Love Will Keep Us Together (Guest Post by Paul Brown)

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Most of my family members identify as fundamentalist Christians and political conservatives. As my own religious and political views have evolved over the years, this has made for some lively conversations, especially around the holidays. Back in my college days, it seemed like these discussions regularly ended up in raised voices and ad hominem attacks. Maybe you can relate. Doesn’t everybody have that one annoying family member who always wants to argue? But as time has gone by, I think we’ve found that some of those old arguments have become a bit tired and worn out. After all, how many times can you argue about baptism or gun control? It’s almost as if, without us really knowing it was happening, our different opinions quietly faded into the background, leaving behind the thing that’s been there all along. It’s the thing that makes us a family in the first place. The thing that never goes away: love. And the truth is, when I look around at my family at Easter or Christmas dinner, I’m not thinking about the differences between our churches or the way we vote. I’m thinking: “This is my family. I love these people.”

As a United Methodist, I have a second family – my church. Methodism is my adopted home, a family of faith that took in an argumentative, restless kid with a bunch of questions. The thing that drew me to the Methodist Church, more than anything else, was its embodiment of the quote, “in big things, unity; in small things, diversity; in all things; charity [love]).” In a denomination that counts George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton as members, Methodists know how to agree to disagree. Your typical United Methodist congregation hosts a wide variety of spiritual refugees like myself – from Southern Baptists to religious skeptics, and everything in between. At our best, Methodists leave room for different opinions and focus on the big things we share: our faith in God (summed up in the Apostles’ Creed) and our mission to spread God’s love to the world.

But like all families, we’re not perfect; we still have our fights. And like a lot of other churches over the past few decades, our biggest fights are about human sexuality. Can LGBTQ folks be members of the church? What about in leadership positions? What about as pastors? Should people in loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships be able to get married in the church? Isn’t this about equality? What about what the Bible says? These are the kind of questions that get kicked around in local church Sunday school classes as well as at the United Methodist global conference that clarifies church doctrine and policy every 4 years. Too often, though, these conversations end up in raised voices and ad hominem attacks. Too often, we rally around artificial labels like “reconciling” and “confessing” and forget that we’re talking to and about people – other members of our family. After years of debate, culminating in the rise of the so-called “biblical obedience” movement and high-profile church trials, I have to wonder: aren’t some of these old arguments becoming a bit tired and worn out? Traditional Christian: “The Bible says homosexuality is a sin!” Progressive Christian: “Jesus says to not judge and to love everybody!”

What if, instead of repeating one-liners and looking to score political victories, we actually listened to each other? What if most traditional Methodists really do love and care about their LGBTQ friends and neighbors? What if most progressive Methodists really do love and care about the Bible? Could it be that we’ve forgotten the big things that unite us? Could it be that our real differences come down, not to faithfulness and love, but to interpretation and opinion? Could it be that we’ve not only forgotten how to agree to disagree – but that we’ve also forgotten about the one thing that makes us a family in the first place?

Amid growing calls for divorce, I refuse to choose sides in a Divided Methodist Church. We are a family. Gay and straight. Traditional and progressive. Hillary and Dubya. God is our Parent and we are all sisters and brothers. We need each other. In spite of all of our arguments in the past, my prayer is that one day soon, we’ll discover that all of our differences have quietly faded into the background, leaving behind the thing that’s been there all along. Then we’ll all be able to take a look around the Table and think to ourselves, “This is my family. I love these people.”

“Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.”

– 1 John 4:7

 

Rev. Paul Brown is an Elder in the Western North Carolina Conference and pastor of Central UMC in Canton, NC. Hailing from New Jersey, Paul is a graduate of Grove City College and Duke Divinity School.  He and his wife, Rebecca, have two children, Amelia and Henry. He blogs at http://ecumethodist.blogspot.com. 

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21 thoughts on “Love Will Keep Us Together (Guest Post by Paul Brown)

  1. We simply can’t have every General Conference hijacked by protestors. We can’t have the agreed-upon policies of the Church ignored. The reality is that no organization can operate this way. The time has come.

    1. I agree with all your points, Rick, except the last one. And that, of course, many people ignore the agreed upon policies of the church all the time (like heterosexual celibacy, or rebaptism, or not celebrating the Eucharist with regularity, or not paying full apportionments).

      But for some reason, not following the church’s teachings about gay and lesbian relationships/marriages is a deal-breaker. That part I don’t understand. Thanks for stopping by.

      1. I have not heard of any groups asking us to celebrate heterosexual promiscuity, rebaptism or withholding apportionments, going on to organize events, protests, and disruptions to call attention to their causes. Nor are they proposing rewrites to the BOD asking all of us to accept their behaviors as more true to Jesus’ teachings than our UMC policies. If you find such flagrant violators then by all means subject them to disciplinary action and I will stand with you.
        You do not need to understand why gay marriage is a deal breaker but you can see that it is.

  2. What is it that makes us all “family”? Is it just because we are Methodists or is it because we are obedient to God’s word?

    What would you say to St. Paul who wrote: “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people”.? I don’t think he would be so easily won over by a “come on, lets just love each other, we are family” argument. Do you?

    1. Paul also said that he was the chief of sinners. Should people have eaten with Paul? All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. All of us sin.

      I think we like to talk about other people’s sins because it makes us feel better about our own.

      Wouldn’t you say the difference then is not whether someone is a sinner or not, but whether someone has faith in Jesus Christ?

