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Magazine explores ‘Decision 2019’

The theme of the latest Circuit Rider Magazine is, “One with Christ, One with each other, One in ministry to all the world.”

BISHOP KENNETH H. CARTER, JR.
President, Council of Bishops

The unity of the church is grounded in one God (Deut 6), which is affirmed by Jesus (Mark 12) and in the teachings of the apostles in Ephesians 4 (one Lord, one faith, one baptism). This unity is a gift of God (1 Cor 12) and is never a human achievement, right, or claim. The practical expression of unity is the love of God and neighbor (which is also the practical expression of holiness).

Our complacency with division indicates a lack of love and is a barrier to the mission of the gospel in the midst of unbelief. I pray we hear Jesus saying in John 17: that they will be one, so that the world will believe. Thus unity needs to be visible in our congregations and in our structures.

It is true we are connected with each other in the one body. When one suffers, all suffer. When one rejoices, all rejoice. In The United Methodist Church, we have a term for this: the connection. It expresses our unity, our oneness. In The UMC, we might identify the instruments of our unity as the itineracy of preachers, the superintendency (which includes bishops), and Christian conferencing.

We are one. This unity is contested in our behaviors and in our rhetoric. Some are exhausted from the ties that have bound us and are ready for separation. Some are newer to life and ministry in our denomination and are eager remain united. Some have counted the cost of division, in terms of weakened witness and mission. And some have experienced the cost of ongoing conflict and seek new forms of church.

The presenting issue for this impasse is human sexuality, but many acknowledge that the divisions are much deeper. And in the United States, they are not unrelated to the political fault lines that shape our everyday lives.

The One Church Plan, the plan most strongly affirmed by the Council of Bishops in their May 2018 meeting, places a great value on context. It recognizes that while we are a global church, we are not monolithic. It is very difficult to do ministry in exactly the same way in Monrovia, Liberia; Miami, Florida; Montgomery, Alabama; Washington, DC; Manila, Philippines; Los Angeles, California; and Berlin, Germany. These are sharply different missional contexts.

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JESSICA LAGRONE
Dean of Chapel, Asbury Theological Seminary

During my first mission trip, I left the US for the mountains of Costa Rica. We were there to build houses with an international chapter of Habitat for Humanity, but my best work was building relationships with the children, who laughed at my toddler-level Spanish and taught me games on the rocky hillside. One day a group of them shyly pulled me by the hand and told me they were going to show me the most beautiful place on their mountain, a claim that piqued my interest since this was already the most beautiful place I had ever seen.

After a long, breathless hike, we turned a corner where I saw, in the middle of all the rugged mountainous glory . . . a lawn. A simple, flat lawn, rockless and sprawling, just like thousands of suburban landscapes back home. To put it bluntly, I was underwhelmed. Just then, one of the boys pulled out a ball, and they began running and kicking it with glee. This space, while it looked ordinary to me, was their soccer field—the only one for miles. To them it was holy ground. As they began to run and play (many of them barefoot), I recognized that they were right. In the freedom and joy of these children of God, I found the most beautiful sight I would encounter on that mountain.

G. K. Chesterton’s assessment of the discipline and order found in the Christian scriptures was that “the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”[i]

The playing field God provides for us in scripture exists not to constrain God’s creation or cramp our style but to provide the “room” Chesterton celebrates: a clear and free space for human flourishing, the restoration of God’s image in us and God’s glory in creation, and a place for goodness to run wild in our communion together.

Unfortunately, The United Methodist Church has been overtaken by chaos that continues to grow and envelop our life together, muting our hopes for world-changing ministry and damaging our witness. While the headlines and arguments center around the church’s stance on same-sex practice, our core disagreements have their roots in differing views of scripture.

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Click here to read additional views or to download the Decision 2019 edition of The Circuit Rider.