We are in the proverbial “calm” before the storm. As we come down to the wire, this is the period before any big Christian blow up (i.e., General Conference) where the self-righteous fence riders tell everyone else to go to our opposite corners to pray and fast. Of course, sanctimonious fence riders are the only ones with real virtue; they take no official positions, claim to be above the debate, and are always ready to tweet, “If we’d only pray, fast, and do God’s will” we could all continue living with our head in the sands of late 20th century Methodism.
As the Snickers commercials say, I’m not me when I’m hungry. I hate fasting. I do not believe that my preference for three sensible meals a day will someway impact General Conference or my opinions on a way forward. Fasting, despite my need to lose a few pounds, I reject out of hand. I need to feel well to be well. I’m sure God doesn’t want me dragging and undernourished, especially during a nasty flu season.
I’m pro-prayer. However, I don’t believe in weaponized prayer. The moment I start praying against something, my motives become unclear. Is this prayer about God or me? Rather than pray for a preferred outcome or the demise of my adversaries, I prefer the model of the Lord’s Prayer. There Jesus tells us to ask that God’s will be done on “Earth as it is in Heaven.” That’s a big ask, yet I’m comfortable with God’s will being the primary goal of any prayer. While others may have gone to their corners and heeded the calls of the mealy mouth moderates who want us to all get along; I’m not praying for my preferred plan or against another. I’m going to pray that whatever happens is better than our present reality. To me, an inclusive and loving church is the embodiment of God’s will.
Should I pray for an outcome that doesn’t divide the church and respects the humanity of all persons in the church? If the United Methodist Church is pursuing God’s will, then those outcomes will be foregone conclusions. The Christ who died for all did not leave rules on who may enter the church. The boundaries and limits of God’s presence have always been of our design.
Here’s why: If God is who I believe God to be; everyone is welcome into ministry, marriage, or United Methodism. If God is who I think God to be, God’s love will be a stronger presence than any of our attempts to interpret ancient doctrine in a modern context. If God is who I believe God to be, comfort and compassion will define our future instead of separation and segregation. If God is who I think God is, we will realize the Beatitudes are just the beginning. There is a whole world we can continue to bless.
Richard Lowell Bryant