A Call to Prayer for Mutual Respect and Unity in the Face of Disagreement
When there are disagreements, our heightened emotions cause us to forget to choose our words carefully. And disagreements present the very moments when we need to choose our words well. The current nature of political discourse in the United States is troubling. I hear more insults between candidates than I hear proposed plausible solutions. Insults and aggressive language do not result in progress. Families, governments, and the body of Christ, are held together by our respectful and loving relationships with one another. True love requires that we deal with our disagreements, but it also requires that we do so with respect.
May 10-20, our United Methodist Church will gather for General Conference. Once every four years United Methodists gather from around the globe to make decisions about our church. It is the only body that can make changes to our church’s official teachings and organization.
As a delegate to the General Conference in 2012, I was struck by the depth of division within the Church, primarily around the issues of sexuality. I was also struck by the lack of focus on our mission which unites us: to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I have also recently witnessed Annual Conferences elect delegates to General Conference who are more firmly entrenched on one side of the sexuality issue or the other.
The sexuality issue is one which will not be resolved soon. The church within the United States is becoming more progressive, but nearly half of the church (5.5 out of 12.6 million members) is from outside the United States, from areas which tend to be more traditional on this issue, such as African nations. In order for us to fulfill our mission of making disciples, it is more important than ever that we be able to deal with our disagreements in a respectful manner. We cannot be so focused on our arguments that we neglect our neighbor who is without bread and without the bread of life.
“If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mark 3:25). Unity is not dependent upon agreement on all things, but it is dependent upon mutual respect in the face of disagreement. United Methodists should know better than most that we can disagree and continue to fulfill our mission to make new disciples. “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” (John Wesley, Catholic Spirit) Even in the 1787 Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, we read under the section entitled, “Of the Necessity of Union Among Ourselves: ‘If we are united, what can stand before us? If we divide, we shall destroy ourselves, the work of God, and the souls of our people.’”
Please join me in prayer for our General Conference, for mutual respect and essential unity in the face of disagreement, and that we may be focused on our mission to make disciples. How we love one another as we disagree will be a powerful witness, one way or another.