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Unity in the age of Brexit

A member of the United Methodist Connectional Table calls the Church to remain unified in love and mission.


KENNETHA J. BIGHAM TSAI
Superintendent, Lansing District

We are in strange times. Britain recently voted to leave the European Union amidst stirrings of xenophobia and nationalism.  Certainly the EU is facing serious challenges. And leaving seems, on the surface, to be easy and even satisfying to some–a vindication of a sense of grievance. Yet leaving may not be all that satisfying. It is more likely fraught with difficulty. And, as the British will likely find, leaving will not address the challenges they face.

Indeed, we all face challenges in our world and in our worldwide church for which there are no easy answers. We cannot point to a book or to a program and say, “There it is! That’s the answer!”  Nor can we run away, convinced that the answer is in getting as far away as possible from “them.”

Instead, finding our way forward will require learning and innovation. It will require finding new ways of being even as we hold on to the essentials of who we are. Finding our way forward, as a church, will require discovering the essentials of our identity as Christians and as United Methodists together.

Diana Butler Bass, in her book, Christianity after Religion, contends that Christianity is in a state of flux. People no longer flock to churches out of obligation or habit. And many younger people have a negative view of Christians as hypocritical, judgmental and intolerant.

“Finding our way forward will require learning and innovation. It will require finding new ways of being even as we hold on to the essentials of who we are.”

Some of these views are influenced by our arguments over social issues. What many people see in our arguments is divisiveness around questions that are not relevant to their lives. I know that those under 30 are not as interested as we are in questions of doctrinal purity. They are interested in changed lives, transformed hearts, and the ability to make a difference in the world.

Imagine asking such a person to become part of a Christian community. If they were to ask, “Why?” would we tell them that it is to defend a particular social position? Would it be so that they could help keep others out? Or might we be able to invite them into our communities of faith by telling them about who we are together?

Might we say that as United Methodists we are a faith community that follows Jesus and is adamant about justice and inclusion because we see holiness as both personal and social? Might we tell them about the grace that reaches out to all humankind with the unconditional love of God revealed in Jesus Christ? Might we show them a community that is open and tolerant and loving as an expression of that all encompassing grace? Might we show them the Body of Christ in unity, witnessing to the world that love is more important than winning arguments.

One of my favorite Wesley sermons is “Catholic Spirit.” In that sermon, Wesley acknowledges differences over doctrinal issues. But then he says, “If thine heart is as my heart, if thou lovest God and all mankind, I ask no more: give me thine hand.”[1]

What Wesley meant was that even if people were of differing opinions, they could still be of the same heart in loving God and neighbor.  Such unity in love and in mission was and is still foundational to Christian identity. So says the writer of Ephesians: “Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together,” (Ephesians 4: 2b-3, CEB).

I am convinced that the way forward for The United Methodist Church is not UM-exit. The way forward is UMCommunity and UMCaring—unity in love and mission. To paraphrase Wesley, “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.”

 

[1] “Catholic Spirit,” by John Wesley, in John Wesley’s Sermons, An Anthology, eds. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater, Abington Press, Nashville, TN, 1991, pp. 306.

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