Recent conflict in the United Methodist Church has made headlines and there are still issues to be settled. I believe in the church and sincerely believe that there is a solution to the questions confronting our clergy and our membership.
Someone wrote, “Because we think we aren’t supposed to disagree, we Christians do it very poorly.” Indeed, there is room for vigorous debate and disagreement and sometimes we simply have to live with our differences. There is not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” side of every issue. We need to look only at how our friends vote to know that the Christian community is often divided and does not always speak with a single voice.
But despite not speaking with a single voice, our church has done marvelous ministry and that excellent work should not be discounted. One of our great church historians has pointed out that our church has often waded into difficult and controversial issues. As early as 1784 at its Christmas Conference the Methodist Church condemned slavery and declared that its members must free their slaves within twelve months. Abraham Lincoln is said to have admitted that the nation would never have ended slavery without the help of the Methodist Church. Our church has led the way in advocation for women’s suffrage and adult education. A Methodist school, Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, is the oldest college in the country to award degrees to women. We have ordained more women to the ministry and support more colleges and universities than any other Protestant denomination. Our church was the first to call for the six-day work week, the eight-hour day, a minimum wage, and decent working conditions.
Our churches still care daily for the poor, the homeless, and the elderly. We educate children and most of our church sponsor a drug rehabilitation program. We still maintain relationship with some of the finest hospitals, colleges, and universities in the nation. And schism in our denomination would leave a gaping home in our social fabric and would do most harm to the poor and the young.
There is a way through these challenges short of division. I pray that our leaders and congregations will diligently search for that way and continue the work of our great church.
Sam R. Matthews