Imagine General Patton holding a meeting with his captains to determine the best strategy to defeat the enemy in an ongoing battle. Half of the captains were certain that having bullets in their guns was absolutely essential if they have any hope of winning this battle. The other half were certain that putting bullets in guns sends a bad message and refused to load their weapons. After some “deep listening” to both sides, General Patton was unsure about what he should do. He scratched his head and wondered aloud,
Will we be of one mind? I doubt it. Will we all be of one Army? I sure hope so.
This scenario is obviously absurd, and would never happen in a well led Army where every captain is either on board with the mission to defeat the enemy or sent packing. There would be no waffling back and forth, wondering how to best make everyone happy. Why? Because happiness is not the goal, victory is.
In the same way, our “United” Methodist Church is being torn apart because it’s generals (bishops) are no more united than it’s captains (pastors) on the issue of utmost importance: how to save souls. They are at odds on one of the most basic issues of faith – what is and is not sin – and therefore do not agree on how to win the war against it. The difference is every bit as stark as not being able to agree upon whether or not to use loaded weapons when at war. Half of the captains claim that homosexuality is sexual immorality and therefore shuts one out of the kingdom of God, making them fodder for the enemy. The other half claim it is not sexual immorality but a gift from God. One of these groups is wrong. Dead wrong. And our generals are scratching their heads, unsure of what to do, wondering,
Will we be of one mind? I doubt it. Will we all be of one church? I sure hope so. Will we all be brothers and sisters in Christ? I hope so.
The above quote is from Bishop Dorff, who opened the UMC Connection Table discussion on human sexuality with a devotional about church unity based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17. To wonder if we will be of one church while we cannot be of one mind over something so crucial to our mission is like wondering if we can be of one Army when we can’t agree whether bullets are necessary in war! What would a strong leader like Patton have done? Call for more “deep listening”?
It seems as though in an effort to make everyone happy, no one is either happy, or holy. Our generals tell us we should all get back to our mission of making disciples but what does a disciple look like now? A gay person growing up in the Methodist church is being told by one captain that the road to heaven will require a hard cross to bear, including, perhaps, a celibate life, while another captain pulls out the rainbow flag and tells them all is well, heaven is yours! Both of these paths to discipleship cannot be right. If we cannot agree what victory looks like, how can we possibly believe we are on the same team, fighting for the same goal?
I have little doubt what Patton would do in the scenario above. The mission to defeat the enemy would have taken precedence over the feelings of the dissenting captains and they would have been defrocked, if not jailed for mutiny. Victory would have been secured and the unity of the Army maintained, one for all, all for one.
What about the generals of our Church? Our first general, John Wesley, is often quoted today in defense of unity saying, “May we not be of one heart, though we not be of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.” But this is terribly misleading. Here is that same quote in context, from his sermon “On Catholic Spirit”:
But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.
John Wesley was speaking of differences in so-called trivial matters, such as modes of worship, not on matters of what is and is not sin, or what does and does not shut one out from the Kingdom of God. Neither John Wesley, Paul (1 Cor. 5), or Jesus for that matter (see Matt. 18), would long put up with unrepentant sin, or rebellious pastors. Church discipline would have been enforced, thus preserving unity and the “oneness of mind” which enables us to go about our mission: Saving souls.
Where are our General Wesleys for today!? Would you please stop scratching your heads while trying to make everyone happy and instead pound some pulpits and make us holy?! Then see the power of God come down from heaven restoring the “United” back to our churches, little or big as they may be. For the love of God, put some bullets in your guns. We’ve an enemy to defeat, and our disunity over what is and isn’t sin has been his playground for far too long.