Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A limited invitation for Coffee -- if you're ever in Boston...

Shane Raynor has ruffled a few feathers this week with his post about sin. I've spent enough time with both theological liberals and conservatives to know that many on both sides believe the others will never listen to reason or change their minds -- and some of the comments evidence just that.

Heated discussion can be great... it proves we're not dead -- but not everyone is good at it. I'm sad to say, many of the ad hominem attacks came from conservatives, but perhaps something good can come from reading all the vitriol. I believe it has for me.

I'll leave the critcism oblique -- for those of you who comment on Wesley Blog, and who probably don't care what I think, being socially and theologically conservative doesn't excuse acting gracelessly toward Joel Thomas, Josh Tinley, or anyone else. That doesn't excuse anyone who is socially and theologically liberal acting gracelessly toward anyone else -- but at least in this tread I haven't witnessed much of that. I'll grant that Joel's rhetoric was pretty thick at times, as was some of Shane's original post, but neither was graceless -- just pushing the envelope. If we can't do that, we'll lose all the benefits of heated discussion, so that we can all feel good all the time. Isn't that what's wrong with our current denominational conversation (or lack of conversation) about sin?

Shane's right, "Many of us don't know how to deal with sin, our own or anyone else's." The problem is, that's very un-Methodist of us. In fact, as Wesleyan Christians, we've always believed in the possibility of sinless living through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us to perfect us -- because Jesus' sacrifice has saved us from sin, not just the consequences of sin. That's why Shane's post is so valuable.
God ordained Jesus to deal with sin. He doesn't handle it by encouraging it, condoning it or ignoring it. He takes it away. He wipes it out. He destroys it. We are no longer forced to wallow in our own brokenness and shame. "Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God's approval. His wounds have healed you" (1 Peter 2:24). Let's stop preaching an anemic gospel that accepts everyone but leaves them powerless against the destructiveness of sin.
Whatever our disagreements about the particularities of sin might be, sexual and otherwise, I see Josh Tinley and Joel Thomas wrestling with the seriousness of human sinfulness, and trusting in the power of Christ to help us overcome it. Similarly, I see that in the grace and wisdom expressed by John the Methodist and John Wilks.

As United Methodists we need to struggle with the issues of personal and communal sin, and try to overcome both. Personal sin makes each of us anemic ministers of Christ to a broken world. Our failure to deal with the communal sins of slavery and racism have left the Methodist movement racially divided -- a scandal before a watching world. I am convinced that the United Methodist Church cannot be truly United, until it includes those churches who left the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery and racism -- the AME, AME-Zion, CME, and Free Methodists especially. Later, our rejection of "enthusiasts" drove a wedge between some Wesleyans and others, providing a driving force for creating the Holiness denominations. Is this a communal sin for which we need to repent? Especially in the post-charismatic renewal era?

Some of us (liberal and conservative alike)want to address communal sins of the United States. We need to confront a world that exploits the weak, wounded, oppressed and impressoinable, that finds the use of violence an easy solution to almost any problem, that continues to employ capital punnishment, that entices us to licentiousness, drunkenness, addictions of all kinds, dependence on the state and charity, and an endless list of other evils that drive both communal and personal sinfulness.

Christ is strong enough to overcome all our sins, and the sin of the whole world, but I don't know if the UMC is. We, I fear, are very broken, very weak, and can only overcome in Christ's strength (2 Cor 12:9-10). For the sake of our communal witness, I propose we deal with the sins of our own community first -- both because it would improve our witness to the world as we prophetically confront corruption and sin, and also because we might be more able to reach agreement about the importance of confronting a wide variety of societal issues. Truly United Methodism might have confronted slavery and effected a powerful change in our history -- even fairly United Methodism made great strides to confront the evils of alcohol abuse in the 19th century -- but today, we have become less effective because of our divided witness.

Joel, Josh, John, and John (and Shane too) -- if any of you are ever in Boston, please accept my invitation for coffee. I respect your passion and commitment to the Gospel, at least as exhibited in this comment thread. If the United Methodist Church is to remain "United," we need more people willing to engage in heated conversation, with the help of God's grace, to discern the will of God for our life togehter, and to help us confront all of the sins that oppress us. Perhaps the worst of these is evident in the way we treat each other -- not as imperfect siblings who disagree, but as minions of demonic forces trying to destroy Christ's Church -- or should I say "OUR Church" -- from the inside?


John Wilks said...

Thanks for the invite, David.

And nicely put! I am very converned that the United Methodist Church is losing a real sense of what is means to be Methodist.

Very few of us, conservative or liberal or in between, would have lasted long in Wesley's Methodism because we've moved so far from our original purpose as a movement.

In my own clumsy was, I've been addressing this over at Blogging Methodists. Perhaps you might chime in there with soem of your wisdom.

John said...

I'll be there.