One of the aspects of the annual conference (and now general conference) process I find frustrating is that as a church, we pretend as if what we do matters to the entire world. Jesus Christ matters to the entire world. The Church universal matters to humanity; the bureaucracy of the United Methodist Church does not. We speak as if our decisions are looked upon by the rest of Christendom as definitive, trend setting, and important. We talk about how grand it is to be Methodist. And while pep-talks are nice, these easily slide into the realm of, “wow, aren’t we awesome.” The year is 2016 not 451. Portland is not the new Council of Chalcedon.
Here’s the headline: no one cares what we do. Most of what comes out of our meetings matters only to United Methodists. We like to hear ourselves talk and complement our ability to be the Christians we think we are. Few people are invested in what happens in Portland even with the momentous decisions hanging over our heads.
The people in our churches are burned out, economically strapped, care little about denominational politics, and most want everyone treated fairly. The United Methodist Church is not the Anglican Communion. Whatever we decide to do will not make the BBC World Service, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, or France 24. We might garner a few seconds of crawl across the screen on CNN or Fox News. Our Very Important People will not be interviewed by any well-known journalists. In light of what’s going on in the world and with the election that will be well underway by that time, what a dying Protestant denomination has finally decided to do or not do about marriage equality won’t rank high on most Twitter feeds. Let’s be clear, we’re doing this for ourselves, for our own peace of mind, and to break the stranglehold of the religious right on United Methodism’s future. I believe the future of the denomination depends on such a break. Change is not only good but inevitable.
Altering the Book of Discipline (or changing our policy on homosexuality) is not about what other denominations have done or following the US Supreme Court’s ruling. As United Methodists we want to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Right now, we’re far from faithful. We’re discriminating against and hurting people we’re supposed to be serving. We pretend we’re a bigger deal than we actually are on the global religious scene. We’ve decided to call the managed chaos of the present “spirit driven”. Few things are spirit driven about the chaos we face. Egos, money, and fear are driving our existence. Perhaps it is time to stop listening so much to each other, to the United Methodist Mutual Admiration Society and hear the pain of the world around us. Put down the cameras, phones, and convenient schedules. Feed the hungry now, sit with the sick now, speak up for the immigrants, orphans, gay, lesbian, transgender communities, the widows, and go directly to them. Plant yourself in the middle of people who may never go to church. Go to those who have grown to hate who we are and what we do. Be a church even amidst profanity, doubt, and pain. Be present. Take no pictures. Do not make a PowerPoint presentation. If you have money in your pockets, give it away. Bring food to share. Submit your name for no evangelism awards. Just go. In the name of Christ, go. Take Christ with you and go.