Monday, July 24, 2017

United but not Untied

Recently, my wife and I went to the Turks and Caicos to reaffirm the wedding vows of two friends. Great people.  

That Sunday morning, most of the community gathered from across the United States was Roman Catholic, so that was where we went ... the local RC Church.  

The experience was transcendent.  The music had a local flavor but used ancient words.  The liturgy was powerful and the sermon orthodox.  The gathered community was multi-cultural and young. I was strongly touched by the remembrance of what God has done mixed liberally with our anticipation of what God is yet to do, making our now a special, worshipful, grateful, place. 

Following communion, the priest invited those who could not take communion to come forward and receive a blessing.  About 25% of those present came forward ... 

People don't have a tattoo that says "I am divorced" but I wonder if that wasn't a significant element of this sub-community, that was still seeking the blessing of the church? I felt like I was witnessing beauty.  

This observation led me to wonder how is it that Jesuits and Franciscans can get along? It intrigues me that Catholicism can at times be so both/and rather than always either/or. I am mindful RC can be either/or, just not always.  

Catholicism can truly be quite orthodox in what it tolerates (or doesn’t), but at the same time, seek a big tent approach on many things.  

I wondered then if the second most famous quote that John Wesley never said might potentially apply: 'In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.'

Elements of our community seem in a rush to declare schism the reality and that we should proceed as such. I do get it.

While I get it, I not so sure I agree with what I get. I vote slow down, please.  

What if we instead tried to reach some agreement (I didn’t say consensus for a reason) about what we agree on – and define these as elements of unity, granting liberty on those issues we did not declare to be essential. 

Baptism of former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS is the preferred term at least in Utah, preferred over Mormons) might be a United non-essential, that would be quite essential to the UMC in Deseret (the name for the LDS footprint in the West).  For me, what does the person receiving the LDS baptism think of the theology behind the action words of ‘baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’?  I am not saying it IS a non-essential, just it might be.  Deseret is probably Utah, Southern Idaho, Western Wyoming and Colorado, Northern Arizona and Eastern Nevada and there it would be an essential, but for the national “United” church, I think ‘meh’ might be the general reaction to this issue.  At least to most members of most non-Deseret touched conferences, I suspect. Trust me, for the United church to essentially say 'the baptism of your parents, grandparents, and other relatives is not a Christian baptism [our current position]' may make sense to some, but it is problematic in the extreme in Deseret.

I intentionally chose a regional issue rather than a national one, so we could potentially see one such issue through different lenses.  
What if our #nextmethodism/#dreamumc modeled an organization of local churches within (still) regional conferences who had a common set of non-essential values.  We are United on essentials, but on what has been agreed to be non-essential, we are not.  We are in effect, on non-essentials, Untied. 

We could then I think evolve into a system where certain national and international boards and committees are united between the two untied elements.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief comes to mind, but maybe the board that manages our health and benefits?  I would hope that we could hold United that which provides hospitals in Africa.  The United Methodist Church says this is an important essential of who we are and we are going to fund this.  I think the fewer illustrations I offer here, the better the dialogue will go.  A lot of hobby horses out there for sure. 

I probably don’t get it, but is the potential loss of our ability to link the needs of the world with the passion of our hearts a risk we wish to take over doctrinal issues of tradition and scripture?  I think most of us, if not nearly all of us, can agree that Jesus called on us to reach out to those in need and hear in their voice, their needs, and their calls for justice.

Can’t we find a way to stay United on the essentials and agree to a Grace-filled state of being Untied over the non-essentials? 

If we want to find solutions, I think we can.  I confess often, I hear voices that are uninterested in finding solutions.  Show me where I am mistaken. 

If Catholicism can simultaneously embrace Jesuits and Franciscans, I wonder if we are not able to simultaneously embrace two sides which see the world on some issues, very differently  

Selah, Dennis