UM General Conference 2019

I wanted to share just a few thoughts on the upcoming General Conference in St. Louis. First, let me say that I am praying that the delegates truly listen to one another and the Holy Spirit as they search what God's will might be for the church and its mission to the world. I hope the following reflections are offered in the spirit that is both conciliar and conciliatory. I offer these thoughts as ten theses.

1) The Church is the Body of Christ and hence much greater than The United Methodist Church. I hope the delegates will keep this in mind. As much affection as many have for The United Methodist Church, it is but a very small slice of global Christianity. The Church existed long before John Wesley came around, and certainly much longer than the late 1960's when the current denomination formed.

2) Human pride in a denomination is not wrong; no more wrong than human pride in a favorite athletic team, or beloved rock band is misplaced. However, when this affinity becomes elevated with such language as "our church," or "my church," we are engaging in borderline idolatry.

3) The church is Christ's Body, and hence belongs to God. Humans can choose, individually or collectively, to participate in the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, or not. Battles over the shape of a denomination, pension plans, and the support of seminaries, boards, or other institutions are human struggles that typically have little to do with God's Kingdom. Delegates would do well not to confuse such political engagement with God's work.

4) John Wesley never aimed to start a church. His was a movement to revitalize the Church of England. His sending of Coke and Asbury was in part aimed at providing members of his movement in the American context access to Communion. Methodists would do well to remember that their origins are rooted in a movement of radical renewal. We need to start worrying less about "church" and more about becoming a movement that revitalizes the Kingdom of God.

5) Both "progressives" and "conservatives" in the current context are raising theological issues that are essential to how we define and understand faith and should not be dismissed as either insignificant or merely contextual.

6) "Progressives" are raising issues fundamental to the nature of humanity in relation to God, vocation, sin, free will, and grace.

7) "Conservatives" are raising issues fundamental to how we understand Scripture, revelation, and God's guidance for our communities, and our world.

8) The nature of humanity, vocation, sin, grace, free-will, Scripture, revelation, and God's desire for our communities and world were all essential issues for Wesley and the other Reformers. If we are going to remain true to the Reformation, we relativize the issues that these two groups bring up at our great peril.

9) Delegates would do well to listen hard to all sides, and engage in difficult theological reflection on the issues raised. The human inclination to "fix" and come up with easy solutions is likely not what God would have us do, and should be avoided. If GC 2019 comes up with an easy fix, even if it is one that is most "comfortable" for the largest and richest number of delegates, it is not likely to actually reflect the Kingdom of God.

10) My prayer is that GC 2019 emerges not with a plan. My hope is that The United Methodist Church emerges with a renewed commitment to engage in theological imagination about the nature of humanity and Scripture.  My desire is that we embrace once again the radical renewal ethos of John Wesley's movement to regain the vision and spirit of the earliest Christians for the global Church in all it's manifestations.

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