Days like today, I think about the denomination of The United Methodist Church, and why I’m a part of it. Days that follow trials and verdicts, personal vendetta turned to personhood- and livelihood- stripping arguments and actions make it hard to remember.
There’s beautiful theology, and a structure that is imperfect but has room for movement (hey I used to be Roman Catholic, so I’ll take it!). There are great big denomination-wide programs that do amazing work all over the world, like the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
And there are people. Oh, Love Divine, the people. I love those people called Methodist. I love the vast network of Methodist(s) Federat(ed) for Social Action and Reconciling Ministries.
But the people, nearly all of the Methodist people I love, are hurting on days like today, and wondering why we stay “United,” and why any one of us stays in the denomination.
And so days like today, I have to stop thinking about my denomination, and start thinking about my local church. Amid rumors of schism or individuals leaving, what would happen in my local congregation?
There are two men in my church I think of in particular. Let’s call them James and John. The one I’m calling James is an openly gay man, leader of some of our strongest mission programs, voice for inclusivity and justice, and occasional participant in things like Pride, and is actively saving all his extra cash for the next Reconciling Ministries Network Convocation. John, on the other hand, is chair of a couple of important committees, the go-to cheerleader for church revitalization and transformation, and has been known to give speeches at annual conference stating that he believes that the Bible says homosexuality is clearly a sin.
James and John have each said things that the other finds hurtful, or offensive, or wrong. They would, in isolation from one another, appear to be on opposite sides of a debate. Should each United Methodist have to choose to be Reconciling or Good News (a traditionalist group that believes homosexuality is sinful and wrong), they would most likely land in different camps. If our congregation voted tomorrow on whether or not to schism, James and John would raise their hands at different times, and the whole congregation would grieve the division between members held so closely to the heart of this local church.
Because, you see, James and John love each other.
James and John love each other more than they love agendas and arguments and “issues.” In fact, they love each other more than they love denominations and schisms and their understandings of what is right and just.
And Trinity United Methodist Church, at least for now, is the place where they grow in love for God and for one another, in their differences. It is the place where they love each other, and find out that love is more important than rules or ideals.
James. John. The love they have for one another as siblings in Christ, in a local congregation of The United Methodist Church.
They are a reason I stay.