I had written these thoughts before I left on Tuesday for Roanoke for the Virginia Annual Conference. While I am publishing this after the Annual Conference was complete, I think the thoughts still hold room for consideration. The emotions were those of hope as I looked toward an Annual Conference session with our new Bishop. I was pleasantly surprised by the actions and even the discussions at Conference.
I will endeavor to collect my thoughts from Annual Conference in writing form and offer them for your reading. However, the question in my thesis of thought is definitely worth considering. ENJOY!
Politics and the Church
Can we talk for a minute about the politics of the church?
I am sure in that one question I have lost 99.999% of my readers, but for those of you who may be left, welcome to my brain. I ask this question because as I sit and write this article, I am about to head to Roanoke, VA for the annual meeting of United Methodists in Virginia (well most of it at least).
For those unfamiliar with the polity and structure of the United Methodist Church, churches across the denomination are collected and gathered into a body known as the Annual Conference. This body gathers to help ensure that each local church has the resources to enact the mission of the United Methodist Church. The Conference provides pastors and even financial resources to churches around their area.
For those of you still reading you should have a cursory understanding of the denomination I am a part of, now it is time to get political.
We often treat politics or political discussion as something completely antithetical to the nature of the church. We try to “separate church and state,” but we do it in a way that demonizes faith and leads to the sort of Christian Nationalist rhetoric that plagues our society today.
Maybe if we were better about day-to-day political discourse in our churches and denominations, we would recognize the true calling of the church and its role and place in society. We try to place the church outside of society and input ourselves when it is opportune for what we want. Then we leave all other political discourse at the door and turn a blind eye to the harm that is happening outside our doors/walls.
When I get to Roanoke this week and am gathered with almost 2,000 other clergy and lay folks from around the state, we will do many things. However, I fear one of the things we will sorely miss is the very real and tangible harm that the church has caused through a general apathy for not standing up for the true nature of Christ as it was meant to be shown.
Last year at our Annual Conference, there was a peaceful protest that occurred to call out a system of harm for a pastor who was under complaint for officiating at the wedding of an LGBTQIA+ couple. The harm being done to the pastor in this instance was an extension of the harm that was continuing to be perpetuated upon the couple who desired to be united in love under God.
I grieved as we stood up front calling upon our then Bishop to heed the cries and seek healing from the harm that had been caused. To reach out the hand of compassion and do what was right for the church as it continues to witness to people with all varieties of lifestyles. However, there was also grief for people in the Convention Center who had no clue what was happening or the context behind it.
We are good at yelling our beliefs at one another or trying to hide the uglier side of the church at the expense of trying to not seem as hypocritical as we are. As I stood in solidarity with those who had been harmed by the judicial system of our United Methodist denomination, I couldn’t help but think how we could have approached this differently to have a more wholesome conversation.
Yes, this would have meant more openness on the part of episcopal leadership. There may have been legal challenges associated with that, but because we were afraid to air the dirty laundry of politics, we had people wholly unable to be part of a conversation about how the church can heal the harms of exclusion for our LGBTQ+ siblings.
My hope is this year we are better able to have discussions about these matters. It is strange for a faith whose beliefs are based on a wholly political document (yes, the Bible is political) we struggle to engage in the public sphere of politics in a way that truly embodies the full nature of God. We are unable to extend God’s love, recognize the harm that our political stances cause, and even admit the very basic concept that we are not helping to bring God’s Kin-dom to earth as we are called to do.
People are saying the United Methodist Church is fracturing. I say that we have disgruntled people who want to leave the table because they are unhappy with the “direction” the UMC is headed. It is comical to think that being more gracious and Christ-like is a bad direction to be going in. I am frustrated because on their way out they want to try and burn the whole house down. We have people who are not acting in good faith, and we are choosing to look the other way in most scenarios because of some sort of denominational duty.
We fail to address who it is we are called to be and we have made idols of the doctrine we want to believe, instead of allowing the doctrine of God’s love and Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit to guide our lives.
I am currently preaching a series called, The Five Marks of A Methodist, to my congregation. These are not doctrinal beliefs that Methodists were encouraged to hold, but instead, John Wesley encouraged that these were marks of persons who embodied that faith of Christianity and the doctrine we believed. Since the doctrine of the church is centered around God’s love and grace for their creation, two of these marks are; A Methodist Loves God and Loves Others.
This is our political nature, this should drive how we interact with the world, and when we fail to do so we fail to do the most basic aspect of our faith. We fail to live by the two commandments Jesus gives us in the Gospels, and we fail to develop a true political narrative that seeks to embody them as Jesus did.
We are good at making Jesus (and especially Paul) political, but we do this in a way that is antithetical to the true nature of the Gospel. Talking politically as a church leads us to come up with ways to help the less fortunate in our world. It leads us to come to grips with the harm we have caused and to seek forgiveness and reconciliation no matter the shots that may take at our own desires for “power.”
We fail to talk about these things, and this leads to heated discussions when they do come up because we are not prepared. You have those who are fully vocal (sometimes too loud) and then those who are otherwise silent because they know how divisive the issues are. This leads to ignorance and even apathy when many of these issues are not actually issues but are actual human beings who are in danger.
I hope that as we gather this week, we are able to talk about the harm we have caused and maybe even find ways for healing as we move forward. I hope that the church can become more political, seeking evermore how to continue the work of Kin-dom we have been called towards. This may seem wishful thinking, but I continue to hope that the love and grace of Jesus Christ will truly shine forth through the church.