Editor's note: This commentary was first posted on Ministry Matters on May 19, 2016.
I love the church. I am not naive about the church, or my own human nature, but I love the church. I loved serving as a pastor in the local church, and now I am blessed in the ministry of being a bishop. My love for the church recognizes her flaws; we hold the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, Paul wrote, to show that the transcendent belongs to God and not to us.
The church is a paradox; it is at once a school for saints and a hospital for sinners. The concept of paradox — holding two truths side by side — has helped me to process this General Conference and some of the previous ones. As I have watched and listened I have wondered: “Can we hold two truths side by side?”
In a conversation with the influential designer Roger Martin, Gregory Jones introduced me to the concept of opposable thinking, which avoids our tendency to set two solutions in opposition to each other. Along the way Jones asks about Martin’s Mennonite faith, and he responds,
We’re pacifists; pacifists cannot resort to shooting people to get their way. Part of my Mennonite faith is driven to help people figure out how to see the world in ways that are less black and white. You’ve got to try and find solutions. Integrative thinking is the process of finding solutions that lie between known options. They aren’t just a compromise; they’re better.
Martin goes on to insist, “You always have a different choice than the one presented to you.”
So how might opposable and integrative thinking help a church that is seeking to honor strongly held and passionate truths that can seem, at first glance, to require the negation of the other?
For me, the possibilities are encouraging.
It is possible to desire internal accountability and trust within the Council of Bishops and more gracious and missional language in the Book of Discipline around human sexuality.
It is possible to uphold the Book of Discipline and to seek more restorative, less harmful ways to pursue justice and accountability.
It is possible to be both reconciling and confessing — these realities come together at the cross. "Movements" that claim these names would do well to more fully realize the riches of the words that identify them and live into their meaning.
It is possible to hold together John 1 (grace and truth) and John 17 (unity) without privileging either. We too easily separate these words conceptually, but in practice Jesus embodies them.
It is possible to live together as people with healthy boundaries, and yet to know the mercy of God which has no boundaries or borders.
It is possible to do the work of Jesus in the way of Jesus — the end never justifies the means.
It is possible that the Triune God has a purpose for the people called Methodist that is unknown to us, that transcends our modest tribal goals and outcomes, that includes and incorporates our rich and diverse gifts and birthrights.
It is possible that we will depart from Portland after having encountered God in the "other," whoever that is for us, and that we will have fresh eyes to see a world that God loves in a more compassionate and Christlike way.
In these days that are shaping the church that I love, I am asking that God would give us a renewal of our minds (Romans 12), so we might not be limited in imagining the future that is being planned and prepared for us.
I am claiming the promise of Jesus: "With God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)