So much of what I read in the run-up to the General Conference reminds me 1 Corinthians 13:1. I hear both mortals and angels speaking, but the love remains inaudible The banging, the gonging, the name calling about one plan or another goes on ad infinitum. Despite the interlocking sounds and screams of self-righteousness, the piled on “Amen’s,” and recycled wisdom so corny that Mark Twain wouldn’t touch it; love is absent. We appear to be all out of love. Someone in Corinth has forwarded their mail to the United Methodist Church. I decided to open my copy and see what the Corinthians had to say.
The Corinthians know us better than we know ourselves. Perhaps this is why they wrote. Smart people, with advanced degrees in theology and church history debate Methodism’s future the way Cicero debated to fall of the Roman Republic. With prophetic powers conjured from reading volumes of old Methodists journals and diaries, these women and men tell us what will happen to our denomination. Their faith, formed in years of retreats, campfire conversions, and Bible-thumping revivals is as strong as 1st-century martyrs like Polycarp. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, they know that their salvation comes not only through Jesus Christ but through a uniquely modified form of worship called Methodism. Oh, and do they believe. More than in Welch’s grape juice, dinosaurs, global warming, or an interventionist foreign policy guided by the Holy Spirit, they believe in Methodism. Though, as the Corinthians letter reminds us, even if you believe in a flat earth (for all the right Wesleyan reasons), and don’t have love, you have nothing at all. In fact, the letter’s author says something more dramatic, “You are nothing.”
Without love, we are a society for our own self-edification debating rules for chapters. Whether you have a Book of Discipline full of rules or full of expectant hope; love defines the nature of our Christian experience. Without love, we’re people spending a great deal of money to fly delegates in from all over the world to argue “about” love. That’s not loving. That’s St. Louis after Valentine’s Day. Love is more than a constitutional crisis, judicial hearings, and heated debates about a Bible that most people never read. Love is an idea that calls for patience and kindness. Love is not rude. Why? Love doesn’t insist on being right. Sadly, Methodists do. In our world, someone has to be right, and someone will be wrong. What if we ran our families like we run our denomination? Perhaps we do. Are we more dysfunctional than we realize?
I suspect we think we are here defending the truth of scripture. How can the Bible fight unless it has bullies like us to back it up in schoolyard cultural wars? The letter addresses this as well. There is only one truth: love. No matter how right or wrong something appears to be, the truth is measured in love. What do you think about a self-giving love that puts up with anything and everything despite our willingness to love ourselves more than we love each other?
Richard Lowell Bryant