“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
-1. Corinthians 12:12-14
It occurred to me recently that nowhere in Paul’s great description of the Body of Christ do we see wings listed. On my reading, there are hands and feet, eyes and ears, but no wings. Paul makes it clear that no part of the Body can say to another, “I have no need of you.” (v. 22) Because all are parts, in submission to the one Lord, there is no one part that can say to the others, “away with you!”
Such is the situation at present in the UMC. We have various wings trying to steer the denomination in a particular direction. What’s worse is that often their agendas bear only the scantest masquerade of Christian reason, and instead show quite clearly that their origin is not in Scripture or theology but in the ideological wars over which our cable news channels obsess each night. As with secular politics, we in the UMC are given two choices – or at least, there are only two voices on offer. These voices on both extremes never get us anywhere because, since they are only taking part in a shouting match, no one is actually listening to each other. It’s mostly PR stunts and fundraising. Wendell Berry recently described the present absurdity well in his Christian Century piece:
“In the present political atmosphere it is assumed that everybody must be on one of only two sides, liberal or conservative. It doesn’t matter that neither of these labels signifies much in the way of intellectual responsibility or that both are paralyzed…What does matter is that a person should choose one side or the other, accept the ‘thinking’ and the ‘positions’ of that side and its institutions and be so identified forevermore. How you vote is who you are.”
The disease Berry describes infects the church, especially the UMC, and not just the body politic. Everything that divides us comes down to a simple “yea or nay,” though often translated into churchy, more palatable terms: “law vs. grace” or “permissiveness vs. holiness” or some other simplistic binary.
If Cold War films taught us anything, it’s that in winner-take-all nuclear warfare, “the only winning move is not to play.”
This blog represents an attempt “not to play.” We believe that there are many others in the UMC out there like us. We have our leanings; in fact, the three of us far from agree on everything. But we reject the simplistic terms of the debate and the frankly un-Christian tone of the debate. Of course, it’s easy to criticize. That has a place, but we also want to offer something better: to be the change we wish to see, and to offer a place for others like us that are, in the words of Charles Wesley, “weary of all this wordy strife.”
I’m excited for the journey ahead, and I hope you’ll join us. Ultimately I don’t want to be in conversation only with those who agree with me, but with everyone: left, right, center, unsure, tired, angry, and depressed. As Charles put it in the hymn mentioned above, everyone who seeks Christ is, in the end, my sister and brother, someone for whom Christ died, and someone with whom I am called to pray, dialogue, struggle, and witness. This is driven home in the fifth stanza:
My brethren, friends, and kinsmen these
Who do my heavenly Father’s will;
Who aim at perfect holiness,
And all Thy counsels to fulfil,
Athirst to be whate’er Thou art,
And love their God with all their heart.
No wings. Just a bunch of feet and hands, eyes and (hopefully big) ears. In the UMC, we are united by so much: history, hymnody, founders, mission. But most of all we are united by the Spirit, one in Christ, and one with all those “athirst to be” one with God.
May God draw us closer, strengthen the cords that are stretched, mend the limbs that are broken, and help us to live out the prayer and the promise of unity in Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Body.