a bit monkish.
Being united doesn’t mean we’re always in agreement. Unity is nothing more than a coalescence of ideals and purpose. The United States of America, for example, is united, but its citizens are certainly not of one mind. We disagree, sometimes over important issues, but in the end we have a greater good in mind: The preservation of the republic. I'm in unity with my fellow Chicago Cubs fans, but we don't always agree on the best winning strategy.
From voices across The United Methodist Church, we hear talk of unity and disunity, and whether or not we can continue to live under the same ecclesial roof. The primary, contentious issue has to do with human sexuality. But human sexuality is a surface-level issue representing deeper matters, such as of the natures of God, humanity, and Scripture.
Why does The United Methodist Church exist? The Book of Discipline states our purpose is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Yet when we look at the statistics of the denomination, we’re losing disciples, not making them - at least in North America. The Central Conferences are making disciples at an exciting rate while it seems that many United Methodists in North America seek to transform the world through facility expansions, saving the environment, and personal fulfillment.
I like to describe myself as an optimistic realist. I have great hopes for the people called Methodist. However, until we can find theological unity in our disagreements, we’re going to remain shackled by issues that divide us. And while those of us in North America bicker over matters that are clear in Scripture and 2000 years of church history, our African United Methodist sisters and brothers are transforming their cultures, one new disciple after another. They might disagree on discipleship methods from time to time, but they’re unified in the task of making those disciples. Just like Jesus (and the Book of Discipline) tell us to do.
Perhaps the formation of The United Methodist Church 48 years ago was a great theological experiment: Can Christians with conflicting theological views live in unity? The answer is 'yes' if everyone abides by the same covenantal framework. However, once the breaking of covenant is seen as courageous and noble, all that's left is chaos, especially when the covenant breakers are the very ones who are supposed to be leading us.
What used to unite us was our covenant to live together in theological tension, even if our personal views didn't always align with official church teachings or policies. Without faithfulness to our United Methodist covenant, we're no different from the people in the book of Judges, who did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). And we know how well that turned out for them.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.