This I Believe by Steve Quigg
I am a realist.
Flying as a missionary pilot in the bush of Africa taught me to deal with things as they were, not as I hoped them to be. No amount of wishing made a storm go away, or passengers arrive on time, or the engine run smoother. Understanding that about my past will perhaps lend some perspective on my views of our current impasse in the United Methodist Church over human sexuality.
So, here are some random thoughts from a realist:
- Reality – The church was on the ragged edge of splitting at General Conference in 2016.
The tension and rhetoric were horrific and the only people really succeeding were those who knew how to manipulate Robert’s Rules of Order. Fortunately, the delegates voted to hit the Pause button on the human sexuality debate and the Commission on a Way Forward (COAWF) was formed. The Pause won’t change the eventual outcome of who “wins” the arguments (no one really will), but the Pause afforded us the space to deescalate the passions and rhetoric. The COAWF demonstrated for us that United Methodists with widely differing perspectives could disagree with each other with mutual love and respect. God bless ‘em.
- Realty – The United Methodist Church is becoming more conservative.
Some of you will celebrate that fact while others will shudder at the thought, but it is what it is. At the same time, the UMC in the U.S. is becoming ever more progressive. It is no wonder then that the tension between the progressive segment of the U.S. church and the evangelical nature of the church international is at an all-time high and growing as our theological positions widen.
- Reality – The UMC is about to lose a significant portion of its membership – and its resources, authority and power.
There is no option presently on the General Conference table that will prevent it. The Traditional Plan is an anathema to progressives and many will rightfully depart rather than live with what they consider to be repressive standards. Similarly, the passage of the One Church Plan or the Simple Plan (or no plan at all) will drive out millions of Evangelicals whose theology and Biblical interpretation won’t allow for condoning the homosexual lifestyle. It is in everyone’s best interests to plan for this upcoming loss in order to minimize its impact and pain. But…
- Reality – We would lose those numbers anyway.
We’ve had a losing United Methodist formula here in the U.S. ever since the UMC was birthed in 1968. One has to believe that our fights over Biblical authority and interpretation in relation to our views on human sexuality are at least part of the reason. A house divided against itself simply cannot stand, and the UMC is exhibit A. We can either accept the inevitable loss from an amiable separation in February – or we can prolong the agony and take 10 years to lose the same number of members. After fifty years of trying (and failing) to make this work, isn’t it time to give each other the space and freedom to do ministry as we each feel led and to change our curses of each other into blessings?
I am a realist. Are you?
Stephen Quigg is a career missionary with Global Ministries and is the first lay alternate delegate to General Conference.
This I Believe by Lynn Caterson
My Convictions Going Into General Conference
My strongest conviction as I approach General Conference is that God will be in charge – BUT IN HIS OWN TIME. I am good with the first part. The second part – not so much. I remember way back when I was chairing a Committee of the Southern New Jersey Annual Conference, and I set time frames for things to happen, many of which were beyond human control. The pastor I was working with gently asked, “Are these things set in your time, or God’s time?” It was an eye-opening question. I am truly convicted that all will be done in God’s time when he is in charge.
My second conviction is a negative one and I wish I could be proven wrong. I believe that prayer before voting is hypocritical. I would love to try a test: vote without praying – then pray and vote the same question again and see if the vote changes. Rather, I think we would be better off, praying as we listen; praying as we talk; praying as we discern – not right before we vote.
I also have the conviction that throughout General Conference, as well as all communication prior to and after, should be guided by the motto THINK before you speak. Meaning, is it?
T – True
H – Helpful
I – Inspirational
N – Necessary
K – Kind
I think we especially need to focus on whether what we say is NECESSARY.
I have the conviction that our Lord is not pleased that we are giving so much time, energy and resources to the General Conference topics. I believe he is thinking: “I sent them Jesus, who gave them the priorities for their life. Why didn’t they listen?”
Can you imagine the good that could have been done in the past 4 decades in feeding, clothing and housing the poor and in stopping hatred and violence of all kinds, if we all had spent our time, energy, voices, and resources on these things rather than the topics ahead at General Conference?
Finally, I hold the conviction that we United Methodist are more alike than we are different. We don’t need to agree on everything. Different points of view are good things, so long as we acknowledge that we share them only to enlighten, not to convert.
Perhaps it is my training as an attorney, but I have no problem with being close friends and working with attorneys who argue against me and my client on the other side of the courtroom. Agreeing to disagree on some things and to agree on others.
Do I have all the answers? Absolutely not! But I hold to the Bible passage that here on earth, we see through the glass dimly and we should realize that that applies to everyone. NO ONE has the answers here and now.
Lynn Caterson is the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference Chancler
This I Believe by Rev. Jisun Kawk
- Spiritual discernment.
I believe that God, the mystery, asks United Methodists to have prayerful spiritual discernment personally and communally for the Special GC 2019.
I believe God is the divine mystery at the heart of the world. “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). No human could know God fully. Even Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor” whose Summa Theologia examined all that could be said of God by the greatest theologians in the late medieval period, acknowledges that after all our theologizing, God remains unknowable. As I prepare myself with prayerful discernment to the GC 2019, I remind myself that whenever we claim that our words or our images are expressions of full identity of God, we fall into idolatry. In connection to the three plans of “A Way Forward” of UMC, I think, therefore no one plan can itself totally encompass or fully express the totality of the divine mystery, God’s will. In my daily prayer, I humbly open my heart to God and ask God’s guidance, and open my ear to different opinions of other people.
