Bishop Coyner preaches at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was known for his invitation, “Come, let us reason together.” During his years as U.S. Senate majority leader, then as Vice-President to President John F. Kennedy, and especially after he became president, LBJ would use his stature (he was a tall, imposing figure), his political clout and his Texas charm to invite people with differing perspectives to “reason together.”
Historians have noted that sometimes LBJ used that phrase very persuasively, but it was always a phrase that invited, encouraged and even demanded everyone to get into the same room and work on solutions together. Certainly LBJ lobbied heavily for his own perspective, yet he always invited everyone, “Come, let us reason together,” taken from Isaiah 1:18.
That spirit of “reasoning together” seems absent on the American political scene today as we witness the increasing polarization of all political perspectives. I find myself wondering how our entire social and political fabric can hold together if the “center” is not able to hold its strength against the centrifugal forces that pull us apart.
Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone, has noted this same trend on a personal level. He studied varieties of social groups, including bowling leagues, and found a disturbing decline of participation in all social groups – especially service clubs, churches, synagogues, civic groups and even sports groups. His book wonders if our society has enough of what he calls “social capital” in order to hold together.
Against these backgrounds, United Methodists from all around the world will gather for General Conference in late April and early May, attempt to reason together and pray together in Christian conferencing and make decisions guided by God’s Holy Spirit. Later this spring, the various Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church, including the Indiana Conference, will gather and seek to follow this model of “reasoning together” for the good of the church and its future. In a similar way, when a congregation of The United Methodist Church makes formal decisions, that congregation also engages in a church conference to follow that same model.
Can we do it? Can we go against all of the cultural, political, and social trends of our society which seem intent to pull us apart? Can it be said of us United Methodists that we truly “conference” together and “reason together” to make our decisions for the good of the whole?
I pray that we can. Please join me in praying that all of these conferences will truly be a time of “reasoning together” in the midst of prayer, trust and willingness to seek God’s will.
Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church
“Making a Difference in Indiana and around the world.”