Good Morning, Friends, and welcome to this week’s E-Note!

So I was looking for an image of our congregation and this one caught my eye.

Broken apart. Pointing different directions. Intense pain.

Yeah. That’ll work.

The fracture, and the pain, is all encompassing for us in First United Methodist Church right now. I get it.

We have become almost completely self-absorbed as a congregation, laity and staff alike. Some folks want to set the fracture and let it begin to heal. Others want to amputate.

Folks, it’s going to hurt either way. And as much as we talk about the “balm of the Holy Spirit”, I’m not feeling it right now.

Christian writer Max Lucado has rightly observed,

“Conflict is inevitable; Combat is optional.”

It seems to me that the way we respond to the inevitable conflict is what defines us as Christians. Can we agree to disagree in a way which still honors God? In a way which doesn’t compromise the Great Commission?

We have some church folks who are voting with their feet. They’re staying away from the church and the drama. I understand. We come to the church for sanctuary from our divided, polarized world, only to find more of the same in God’s House. Can we really blame folks who want to skip that drama?

We have some folks who are withholding their giving because of the drama and the uncertainty. Again, that’s understandable, even if it’s not scriptural. Our giving is not to the church and its structure, per se, so much as it’s offered to God for His goodness, even if we are struggling.

Further, what we do in the church is being broadcast outside our walls, and I’m not talking about our live streaming. The community sees and, much more importantly, so does God. What we say and do in the dark, on the street, or in the pews is known and heard by God.

Notably, any attempt to focus our church upon the things which we actually hold in common is met by a collective eye roll by many people. Unity, Agape Love, and Humility are at the core of the Gospel. When did we become so cynical?

Several months ago I wrote that I believe that we can deal with this issue of disaffiliation in such a way that we demonstrate to the city of New Albany, “Boy, those United Methodists know how to disagree in a healthy way.” I still believe that we can. But so far, the other churches in our community are sitting with a bowl of popcorn, enjoying the entertainment we are providing them, and wagering on who gets to swoop up which damaged church members.

Some suggestions, then.

  1. Read-really read, and meditate upon Jesus’ words, his PRAYER for his followers: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23, NRSV). The stakes are high here. According to Jesus, the world is supposed to be able to know that God sent Jesus based on what they see in US. Choosing to remain united in Christ with each other is a great way to keep conflict from escalating into combat.
  2. Speaking of agape love, consider 1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Do our words and actions in this quagmire speak of agape love, which makes the needs of OTHERS more important than OURSELVES? BTW, it’s agape love which Jesus demonstrated by going to the cross on our behalf, so that WEwould practice agape love with each other.
  3. Then there’s humility: it doesn’t mean we think LESS of ourselves, but rather that we think of ourselves LESS. Practicing basic Charistian humility, as Jesus did, is a dynamic, active way to proceed with grace in this conflict: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4, NRSV). This alone would be a game changer in our current situation.
  4. Pray. Pray for the people-believers, disciples, folks for whom Jesus died,-on the “other side” of the issue. How much time have we really devoted to this?

It takes FAITH to handle adversity with grace. Is this really so great a stretch for our church’s level of faith and spiritual maturity? Is it really our goal to be in combat?

I hope not. Because they will know we are Christians by our love.

In Joy, Still,

Tom