      1. Yes, we are all sinners, but Paul would never say it was OK to stay there. Repent, he (and everyone else in the bible) would say. The problem here, and the reason why schism is inevitable, is we do not see eye to eye on what is and is not sin. Those of us convinced that homosexuality is sexual immorality are not going to be persuaded by arguments of “we are all family, so lets just sing Kum-Bah-Ya and have a pot-luck. We believe that those who are saying “peace peace’ are actually hurting those who struggle with same-sex attraction, not loving them, because they are not telling them the truth.

        What would Paul say (1 Cor. 5) to do with someone who insists on calling themselves “brother” while living sexually immoral and unrepentant? What would Jesus say to do to one who does not repent? (Matt. 18). Are they still “family”?

        Both John and Jesus calls those who say they believe in God yet continue in sin and do not repent children of the devil (John 8:44; 1 John). Are these still “family”?

      2. I think we could probably have stayed together if everybody had agreed to disagree and to not be disruptive. But that is not the case. Each and every GC is disrupted by activists and we now have bishops actively working against the policies of the Church. No, we can’t stay together under those circumstances.

    2. Funny, Chad, I heard the same arguments for “biblical separation” in the Independent Fundamental Baptist church I grew up in. Perhaps you would be happier there? The issue is not whether sexual immorality is wrong, but whether loving, monogamous same sex relationships are sexually immoral. What makes us family is our common faith in Jesus Christ, pure and simple. The United Methodist Church has always been a big tent. Please stop trying to push your narrow fundamentalist agenda on the rest of us. As Wesley said, “if your heart beats as my heart, give me your hand.”

      1. “The issue is not whether sexual immorality is wrong, but whether loving, monogamous same sex relationships are sexually immoral”

        Yes, they are. So are loving, monogamous consenting incestuous relationships. Scripture, all of Christian history, the General Conference and the majority of global Methodists all agree this “narrow fundamentalist agenda” as you call it.

        Biblical separation is, interestingly enough, biblical. So many progressives seem to be running from a church of their youth that they are so angry with that they throw out the baby with the bathwater. Your comment, Paul, appears to reflect that, while simultaneously betraying the heart of your post, that we should all just love each other, even though we disagree. I gotta say, I don’t really feel the love from progressives unless we agree with your agenda.

    3. Chad – the “narrow fundamentalist agenda” I was talking about is not the belief that same sex relationships are immoral, but your desire to push those who disagree with you out of the church by misapplying so-called “biblical separation.” In my experience, that kind of reasoning is more at home in fundamentalist churches than the UMC that I call home. The truth is, we ARE brothers, we went to seminary together, and there should be room for us both – and others, as I suspect there are many who are far more progressive/conservative than me! – in a church like the UMC. As somebody who has occupied both extreme ends of the theological spectrum, I would hope that you could agree to disagree with others out of a spirit of humility and love. I’m simply asking you to extend the same hospitality to others that has also been extended to you (past and present).

      1. Paul, just calling something fundamentalist does not make it wrong or bad. I believe the Bible makes a pretty strong case about separating from those who insist on causing division, rivalry, who are unrepentant in their sin, and so forth. I could quote passage after passage stating as much. I’m not telling you to leave, I’m asking you to repent and stop calling what God calls sin a blessing. Or at the very least, uphold the church law you vowed to uphold, honoring the covenant that we have entered into. If you cannot do that, then perhaps it is best you find a home where your beliefs about what is and is not sin will be more to your tastes.

      2. Nowhere have I said that I will not uphold church law or honor the covenant that I have entered into as a United Methodist pastor. I do not identify as a theological progressive or with the biblical obedience movement. But based on the link you posted below, you seem to believe that United Methodists who disagree with you on same sex relationships are NOT in fact, your brothers and sisters, and should leave. I’m trying to say that there is room for us to agree to disagree on this issue along the lines of the Hamilton/Slaughter amendment at the last General Conference. In reality, this is what is already happening on the ground in most local United Methodist churches – can we not extend the same grace to one another as United Methodist clergy?

  3. Paul, so when the bishop asked you these questions:

    Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
    After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
    Will you preach and maintain them?
    Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
    Do you approve our Church government and polity?
    Will you support and maintain them?

    How did you answer?

    Do you believe extending grace to others includes, but is not limited to, calling them to repent? Do you believe it is also grace to do as St. Paul instructs in 1 Cor. 5:5?

    I believe all of that is grace – and mercy. Do you?

    1. I hit enter too soon…

      Paul, you wrote: “you seem to believe that United Methodists who disagree with you on same sex relationships are NOT in fact, your brothers and sisters, and should leave.”

      Is there anything someone could disagree with you about which would constitute a break in fellowship? Any belief or practice?

    2. I answered “yes” to the bishop’s questions. Although the doctrinal standards and form of discipline, church government, and polity does not equal agreeing with every word of the Book of Discipline (otherwise, why would we ever amend it?). Of course, I also believe in repentance as does every Christian. None of that means that I am arrogant enough to think that I am right in every opinion or interpretation of every Bible verse. “Come let us reason together. 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.”

      1. Paul, I believe you are quoting Wesley out of context. In context, it reads as such:

        ” 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.”

        The context is modes of worship and other “smaller differences.” He is most certainly not talking about a difference between what is and is not sexual immorality.

        Further on in the same sermon he lists several attributes of the person whose “heart is with my heart,” one of them being this:

        Does the love of God constrain thee to serve him with fear, to “rejoice unto him with reverence?” Art thou more afraid of displeasing God, than either of death or hell? Is nothing so terrible to thee as the thought of offending the eyes of his glory? Upon this ground, dost thou “hate all evil ways,” every transgression of his holy and perfect law; and herein “exercise thyself, to have a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man?”

        A disagreement such as our current one is of eternal significance, not a mere matter of worship forms and styles.

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