When I realized that the New Year presented itself with a plethora of joke possibilities I had to jump on the first one that came to mind. Will I have to wear glasses in the New Year? I have had glasses since I was very young, and when the year 2020 came to mind I thought about all of those people with 20/20 vision who don’t need glasses and thought it would be a fun way to start the New Year off, without wearing glasses. Seeing clearly is important for everyone, even the blind use their fingers to “see” things by touch. Whether we are looking at the road we are driving down or at the political landscape, examining our clothes or having an optometrist examining our eyes to see if they are the right prescription, and a myriad of other things we came across our daily lives, we need to be able to see clearly.
This is more crucial theologically than in any other arena of life. This statement will be laughed at by many people but when you realize that your theology can mean the difference between physical life and death for Christians under persecution and for all of us eternally it really is a crucial part of life.
It is the reason I spent 5 months examining the United Methodist Book of Discipline and why I am careful about what I say when I am preaching and teaching and even when I am having a conversation. Our words and what we believe matter.
This May, Delegates to the 2020 United Methodist Church General Conference will be gathering from all over the world as they normally do every 4 years. The plans for our future will be talked about, debated and voted on as they are at every General Conference, but this year something will on the discussion ta-ble that has not been there for 176 years, dividing the United Methodist Church. Over the 236 years of Methodist Church history in the United States there have been many times people have left the Methodist Church under its various names, usually over disagreements with the Bishops and often forced out by the Bishops, but this year will be a bit different. The delegates will vote on dividing the Church rather than a group splitting off.
In 1844 it was over slavery and if could own other people, i.e. slaves. This time around it is on a much broader issue, how is Scripture and the Book of Discipline to be understood and obeyed. The presenting issue is the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals and same sex marriage.
One side believes that as United Methodists we should follow 2,000 years of Christian beliefs, practice and teaching, they are being called Traditionalists, and the other side, called Progressives, feels we need to adapt our beliefs and practices to draw more people with different cultural understanding. This is of course a very simplified explanation of the issues before us but I only wanted to provide a brief explanation.
Both sides of the issue believe that every person is created in the image of God and is of sacred worth, but how we live out that understanding varies. What does this mean for us at Wesley? Well none of us are delegates so none of us will be voting, but all of can pray for the Conference and the delegates. If the delegates vote to divide the United Methodist Church, and it looks like a very high probability, then come sometime after Annual Conference in June we will have to make a decision on which path we, as a Church will follow. We do not know how this will all play out but it is something I do not want you to discover at the last moment that you have to make a choice on.
As a Traditionalist, and a leader of one of the Caucus groups in Wisconsin, I know where I will likely choose to be after the dust settles, but that is assuming one of the plans going before General Conference passes. There is always the possibility that nothing will change and then what will likely happen is that the United Methodist Church will continue to slowly dissolve leaving everyone frustrated and many people angry.
By spending time in prayer we can ask God to open our eyes so that we can see clearly the choices before us and how God wants us to act on those choices. It is why Jesus said in Matthew 13:9, “He who has ears, let him hear.”