“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”
The late Rev. John Wesley once wrote: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”
Over the last four decades, the United Methodist Church has been split ideologically between progressives who advocate for progressive things and conservatives who advocate for conservative things; this dialogue almost representing a microcosm of the polarization of the American people. Every fourth year, with the onset of General Conference looming on the horizon, we are bombarded with rhetoric reminding us that these two ultimately opposed perspectives can never coexist in the same holy space.
And yet they have.
For decades, the United Methodist Church has proven to be a place where ideologically opposed people have embraced a life of shared ministry. It is as if collectively, we have diverged from the increasingly common modern inclination toward schism in the face of opposing perspectives, and have remembered that the people that we disagree with are yet people who also love God and as a result share the same hope for salvation and abundant life that motivates our own quest for redemption. It is as if we have remembered that unity, even in the midst of diversity…even in the mist of adversity…is possible for those who love God, serve Christ, and seek to be embraced by the transformative love of the Holy Spirit…together.
I am no statistician. However, if I were to guess at why this exception has occurred in the midst of an otherwise increasingly polarized American culture, I would have to believe that it has something to do with the fact that in spite of our diversity, in spite of our disagreements, and in spite of our differing beliefs, we have continued to worship the same God…together.
When we worship God together, we are united in the essentials.
When we worship together, we remember that although we may disagree on social and theological issues with those seated next to us, they are yet people who, like us, are trying to be the people that God has created them to be…as best they understand what that means.
When we worship together, we remember that the people seated next to us are a work-in-progress and are subsequently deserving of the same grace that is even now also transforming us.
When we worship together, we find ourselves praying for those with whom we worship…those with whom we disagree…and we watch as their faces are transformed through intercession into the face of a forgiven sinner; a fellow sibling for whom Christ also died.
More than ever, the world needs this example, and the lessons associated with it, to remind us of the unitive power of choosing to share life together in holy community. If you truly want to make a difference in your world this year, then choose to worship together with those whose opinions are not your own. If you do, you will likely find a holy unity begin to emerge in the midst of what had once appeared to be overwhelming diversity…
…because that’s what our God does. He bridges chasms to resurrect the dying.