This fall I have used a simple drawing of three circles to portray something of where we are as a church in the present moment.
The three circles are covenant, justice and unity.
Covenantal people greatly value the promises we have made to God and to each other in baptism, in ordination and in consecration. They seek greater public accountability when our covenants are broken.
Those in a search for justice participate in a history that gives greater rights and offers God’s grace and blessings to more people. This history includes the abolition of slavery, the recognition of women in ministry and now the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the full life of the church.
Those who value unity have the conviction that covenantal people and justice seekers can live together in the church. They do not see the present LGBTQ conversation as a church-dividing issue; and they live in the tension, often at the congregational level, amidst differences that reflect the beauty and complexity of the one body.
My own calling is to seek to expand or grow the space where these three circles overlap. I share passions of justice, covenant and unity with friends across my own annual conference and the global church. The shared space where justice, covenant and unity overlap is not a mushy middle! It is the complex place where many faithful people live.
The Vision of the Commission on a Way Forward is to “design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible.”
I understand this to be the generative work of our denomination in this present moment.
In his “Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision,” Paul Chilcote describes our tradition as a “place” that is not “either/or” but “both/and.”
“The Wesleyan method”, he writes, “can be called conjunctive because it seeks to join things together, rather than permitting them to be pulled apart” (16). And, so he speaks of faith and works, personal and social, heart and head, Christ and culture, piety and mercy.
Look again at the visual image of the three overlapping circles. Picture a person, a follower of Jesus, whom you might associate with one of the circles. Now think of a different person in a different circle. And another.
This is The United Methodist Church in its most local and global expression. At our best we are connected to each other for a purpose: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This mission includes keeping covenant, loving justice and seeking unity. And it is about growing, expanding, and honoring the space where these three values can be joined together.
(This is the second post in the series, “Remembering Who We Are.” Next: Seeing Jesus Christ at the Center.)