Every four years the United Methodist Church (UMC) has a general conference where church rules and future plans are established. The UMC has generally been regarded as a more liberal denomination but, at the 2000 conference, it took a strongly conservative stand against homosexuals. Since then the more conservative portion of the church has become highly mobilized and plans on extending its theology. At the impending conference, changes include beginning to roll back some of the previous advances for women, minorities, social programs and homosexuals. They are also seeking to establish narrowly-defined doctrinal standards that will severely limit tolerance for alternative theological thought.
I believe the direction the UMC is taking is in basic conflict with the Gospel message. As a follower of Jesus and a member of the UMC, I felt compelled to encourage others to re-examine their positions and begin dialogs to bring the entire denomination into alignment with the Gospel message. Instead of my normal newsletter, I drafted the following message and sent it to nearly 20,000 United Methodist clergy and laity.
While I wrote specifically to the UMC, similar conditions exist throughout much of Christianity. Recently my wife pointed out a poster that asks the question, “Who does not want to be treated with love?” The poster contains quotes from the heart of many world religions: Bahai, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. Each quote reflects the same message of love for others. So, in a very real sense, the basic message applies to all of us.
We all should ask ourselves if we are being true to the faith we profess. Are we acting in concert with God’s vision as revealed in our sacred manuscripts? Only you can answer. In today’s world, the question cries out for a positive answer.
We Must Stop the Battle of General Conference and Return to the Gospel Message!
The Battle of General Conference
The hype regarding General Conference 2004 contains all the elements of a national presidential convention. The conservatives, fresh from a resounding victory in 2000, are preparing to expand their influence substantially. The liberals dazed by their prior defeat and still in a state of relative disarray, are scrambling to mitigate the damage. Issues have been defined, delegates aligned and voting rights determined in such a way that a conservative victory seems virtually assured. Within the United Methodist Church, conservatives have become a formidable political machine intent on adoption of their version of classical Christianity.
The key changes will roll back previous advances for women, minorities, social programs and gays. They will establish doctrinal standards that will severely limit tolerance for alternative theological thought. These are not fringe or wedge issues but fundamental changes that will dramatically shift the character of Methodism.
The Gospel Message
In the Gospels we read about religious leaders who repeatedly tried to trap Jesus into saying something that would justify condemning Him. They asked Him what the most important commandment was, and His reply encapsulated the Gospel message. The first commandment is to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. The second is to love all people as we love ourselves. If we do these things we will find that we are being faithful to the intent of the law. Jesus didn’t create a new code of conduct but reminded people of a long-standing tradition. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus demonstrating that what God wants is our hearts. He denounced the mere outward appearance of holiness. He denounced the judging of others. He befriended those who were treated as outcasts and sinners by self-righteous religious leaders.
The Gospels say that The Father loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. If God judged us, we would all fail miserably because none of us is worthy of God’s love or capable of earning it. But we don’t have to be worthy or earn it because He gave it as a free, unconditional gift. He loved us first, just as we are. Now He wants us to demonstrate that same love towards Him and others. He said that His followers were to be known by their love for each other. If love is to be our identifier, how many of us could be readily identified as Christians?
What We Must Do
Perhaps the most difficult task in following Jesus is to take personal control over our faith and belief system. This step is extraordinarily difficult because we have been taught to rely on our church and ministers for spiritual guidance. Their authority provides the comfort of apparent certainty that alleviates our fear of the unknown. That process works fine in ordinary situations, but when fundamental issues arise that spark serious disagreement and make certainty an elusive target, we need to be able to think for ourselves. By thinking logically and clearly about our faith, it becomes our own personal, deeply ingrained belief system; not just something that someone in spiritual authority told us.
To find the truth in the current situation, you won’t be able to simply ask your bishop or pastor. You will also need to talk to others who will provide you with differing points of view. You will need to uncover the real issues and understand the underlying assumptions. Extensive dialog is essential to understanding the truth. If someone tells you that you are wrong to question what they say, then you are listening to a very dangerous person. People whose ideas can’t stand the light of reason are not seeking the truth.
In solidifying our faith and belief system, we need to go beyond just reading the Gospels and allow the contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to permeate our very beings and direct our actions. The concept of Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors provides a wonderful frame of reference. The time-tested Quadrilateral provides an outstanding tool kit. Following Jesus is a simple concept but not an easy task. Yet, attempting to follow Him is ultimately what makes us Christians.
Because of our presumed Godly focus, the church is supposed to be fundamentally different from worldly focused organizations. If that is so, why do we act so much like other organizations? We are supposed to act like Jesus, yet the conservative agenda and the tactics being used in an attempt to win the battle of General Conference are decidedly foreign to what He said and did. If we are truly followers of Christ, we must ensure that our goals are consistent with the Gospel message. We must cease using political tactics to achieve our goals. We must confront this situation boldly if the United Methodist Church is to remain a relevant component of God’s Gospel plan.
We Must Stop the Battle of General Conference And Return to the Gospel Message!
Richard Molling is a married heterosexual cross-dresser who began seeking community at age 40 under the name Rachel Miller, which is the pen name he used to publish The Bliss of Becoming One! Integrating ‘Feminine’ Feelings into the Male Psyche Mainstreaming the Gender Community in 1996. An accomplished speaker, Molling has worked for four decades to increase understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.