During the last week of April the Judicial Council, the United Methodist version of a Supreme Court, will hear a case that has major implications for the future of the denomination. Our congregation has not fixated on this issue, for reasons I will mention later. It is important that you are aware of what is happening and what might happen.
Recently I read an article that highlighted a Gallup poll finding that a clear majority of younger adults disagreeing with several aspects of historic Christian sexual ethics, and that holding onto such archaic teaching is a main reason that younger adults are not as involved in churches as in prior generations. Lest one think this is about church teaching regarding gay-lesbian issues, the overwhelming rejection (66%) on traditional Christian teaching relates to premarital sex. Also, acceptance of birth outside of marriage is now north of 61% as a morally acceptable behavior.
The Wesleyan tradition, which includes but is not limited to the United Methodist Church, has focused on new birth in Christ, conversions to Christ, conscious commitment to Christ. When asked if he belonged to the Methodist Church, long-time Methodist L.P. Jones replied, "No. I belong to the Lord. I am a member of the Methodist Church."
The author of this article is a graduate of Asbury College, Asbury Theological Seminary and holds a D.Phil. from Oxford University, and currently serves on the faculty at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. These are very good words for Christians when subjects arise that range from politics to...other Christians! Access the link shown to read.
The Reverend Frank Beard of Indiana is the new bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers conference, effective September 1. He was the number one pick of our delegation by those across the religious (left to right) spectrum. I personally am delighted that this excellent preacher and leader who is passionate about Christ has been positioned by God to guide this gaggle of United Methodist geese for the next 4 (hopefully 8) years. Some people could 'start a fight in an empty room.' When Frank Beard enters the room, a prayer meeting and revival begin. Whew...and amen!
Last night I was at a city-community-police sponsored event at the Peoria Public Library designed to encourage a group of young men with past issues with the law to take hold of the resources and people available to help them avoid a descent into violence. The event was scheduled long before the recent shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota of two black males, events widely shared on social video and now under serious and necessary investigation. Later that night the violence in Dallas unfolded, leaving 5 police officers dead in ambush, several others wounded, and one of the shooters likewise killed, with other suspects detained (who have NOT as I write been charged with any crime).
Orlando, Florida, is best known as the site of Disney World, that very expensive detour into an alternative reality of Snow White, Goofy, Space Mountain and all that is part of the "Magic Kingdom." On early Sunday morning Orlando was dragged into an ugly reality of terror and death. 49 people were murdered and 53 wounded by a killer who declared in a 9-11 call that he was doing this in the name of the terrorist organization, ISIS.
Beyond general sadness and disapproval of such atrocities, why would a pastor of a church in Peoria take note? Lots of others are speaking about this outrage. Why add another voice to the choir? I offer these points of reflection.
1. Mass murder is a sin against God. Over time one can become numbed to the moral cost of such events, especially when they appear to happen with (relatively) appalling regularity. Numbing the conscience can be a prelude to ignoring the conscience. That we cannot permit.
2. Religion (surprise) is not at the core of most human conflicts or atrocities. Retired Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Jonathan Sacks cites the research of Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, published in The Encyclopedia of Wars, that less than 10% of 1,800 conflicts they surveyed had "any religious component at all." The wars and murders of 20th century Nazi and Communist origin killed more people than every other war in human history combined, and originated among those with active contempt and hatred of Christianity, Judaism (can we say 'Holocaust') or organized religion in general. When listening to comments on this atrocity by public talking-heads with personal agendas, remember this.
3. Religion of any sort can be twisted into justifying or rationalizing the unspeakable. There is a 'radical' or 'fringe' version of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism...and secular humanism for that matter (see #2 above) that warp and poison the greatness and nobility of a religious tradition into what Rabbi Sacks calls "altruistic evil,' convincing persons and groups that horrible acts of terror and bloodshed that lead to their own deaths are admirable examples of sacrifice for the Cause.
4. Christians are called by Christ to be peacemakers and to overcome evil with good. When we refuse to use language that endorses ugly stereotypes; when we refuse to agree with policies or proposals that demonize or divide; when we actively seek that which affirms the essential dignity of all persons; when we support those called to the difficult task as police and military to defend against violent evil (Romans 13); when we speak for those deprived of their voice, in such ways we live into the call of Jesus as Savior and Lord.
5. Christians can refuse to be kidnapped by pet causes or political agendas in times of collective tragedy. There is a place for such debates (gun control, gay rights, Hispanic rights, 'radical Islam', etc) and Christians are called to engage any such issues with an informed conscience. That said, a gathering for prayer and reflection in the aftermath of such an atrocity bears witness to our collective loss and the wound inflicted on all by the suffering and death of some.
6. Christians, like our Christ, must be 'no respecter of persons,' playing favorites in subtle and ugly ways. Randy Shilts pointed out in his now-classic, And the Band Played On, that over 29,000 Americans had died of AIDS before the highest levels of the government called for an active response, in large measure due to sexual identity of most of the dead. The United Methodist Church, as a Bible-believing church, plays no such games. Christ died for all because he loves all. Our church connects with other groups meeting for prayer in this time, and offers a time of prayer within our own congregation the middle of this week, to bear witness that the mass killing of any group of men and women wounds us all, whether at 2AM on Sunday morning in a bar in Orlando or at 9PM at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.
St. Benedict called on his monks to live in the spirit of "ora et labor," 'work and pray.' Now is the time for prayer. From the commitment to prayer God will offer the wisdom to work, on bringing healing and trust in the aftermath of a day such as last Sunday in a bar in Orlando, to the families and friends of those who would not live to see the dawn.