By Keith Boyette
July 26th, 2019
These are exciting days to be a Christ-follower who is committed to the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition. I know that there is much that we would want to be different in The United Methodist Church. The rumors, innuendo, misrepresentations of truth, and partisan attacks can distract from what Jesus is doing in our midst. The continued uncertainty of what might occur at the General Conference in Minneapolis in May 2020 is paralyzing for too many. Many are grieving and just coming to terms with the loss of something. Nevertheless, I believe we are in that space just before the storm clears. I can see a new day dawning for the people called Methodist.
The prophet Joel declared, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants – men and women alike.” I have been dreaming dreams and captivated by the vision that the Holy Spirit is imparting to us. And that has led me to play the “What if” game.
In virtually every corner of the UM Church, there is an acknowledgment that the 2020 General Conference must be different than preceding General Conferences and most especially different from the 2019 special General Conference. As a people, we are tired of seeing the only body capable of speaking on behalf of the UM Church be ineffective and the prisoner of the same tired controversies that we have repeatedly addressed and supposedly resolved. We are also tired of watching those who have taken vows to be governed by the Book of Discipline ignore the decisions of General Conference. A church which descends into lawlessness, as ours has, loses all moral authority to speak prophetically to a world desperately in need of Good News. When a shepherd ignores the revealed word of God and refuses to submit to the authority of his or her ordination, that shepherd loses the ability to guide others along the way.
Those on opposing sides of our decades long conflict are passionately committed to our respective convictions. Increasingly the irreconcilable nature of our differences is being acknowledged. The very house we all live in is collapsing. No longer can we live in different rooms in the same house. Many understand that we need to live in different homes in the same neighborhood. There is nothing wrong with that. Space will give us room to bless one another. Space will free each of us to focus outwardly in mission toward a world that desperately needs to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ. Proximity – living in the same house – has turned us inward. We spend our time contending with each other. And we are failing in our mission as a church.
What if . . . we freed each other passionately and unapologetically to pursue our understandings of the Wesleyan faith through new expressions which would be birthed out of the UM Church? What if . . . those new expressions were unhindered by the internecine warfare with others who had a different understanding of the Wesleyan faith? Could we each reach people for Jesus Christ that we are not reaching now? Could we each introduce people to Jesus that the other might not reach? Is it possible that by choosing to live in different houses in the same neighborhood, God’s kingdom might multiply and all of our churches might grow? Might we return to our primary mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ? And might the kingdoms of this world move more rapidly to become the kingdom of our God and King, Jesus?
I know, we are each convinced of the rightness of our convictions. But our convictions are in conflict. Some think our differences don’t matter. We should live and let live. But others believe our “Yes” should be “Yes,” and our “No” should be “No.” We differ on our “Yes” and our “No,” and we know how we answer is important.
Theological alignment matters. In the Wesleyan Covenant Association, we have discovered how much easier it is to focus on and advance the mission when the foundation of our house is settled. Our gatherings, even the legislative sessions, are joy-filled – not places of stress. I am confident that others will find such liberation when they are in the same house with others who share their theological commitments.
Diversity is important. I always learn from those who are passionately committed to convictions that diverge from mine and I will still do so even if we live in different houses in the same neighborhood. But we cannot continue to live in the same house where the foundation is crumbling because of the warfare constantly waged across the rooms of the house.
Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus to birthing new expressions of United Methodism rather than girding ourselves for the next chapter of a never-ending conflict that is destroying our expression of the Christian faith and damaging our witness.
In recent weeks, WCA Council and staff members have been engaged in significant conversations with others from across the theological spectrum. The conversations are intense and sensitive. Confidentiality enables candid exchanges and encourages risk-taking. The outcome is uncertain, but we are unwavering in our resolve to model for a doubting world that we can love one another in our differences, bless one another in our parting, aid one another in birthing more vibrant expressions of our faith, and send one another into fields ripe for harvest. As we can, we will share developments with you. We definitely welcome your prayers.
The Rev. Keith Boyette is the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.