While I was in Jordan and Israel — seeing first-hand what intractable problems can be created by divisions over religion and identity — a group of high-profile United Methodists have been circulating a call for A Way Forward in the midst of our crisis.
It includes a proposal — discussed insightfully by David Watson — for a congregationalist “local option” on matters relating to sexual ethics.
It also proposes the following as what unites us as United Methodists:
To be United Methodist is to believe, follow and serve Jesus Christ. It is to hold together a passionate and personal evangelical gospel and a serious and sacrificial social gospel. It is to hold together a deep and wide understanding of grace and a call to holiness of heart and life. It is to hold together a faith that speaks to the intellect and a faith that warms the heart. To be United Methodist is to be a people who study and seek to live scripture and who read it with the help of tradition, experience and reason. To be United Methodist is to invite the Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives to the end that we might love God with all that is within us and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
United Methodists believe that God’s grace is available to all, not only a predestined “elect.” We believe that God brings good from evil, but we don’t believe that God causes evil. We believe that it’s okay to ask questions and that we’re not meant to check our brains at the door of the church. We find helpful those guidelines we call the General Rules: Refrain from evil, do all the good you can, and do those things which help you grow in love for God. The Covenant Prayer is for us a powerful reminder of what it means to call Jesus Christ Lord: “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what you will…”
Much of this is appealing. But it is hard to get past the generalities to specifics without instantly being caught up again in the same arguments that so bedevil the church right now.
I’m also struck how here — and in the other parts of the statements — there is so much emphasis on the intellectual aspects of faith. There is a lot of “head” religion here with a secondary nod toward the holiness of the heart.
I’ve long wondered if there is any way to fairly describe what is at the heart of who we are as United Methodists. Do you think Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter — who appear to be the primary authors — have hit upon it?