After the uproar died down a bit and the truth of things came out, at least enough to move forward, we all took a collective deep breath and sigh of momentary relief. The Bishops said they would not be putting forward a proposal and that they supported unity. They called on the church to be unified as well. Even provided a moving and wonderfully phrased and honest prayer about binding us together. They also said they were not unified. If you follow the United Methodist Church, this is not news. So, after all of this, what have we learned?
We have learned that our divisions run deeper than a single issue. They are matters of trust, of covenant, and even just the reality that a lot of us do not like each other. I think that most of us would in any setting other than this, but it’s still time for blunt and frank admittance of where we are. Oddly enough while most of us agree that unity should be the goal, we can not even agree on what unity in the faith means or looks like. To put it another way, it seems the divide is so wide that we can not imagine a time when it was not there. For some of us, there has never been a time when it was not present. Is united modeled by a strong central authority with some limited local autonomy primarily in matters of how to do ministry but not in matters of doctrine? Is united a weak central organization with strong local churches making their own decisions? Is united something more like the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, where we are allied, but very different and often in tension? Is united simply together in deeds if not in beliefs? Is united followers of Christ with different names on the door and theologies in the books? We don’t really seem to know what united even looks like. If we can not see what united is, we won’t find it I fear, at least not together. We are not even going to talk about what the cost of unity is or should be. It’s still time to answer these questions.
We have learned that we do not really trust each other very much. The right blamed the left, the left blamed the right, everyone blamed the middle and so forth and so on. It appears that there was an agenda that played itself out here. It doesn’t even really matter if there wasn’t, I think that most of us believe that there was. I hope I am wrong in that, but I fear that I am correct. Let me perfectly honest here. I have people whom I trust and think highly of associated with various unofficial Methodist groups. I trust them. I do not trust their groups by and large though. I can get past it most days, but it is real none the less. I don’t know if there was an agreement that anyone would actually believe anyone else would follow it. That requires trust, and we do not have it in large supply these days. If we are going to be honest, it is not going to magically appear tomorrow either. It’s still time to decide if we can move forward together in ministry with those we do not trust and often do not like.
We have learned that shared goals and successes can mask our ills for a time, but they will creep up again and progressively faster after each brief respite. We do a tremendous amount of good together and it is even good and healthy to rejoice in and celebrate that. Is it enough?
It’s still time to pray. It’s still time to look for wisdom and discernment. It’s still time for all of us to face the frank and difficult questions. It’s still time…and it is running out.