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On Uniting Methodists: What Will We Compromise?

This past week, Lovers Lane played host to the Uniting Methodists Conference, a gathering of those in support of (or seeking to learn more about) the One Church Plan (OCP) as we approach what will hopefully be a historic General Conference in February 2019.  Certainly there will be many reactions posted by those of all theological persuasions, but I wanted to take a moment to offer an insight that became apparent to me in the last few days.

During the conference, we offered the ability for attendees, both in-person and online, to submit questions for our leaders to address at the conference.  I was one of the persons privy to those questions, and I found them to be enlightening.

The largest number of questions had to deal with the technical implementation of the OCP, as it was finally released to the public on Tuesday late-afternoon.  But next to the "nuts-and-bolts" questions, the second-most type of questions had to do with a common theme.  I would summarize them as essentially saying "Doesn't Uniting Methodists understand that the One Church Plan is a compromise?" And compromise, in the eyes of the persons asking these questions, was not a good thing.

There were traditionalist-minded questions that articulated fears for what the OCP would mean for traditionalist pastors and churches.  There were progressive-minded questions that articulated frustrations with the OCP for not going far enough in it's pursuit of justice for LGBTQ+ individuals.  When read all together, the picture it painted was of people on the right saying "We're compromising our conservative values!" and those on the left saying "We're compromising our progressive values!"

My answer to these challenges would be, "Yes, you are right, we are.  And we should."

"Uncompromising" Culture

Somewhere along the way in the last several decades, our culture in America has developed a distaste for compromise.  We elect government officials based on their uncompromising values and their willingness to "fight" exclusively for "our side."  I found the visualization below, hosted here on the Washington Post, to be fascinating. It was created by a group of researchers who, as WaPo says, have "drawn dots for each representative [in the House], and lines connecting pairs of representatives who vote together a given number of times."

Clio Andris, David Lee, Marcus J. Hamilton, Mauro Martino,
Christian E. Gunning, John Armistead Selden, in PLOS ONE

As you look at the collection of dots over the course of 60+ years, the picture becomes clear.  Our elected officials are following through on their word, reaching across the aisle less and less.  I won't belabor the current political climate, but to say we are more divided ever, thanks to our efforts to remain uncompromising, would be an understatement.

We risk reflecting this "uncompromising," divisive culture right now our denomination, and some would say we are already there.  Which is exactly why I want to make the case that regardless what we choose in 2019, compromise is at the heart of that choice.  The only question is "On what will we compromise?"

Compromise Required

If we are to be an uncompromising church, I would argue that we ought to primarily be uncompromising in our fulfilling of the Great Commission.  When Jesus ascended into heaven and offered his final charge and the primary task of what would become the Christian church, he did not say, "Go, and protect a specific hermeneutic of the Holy Scriptures." He did not say, "Go, and force all nations and cultural contexts to adopt precisely similar social ethics."

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That is the charge, that is the commission, and on that we ought to be uncompromising.

This is not to say that rigorous study and defense of Scripture or prophetic, social justice-minded leadership are not worthy efforts.  I believe both are critical parts of my own ministry.  But they are not the primary purpose of the church.  They are not the uncompromising commission offered to us by Christ.

Hard-lined traditionalist or progressive solutions to our current debate would ask us to compromise on our ability to make disciples in favor of Scriptural sameness or a one-size-fits-all approach to global social ethic progress.  Make no mistake, if we increased the punitive measures and doubled-down on our current stance regarding LGBTQ exclusion, we will be less effective at reaching disciples in coming American generations who have decided that LGBTQ-inclusion is a must in their personal social ethics.  Similarly, if we demand the global church adopt what is a relatively brand new American understanding of LGBTQ rights, we will effectively cut ourselves off from the fastest growing regions of Christianity, and again, disciple-making is compromised.

The One Church Plan, in my mind, says clearly that the only thing we cannot compromise on is our ability to remain a global church with a primary mission to "Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."  We submit everything else to that mission.  We compromise on other important, worthy pursuits, trusting that if we do the main thing first, our other purposes will come about in good time.

So yes, the One Church Plan is imperfect and full of compromise, and personally, I do struggle with many of the compromises it makes, BUT, I also recognize it is the most uncompromising plan in its pursuit of fulfilling the mission set for us by God.  And that is something I can support.

Comments

  1. Amen! Mediators always say a good settlement is when both parties are equally unsatisfied.

    ReplyDelete

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