, rock babies, hear happy laughter drifting off the playground, serve homebound friends communion, baptize new believers, proclaim forgiveness, welcome guests, cook grief meals, share wedding cake, pray together, preach the Gospel, sing together, worship, love God and serve neighbor . Thanks be to God that God does not abandon sinful, imperfect, fallible Christians like us. Let us lean into our calling, no matter what happens in Portland.