We are a church of the BOTH/AND.
I have been reading lots of information, articles, websites, Facebook posts, etc. about the potential of our United Methodist Church splitting over issues like human sexuality and other concerns. As I read some of those comments, and as I get to know some of the people who are very personally involved in groups on both sides of these issues, I am getting a different picture. My picture is not Either/Or, but BOTH/AND. Let me explain:
The Wesleyan movement began in the Church of England by the Wesley brothers (John and Charles) and other key leaders who wanted to see the church revive and recover its historic purposes. Their personal experience and their historic understanding of the scriptures and of the ancient church led them to start a movement (soon called the Methodist Revival) which was BOTH evangelical AND focused upon social transformation. The Wesleys and their followers in England and in the United States led spiritual revivals, invited individuals to make or renew commitments to Christ, and called people to repent and leave behind their old lives. The Wesleys also ministered to the poor, challenged the racism of their day (especially slavery), worked to change the social differences in their culture, and called for social holiness as well as individual holiness. The Wesleys wanted preachers who were full of the Spirit, and they also insisted upon their continued learning. The Methodist movement in America continued this trend with revivals and camp meetings, while also founding hospitals and schools. Methodists have always been involved BOTH in evangelism AND in social action. We are a church of the BOTH/AND.
Now to be fair, sometimes we Methodists have allowed that both/and emphasize to devolve into a less than obvious theology. We have been accused by statements like “Anybody can be a Methodist” and “Methodists don’t really know what they believe” – and sometimes those accusations seem true. Being a church of BOTH/AND means we can fall prey to being wishy-washy and uncertain.
But our heritage is a proud one of claiming BOTH evangelism AND social action. We are BOTH committed to a Disciplined structure life of piety AND to being relevant to our culture. We focus upon BOTH law AND grace. We are the church of the BOTH/AND. That is why I find that efforts to split, divide, label, categorize, and separate our UMC today are likely to fail. Rather I see us reclaiming our heritage of being the “church of the both/and.”
What does that mean General Conference will do? I really don’t know, and in some ways I think it really doesn’t matter as much as some people believe. General Conference is often 10 or 20 years behind the church – coming along behind new trends and putting those into its “code” or rules. The local congregations of our United Methodist Church are the places where I am seeing more and more of the BOTH/AND emphasis I listed above. I see many local congregations filled with spiritual renewal while they are also feeding the hungry in their communities, founding food banks, or advocating social transformation. Maybe General Conference will eventually catch up to what the whole Church is doing and becoming, rather than spending countless hours arguing about hot-button issues. I hope so. One African leader said to me recently, “We Africans would love to come to General Conference and hear about evangelism, education, and missions, rather than listening to you Americans argue about sex.” I suspect many Americans share that desire, too. It is not that social issues are unimportant, but we are the church of the BOTH/AND, and we approach such issues in the larger framework of our Methodist heritage.
May God continue to help us continue to be a church of the BOTH/AND.