Ultimately, It Was Love

Ultimately, It Was Love April 24, 2023

My Annual Conference saw 264 congregations leave last Saturday. Love let them go. It was all that was left to do. What I feared just a few years ago happened. My church split. And I could not participate in the vote. I could not help feeling it was all wrong. In a previous post, I talked about my reservations about celebrating Holy Communion at the time. I received the body and blood of Christ hoping for grace. I found it.

The Vote

There were only two votes in the 900+ people who attended against allowing disaffiliation. I abstained. No one counted abstentions. I neither participated nor resisted the evil I saw. There were many tears afterward, but my face was dry. My head ached, though. It was over. We were exhausted. And we attempted to be gracious.

Where was the grace I found? It is very simple. No church or clergy could leave and honestly claim mistreatment from the conference leadership. I, along with some others, during the last several months argued they were not doing enough to stand up to the wave of misrepresentation and dishonesty. The grace I felt after the vote was accepting that it no longer mattered. There is spiritual wisdom in making the other side welcome to do whatever they wish to do.

The Wisdom of Love

Love is not blind. Love is wisdom. It sees when our eyes do not. Love sees what the mind is slow to comprehend. Before the vote was taken our bishop asked for no applause whatever the results. Changes in body language however could not be helped. Many of us breathed easier. During the visioning process for the churches and clergy who remain, my headache went away. We moved forward. I started seeing the reasons for Jesus’ words to Judas, “Do quickly what you are going to do” and “Father, forgive them they do not know what they are doing” in a new light. Love requires allowing others to make their choices even when we see how detrimental to themselves that choice is.

I gained more understanding of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he teaches, “If anyone wants to take your tunic give him your cloak also, and who ever compels you to go one mile, go two with him.” We make it possible for the love to take away defenses and overcome fear. I am certain many congregations that left did so out of fear of the future. Many that remain still fear the future. But the gift of love allows that future to be walked into together.

Love Prevails

A family member asks, “Why are the rights of LGBTQ+ people perceived as a threat to so many people?” My answer is the propaganda works especially when it comes to culture wars. People being manipulated do not realize it most of the time. When Left Behind was popular, church members asked me if I believed this or that foreign leader was the antichrist. Why would they assume a foreign leader would represent the greatest evil? Because of the ways enemies are portrayed in various media. While I was in Kyiv in 1992, my interpreter was scolded by an older lady who claimed if she was a “real Christian” she would not wear makeup, western style clothing, or associate with Americans. The years of Soviet propaganda affected the religious belief of that woman.

It takes very hard work beginning with love to get beyond these kinds of manipulation. The Resurrection is about love prevailing over the ways of death. We speak the truth in love in order to overcome the defenses set up by people who feel threatened.

For the moment, I am exhausted. Yet, I am being energized with grace.

C. Don Jones is an Elder in the Holston Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Presently, he serves Christ at Andersonville UMC. You can read more about the author here.

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