#UMCGC May we not be of one heart? Part 1

5 05 2016

“But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union; yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.” – John Wesley, Sermon XXXIX, Catholic Spirit

I recently watched An Act of Love, the documentary about Rev. Frank Schaeffer who faced church trial for performing the wedding for his gay son. The absolute best part of the entire film was that it told a real life story. It humanized what has become for many conservatives a faceless “issue.” These 90 minutes were filled with pain and hurt. No matter how you feel about the biblical “rightness” or “wrongness” of homosexual practice, it must never become a mere “issue” to debate. If we want to be like Christ, we have to at least try to understand the pain that the LGBT community experiences. This film helped confront viewers with that pain.

A United Methodist Church in my area set up a public viewing of An Act of Love followed by a talkback session featuring a colleague of mine and me who are both delegates to General Conference. To quote John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, Sara and I approach this controversial (yet not faceless topic) that threatens to tear apart our denomination “not of one opinion.” We have discussed our viewpoints here and there for a few years, but only recently engaged in a deeper dialog (although we could have spent FAR more time sorting through our thoughts together). And we agreed to try and model respectful dialog in front of an emotionally charged crowd of about 150 viewers. We tried to be a living, affirmative answer to Wesley’s question, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”

I’ll end this post with the reflections of one of our fellow delegates who attended the viewing and talkback, which he shared with the rest of our delegation (shared with his permission). Tomorrow I’ll reflect on some of the reasons how this kind of respectful and loving dialog amidst disagreement was possible.

To Illinois Great Rivers Conference delegates:

I cannot help but share with you something that I feel is absolutely newsworthy and groundbreaking. Last Sunday evening, two of our delegate-colleagues, Andy Adams and Sara Isbell, engaged in dialogue with one another in an auditorium filled with curious United Methodists following the showing of An Act of Love, a documentary movie about the Rev. Frank Schaeffer and his recent church trial, conviction, and the convictions overturn by the Judicial Council.

I understand this production has been sent to all General Conference delegates. Beyond its compelling story line about a pastor, husband, and father of four who engaged in “an act of love” by presiding at the same-sex marriage of his oldest son, its showing provided the opportunity for two of our own (Andy and Sara) to engage each other and the audience in dialogue about this vexing issue that comes before us once again with increased intensity and stakes higher than any of us want to believe possible.

I was personally struck, though not surprised, by the gracious tone of Andy and Sara. They courageously engaged each other, each self-identifying as “right of center” and “left of center” and admitting their disagreement with the other on the issue, but agreeing to respect and authentically listen and respond to the other on this painful and deeply divisive issue. They modeled for the congregation what we as a denomination might be, should we decide that “faith working by love” could by our modus operandi.

In my heart and mind, I felt I was part of a “Pentecostal” moment when two very different disciples of Jesus Christ witnessed to their common faith. They demonstrated the unity (not uniformity) that only the Holy Spirit can achieve between those of differing opinions.

I left Champaign Faith UMC that night saying to myself, “I just experienced an authentic model of Christian community and unity in the faith that gives me reason to hope.” If Sara and Andy can engage each other so respectfully and meaningfully here, dare we hope that our brothers and sisters in Portland can do likewise? I know the predictions. So do you. But I also know that the risen Christ surprises despairing disciples with his presence, power, grace, and love in ways we can hardly imagine! May it be so, Lord; may it be so.

Randy Robinson



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