The Methodist question: passion, pain and the need for grace

This originally was published by CNHI News in the opinion column “Reflections with Purpose.”

In the difficult and often rocky path of a Christian life, there is perhaps no task more fraught with pitfalls than striking a balance between passion and grace. And grace, my friends, is sorely needed right now as members of the United Methodist Church face some troubling times, as they face the possibility of schism, surrounding questions of sexuality within the church.

This is not an issue unique to Methodists. Nor is it new. Nor is it the only issue that continues to cause rancor and threaten further division in the already fractured Body of Christ. But it is an issue that has drawn wide attention and stirred up a great deal of passion this week.

I must say up front, I am not a Methodist. But, the United Methodist Church is dear to me. I was baptized in the UMC, and found deep spiritual healing in one of our local UMC congregations before my path brought me home to The Episcopal Church.

But, this column isn’t about one denomination or another, or the particulars of any church’s internal doctrine. This column is about finding that balance of passion and grace, in such a way that our passions build up and heal, rather than tear asunder and injure.

There are roughly 2.3 billion Christians in the world. At our best, we are unified in one Body, connected by bonds that transcend any differences of doctrine or dogma. At the best of our best, our faith leads us, through radical, unfettered love, to unbreakable bonds with all God’s roughly 7.7 billion children.

But, when we start getting into the particulars of exactly how we are to live our Christian faith, we find ourselves embroiled in an incredibly nuanced question with at least 2.3 billion different answers. And sometimes, if we’re not careful, our passions surrounding these perceived differences can outstrip our emulation of God’s grace.

In my commentary on secular politics, I admit my passion often outstrips grace. Pugnacity is, more often than not of late, the order of the day in that realm. And, I certainly have my own passionate feelings on this topic. But, those feelings are not the point of this column. I am not here to score points for one side or the other. I’m not going to say one side is right and the other wrong. I’m not going to dig into Scripture in a vain attempt to elevate my opinion as superior to others.

I’m not doing those things in part because of ethical concerns surrounding my position, both as a columnist and a journalist. I have reported on this issue as a journalist, and it would be wrong for me, as a columnist, to throw my voice behind one side or the other in this specific instance.

More importantly, I don’t think what’s needed right now is someone pouring gasoline on either side of the fire being stoked by this issue. Suffice to say, I don’t think my writing has the power to dissuade the passions on either side of this debate. And we should be passionate about such important questions as sexual identity, the identity of the church and essential understandings of the meaning of Scripture.

But, we can hold those beliefs passionately without vilifying or crowing over those already hurt by contention within the church. This isn’t the time for grand theological arguments at the expense of other members of the Body of Christ. It is the time for a gracious acceptance that other Christians, reading the same Bible, may come to an equally faithful and sincere understanding of Scripture, and it can be completely different than our own.

Only when we acknowledge — even if we do not agree with — those equally passionate and sincere understandings of Scripture can we cease to see each other as opponents in some struggle over the church (of any and all denominations), and begin to see each other as fundamentally flawed, hurting children of the same God.

Whatever stance you take on this issue, there are people you know, people you love or are called to love, who are feeling pain, anger and betrayal around questions of inclusion, or fear and sadness around the possibility of losing members of a beloved church family.

I do not pretend to understand all of the complex feelings on both sides of this issue. But, I know people are hurting, and are being hurt, by questions surrounding our interpretation of a faith that first and foremost calls us to love one another.

Of course, Christians as a whole can’t even agree on what love means. And, our differences on this and other points of doctrine and interpretation remain. But, maybe, even if only for a while, we could set aside our burning desire to be right, and simply be present for each other in the shadow of a faith that transcends all our differences.

There will be plenty of time ahead, as this issue continues to be debated, for us to stoke our passions, and to strive, to fail, and try again to balance those passions with a healthy measure of God’s grace.

One thought on “The Methodist question: passion, pain and the need for grace

  1. “Humility” is the word that came to me as I read this piece. When I am truly humble–accepting my own failings and sins–can I be honest and gracious enough to allow others to find their path to God. Without judgment or anger or defensiveness.

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