Please pray for the United Methodist Church today as the quadrennial legislative body, called General Conference, begins today in Forth Worth, TX. As it is every four years, the flash points that divide the church (e.g., homosexuality) will likely make the front pages of national newspapers. Now belonging to the British Methodist Church, there is no immediate impact over here, but as we are sister denominations, the way Methodists in the US act effect how Methodists are seen worldwide. As members of the larger Methodist family, I believe we are called to pray for our sisters and brothers.
With blogging even bigger than it was four years ago, no doubt there will be up-to-the-minute coverage. It’s already been filtering in over the past few weeks. Some that I have been reading and expect will continue are:
- The United Methodist Reporter Blog – the independent newspaper for United Methodists.
- The United Methodist General Conference– April 23-May 2 – as post by United Methodist biblical scholar, Dr. Ben Witherington, III.
- UMC General Conference :: Ft. Worth, TX – Ben Simpson points to some of the other issues outside of the sexuality debate.
- Itineracy under the magnifying glass – Andrew Thompson looks at what is sure to be a hot topic outside of the national media.
- Should they stay or should they go – Complete with The Clash reference, John Meunier responds with his grounded insight on the itineracy, and will likely post on what’s going on.
After the last General Conference (2004, Pittsburgh), Duke New Testament scholar, United Methodist minister, and committed pacifist, wrote an open letter to United Methodist calling for a more serious discussion on issues beyond the sexuality debate, and I hope they listen:
I am fully aware of the possible complexities of ethical debate over how the New Testament’s teachings might apply to international affairs in a post-9/11 world. But my point is that at present we are not having the debate at all. In the United Methodist Church, we say nothing about the horrifying violence in Iraq, while at the same time we exhaust ourselves going around in circles debating issues of sexuality.
To be sure, both sides in the sexuality debates believe that important moral issues are at stake. But, as C. S. Lewis memorably suggested in The Screwtape Letters, one of the devil’s favorite tactics is to distract our attention with nominally good causes from the matters of first importance, so that we continue on the gradual road to hell …
In view of the present necessity, I make the following proposal. Between now and the next General Conference in Fort Worth (2008), let us refocus we our priorities. Instead of obsessively debating sexual politics, let us first devote our energies to prayerful reflection on the teaching of Jesus against violence and for peacemaking. (Richard B. Hays, “A Season of Repentance: An Open Letter to United Methodists”, The Christian Century 121, 24 August 2004, p. 9)