CLINTON, Tenn. (March 2, 2015) -- For 43 years, the United Methodist Church has been fighting over the biblical interpretation of marriage and sexuality. On Tuesday, Feb. 24 at the Holston Conference’s “Clergy Gathering,” Bishop Dindy Taylor gave us clergy a break from the fight. Instead, she blessed us with the opportunity to begin a conversation about the UMC’s perspective on homosexuality.
The conversation was guided through the book, "Finding Our Way: Love and Law in the United Methodist Church," authored by several United Methodist bishops. About 300 pastors attended the afternoon meeting at Music Road Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
As a newbie to the denomination, I understand from others that even though we have been fighting about this for 43 years, we haven’t really had much conversation about it -- the kind of conversation we had last week. The kind of conversation that happens around the table, or knee to knee, with loved ones who disagree with you. The kind of conversation in which you come to a deeper understanding of the “other” side as well as your own. The kind of conversation where instead of coming away angry or bitter or heartbroken, you come away feeling loved and understood.
It seems to me that this kind of conversation is the best chance we have of keeping the United Methodist family together. Think about it. When you’re mad at someone, healing can’t happen while you’re fighting. It’s only when you put the boxing gloves down and agree to listen to each other – really listen – that any reconciliation can take place. As servants of Jesus Christ -- as pastors of the heart -- aren’t we supposed to be in the business of listening?
We are! Therein lies our problem: We clergy can listen all day and night to those in our care, but we can’t seem to listen to each other. We want to be heard, but we don’t want to listen. We are so good at loving the lost, but we have failed miserably at loving each other. Did Jesus say the world will know we are Christians because of our internal fighting? Or did he say that they’ll know we are Christians because of our love for each other?
I hope these holy conversations will continue in Holston and throughout the UMC because I love this gathered body of Christ and I can’t bear the thought of denominational divorce. I hope we can see past the ultimatums that each side is giving and start listening to and loving each other. When we get entrenched on one side or the other, we make it a two-party fight, and we forget about the third party: the Holy Spirit of God. If we could put down our boxing gloves and step out of the ring, then maybe we could actually give the Holy Spirit enough room to live and breathe and move among us.
Maybe we could actually let God show us the way forward. We think we know what’s right: We know what the Bible says. We know what the Book of Discipline says, or what it should say. We know how our doctrine and polity should be enforced. But aren’t we supposed to be followers of Jesus, not of ourselves?
God knows that when left to our own devices, we are utter failures: We fail to love as God has called us to love. We set up our own boundaries. We establish our own limits. And when we don’t agree, we push God to the side and it becomes about “us” and “them” instead of about God.
It’s time we stop trying to be heard and start trying to listen. Chances are, the more we listen to each other, the better we’ll be able to hear God. Isn’t it time to step out of the ring -- away from our opposing corners -- and sit down at the table together? No “us” and “them?” Just us – all of us -- and God?
Together, I believe that God can show us the way. I’m ready to listen … to people with whom I agree and to people with whom I disagree … without judgment. I’m ready to listen … and love … together. How about you?
The Rev. Paige Pearson Wimberly is pastor of Valley View United Methodist Church in Clinton, Tenn., and Heiskell United Methodist Church in Heiskell, Tenn. (Oak Ridge District)
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