Will the United Methodist Church Be A One Wing Phoenix?

There is an ancient teaching that suggests, “there are two wings by which we rise, one being personal piety and the other community charity. No one can fly by flapping only one wing. It is impossible to be sincere in our worship of God without expecting to do the will of God. It is equally impossible to do the full will of God without the guidance and empowerment of a vital personal relationship with God.” (Harvey and Lois Seifert).

What really strikes me about this observation of the Christian faith, is the varying understandings and interpretations of the meaning and experiences of people of faith leading up to the formulation of those meanings. Think about it this way, my sister and I grew up in a nuclear family. We grew up with the same two parents who have now been married for over 50 years. But we each experienced that home in two very different ways and look back on it differently. My two young children have expressed the very same things about our home too.

The same is true for faith and church.

As much as there are similarities, there is not one wholly and normative experience anyone has regarding their journey to faith in Jesus Christ. Looking at Scriptures, would we say a person isn’t “real” Christian because they didn’t encounter Jesus like Saul did (Acts 9)? Or what about the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40)? And what about the 3,000 in Acts 3:40-41? Would we just shutter all the churches that don’t have that happen in their community?

One of the many things I have found helpful in my faith and United Methodist Church, is the tension created by having a “big tent” denomination. Because of our Open Table, all are welcome to come and receive communion without there being a litmus test other than repentance. We do not prevent children from coming to Jesus anymore than the worst sinner or the most prestigious clergy. This has meant we have had to also face issues of justice within a culture and world that is always changing and our foundations shifting.

Having made the move from the southern U.S. to the pacific-northwest has allowed me to look beyond my own understanding of the differences we U.S. Americans have, both in our culture but also our faith. Like many of the biases we create, we do so when we don’t actually take the time to get to know our neighbor. It still remains easier to craft a “strawman” over sexual issues and gender identity than to get to know someone just as it is easier to do so with Republicans and Democrats or Cowboys fans and Redskins fans.

We UMC folks need to walk carefully and humbly in these days. History is always more complicated than we often learn at first. But we UM folks need to be wary as we take steps forward. Coming as we do as a renewal from the Church of England, our “mother church” was formed when Henry VIII didn’t get his way regarding divorcing Catherine of Aragon. Not having male heirs and wanting a divorce is pretty poor reason to start a new church. And lets just name it...the Pope was right to challenge the king. No one was fighting for justice for Catherine (or any of the wives/concubines of Henry VIII either).

We can’t fly as long as our faith is more about pie than piety. Nor can we fly when our focus is just caring for society and not really caring about justice. Whatever phoenix rises from the ashes, may all be found having both wings and not floundering, one-wing birds.


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