I believe that Christ Jesus calls us to practice love. Two Bible passages, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:14) and “You are my beloved” (Mark 1:11) reveal the truth about all human beings, including United Methodists whether they support or belong to any particular plan of the three plans of “A Way Forward” of UMC. We should love “other United Methodists, beloved children of God” unconditionally. Chang Tsai (1026-77)’s universal love is an excellent example: Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions…. (from Western Inscription)
- Searching our own heart honestly
I believe that God invites GC delegates to search our own hearts honestly. Psalm 139 is an expression of a profound truth: You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me…. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:5,7). I think only under God’s steadfast love and faithfulness we are able to find the healing and restoration we so desperately need. United Methodists are not only divided but hurt emotionally and spiritually. I pray that I might continue to turn to God instead of self. In the light of God’s grace and mercy, we can find courage to look honestly at who we are. Bathed in God’s love, we can see clearly and nondefensively all the destructive patterns of our false self: the facades we have hidden behind, the excuses we have relied on to avoid taking responsibility, our habits of deception and control, our failure to love God, others, or ourselves as children of God. I am aware and believe that the misdirection of my false self makes me blind. Even if I think I believe in God, I effectively stand in God’s place. Only confession unlocks a process of healing, opening us to forgiveness, cleansing, reconciliation, and renewal and new life. In conclusion I will dedicate myself to create a renewed community of faith that is United Methodist Church.
This I Believe by Rosa Williams, GNJ Lay Leader
I believe that each of us should use whatever gifts we have been given to serve others as faithful stewards. If you serve, be prepared and serve with the strength that God provides to you.
I grew up in the United Methodist Church, but a large portion of my family attended the AME Church. When asked what denomination I belonged to, no matter the family member, the response was always the Methodist Church! The Wesleyan tradition was well ingrained into the family no matter what the church called itself. I would attend both church and did not really notice difference in the order of service and sometimes, while attending both churches on special celebrations on the same day, each church was monocultural and there were no differences in the ethnicity of the people. As I grew up, I began to understand the differences in the lettering after the name of the church and the history behind it. The barriers of ethnicity continue to haunt me today and we have not overcome. I believe that unity does not demand that we seek to erase our ethnic backgrounds but that we must accept ours and the other person’s as well. We are all made in the image of God. Sunday Morning “is the most segregated hour in this nation.” It was 48 years ago (December 18, 1963) when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this observation and our nation’s religious services remains monocultural in most churches today, with just one language, race or ethnic group represented in the service, even when space is shared by multiple ethnic groups. I be
I believe there will come a time when God will provide us opportunities to live in harmony with one another as a multicultural church in our local communities. Communities that are inclusive, diverse and united in the body of Christ. I look for opportunities to serve in numerous ways to bring about unity, peace, justice and cultural competence in the communities in which I serve, especially for those who may not have a voice. I would like to be a part of the solution as we seek together to find a way to celebrate our differences. General Conference is the body that determines the direction of the United Methodist Church and speaks officially for our denomination. It is an honor and responsibility to serve as a delegate. It provides me an opportunity to be involved and to work with others throughout this nation and around the world. I believe that we are able to pray, worship and work together as we listen for God’s directions and appreciate the difference that each person brings.
Rosa Williams is GNJ’s Lay Leader. She serves on a number of agencies, boards and committees including the NEJ Finance Committee.
This I Believe by Rev. Tom Lank
I carry many convictions with me to General Conference. Humility, a commitment to justice and the importance of mission are among them. But above them all, I am committed to unity in the Body of Christ.
From a young age I have seen my calling in the world as that of a peacemaker, a diplomat and a bridge-builder. This was even true in my family of origin, where I have one sibling who thinks the Republicans are too liberal and another who thinks the Democrats are too conservative. I’ve always endeavored to hold things together, to honor people for who they are and what they believe and to affirm that we are still one family at our core. Partly this is fundamental to my character. Partly it was nurtured by the dynamics of my family system. But I also understand it to be foundational to my theology.
For me unity is eschatological. That is to say, unity is a feature of our eternal life together. There is no segregation in heaven. There is not a Methodist section or a section for Yankee fans or a section for people with good taste in music. One of the few things we know about heaven is that we are going to be surprised at who will be there. They won’t all look, think or believe like us. And so, as Bishop Irons once said, “look around the room. These are the people you’re hoping to spend eternity with. You’d better learn to live together now.” For those who love and follow Jesus, eternal life has already begun, even if we can’t see its fullness yet. Unity is our ultimate condition and therefore our goal should be to reveal God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” by striving for unity here. Every splinter or schism in the church is a movement away from the kingdom of God, an amputation in the body of Christ.
Unity is also countercultural. When you look back at the history of Methodism, our disputes have often mirrored disputes in the larger society. Sometimes we led the culture and sometimes we had to learn from it. In this case, I believe we must offer witness against a spirit of divisiveness in our culture that is not of God. Social media and the echo-chamber news have convinced even good Christians that the “correctness” of a person’s opinion is more important than that person’s fundamental identity as a beloved child of God. Our best witness to the world is to remain together.
This is not the first or last issue upon which we will disagree. If we were to split into two or three denominations, we might find some brief relief from the rancor of our conferences. We might feel freedom and flexibility for a time, albeit with diminished resources. But eventually we will have other fundamental disagreements and our precedent will be division.
I pray that as delegates we will be able to see one another not as adversaries or abstractions, but neighbors in the Kingdom whom we are called to love.
Rev. Tom Lank is an Ordained Deacon in GNJ and currently serves as the Northeastern Jurisdictional Coordinator for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. He is the chair of the 2016-2019 GNJ Delegation to the General Conference.