How should United Methodist Christians have responded during the recent government shutdown and related political drama? At The Call's request, four Holstonians gave it some thought.
Last week, the Rev. Brenda Carroll watched the evening news as another attempt to end the U.S. government shutdown fell apart.
“I guess I responded by being amazed at the protective bubble the legislators live in that allows selfish and immature behavior,” said Carroll, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tenn.
“But someone close to me once said, ‘Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.’ A Christ-follower whose stuff I love to read once wrote, ‘Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
Late on the evening of Oct. 16, the 16-day shutdown and debate over the national debt limit finally ended. However, it did not stop citizens from expressing dismay and disgust at their elected leaders and sparring with friends and co-workers over which political party was most at fault.
What is the appropriate response for United Methodist Christians during these harmful, divisive conflicts played out before the U.S. public?
“There is so much evil to overcome in this world, and there are so many opportunities to invest in my life in lifting up the downtrodden, bringing hope to dark places, and speaking the name of Jesus into parched and dry hearts,” Carroll said.
“It is a sad day when intelligent people who have been entrusted to represent all of us would rather ‘have it their way’ than to find a compromise. But the best of what I wish for them is also what I need to live out in my own home, my church, and my community.”
Del Holley is Holston Conference lay leader and a member at Colonial Heights United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He is also Knox County assistant district attorney.
“My first reaction,” Holley said, “is that as United Methodists, we live and worship within a context of ongoing debate and a constant process of discernment. So we probably understand better than any other denomination within mainline Protestantism how to live out our Christian lives in disagreement.”
United Methodists have established a process of discussion during disagreement known as “Holy Conferencing,” said Holley, who used the guidelines as he led Holston’s delegation to the 2012 General Conference.
“While it’s important for us as United Methodists to see value in prayer during this time, I especially regret that our government leaders aren’t looking at and using our guidelines for ‘Holy Conferencing,’” he said.
“My prayer has been that our government leaders will stop the finger-pointing and name-calling and listen to each other as we United Methodists are called to do. When people are involved in a debate, whether you agree with them or not, they are all children of God and they all have value in his kingdom.”
Holley also questioned whether Christians should lament the loss of government assistance for churches but instead see the situation as an opportunity.
“Because we as a culture have become more accepting of government intrusion, maybe some of the pressure has been taken off our churches to respond appropriately through their social ministries,” he said.
“Instead of focusing on what has been lost, our focus should be on reaching out in faith to help fill those gaps for our neighbors who may have lost jobs and services. I hope this will help open our eyes to be more intentional about that," Holley said.
SEEK GOD'S FACE
The Rev. Gordon McBride, pastor of North Tazewell United Methodist Church and Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in North Tazewell, Va., said that all Christians should pray during times of conflict – for national and world leaders, but also, to look for commonalities and “seek God’s face in all things.”
“Christ teaches us that if we have disagreement, we need to reconcile, come face-to-face, put aside our differences and not focus on our personal agendas but seek our common goals,” McBride said.
“It’s a wonderful time for the church to promote Christ,” he added. “Our hope is not in the government or any other entity. Our hope is in Christ."
McBride said that Christians need to offer "a voice of unity and hope" instead of division. "We need to respond as peaceful people who look to our Creator for hope and to say to a world that doesn’t know Christ: ‘Look, here is your greater hope. And there is nothing greater than our God.”
JaNae’ Swanson, administrative assistant on the Holston Connectional Ministries staff and member at Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., also said Christians should respond to government trials with prayer.
“Let’s stop pointing fingers and playing the blame game,” she said. “Pray for our government, both sides. Pray that they will let the Lord guide their decisions and do what’s best for our country.”
Partisan politics “are not good for our country,” Swanson said. “What is good is for our representatives to always consider the needs of the people above the desires of their political party or special-interest groups.”