This week I have been attending Western North Carolina’s Annual Conference. For all of you non-Methodists who might be reading this blog. The annual conference is a meeting with all of the Methodist clergy and twice as many laity from every church in the conference.  Roughly that represents every United Methodist Church from Greensboro, NC to the Tennessee state line.

There has been a lot of talk and voting on delegates to the General Conference next spring. The big issue is the issue of homosexuality within the church, and there are some very real concerns this issue at the next General Conference will cause a schism. The United Methodist Church won’t be so united any more. It prompts me to look back on the word united within the name the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church was formed back in the 1960’s when the Methodist church and the Evangelical United Brethren merged to form the United Methodist Church. The name stuck; however, even in this merger we have not always agreed on all things. Today the big issue that seems be pushing the denomination to the point of schism is homosexuality. This bomb has been ticking down since the 1970’s and the big fear is no matter how the vote goes at General Conference the United Methodist Church will split. Either Conservatives who cannot accept the LGBTQ as clergy, or perform a homosexual union will leave because they find the teaching is not compatible with the Biblical mandate. Or those who affirm the LGBTQ community as sinners in need of God’s grace like the rest of us will leave because of what they feel is a lack of God’s compassion and grace. If the split occurs it will not be the first time a split like this has happened in the life of the Methodist denomination. So much for being a United Methodist Church.

Let’s stop for just a moment. Let us pause in the midst of all of the polarizing conversation to think a minute about what set the Methodist’s apart from the Anglican church to begin with. When John Wesley and his brother Charles started the first class meeting the goal was to help people, “flee the wrath to come.” When the members of the class meetings where challenged as to what it means to be a Methodist and what a Methodist believes this is what Wesley had to say.

1. THE distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally. We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish Church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. So that whatsoever they are, whether right or wrong, they are no distinguishing marks of a Methodist. – See more at: http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/The-Character-of-a-Methodist#sthash.i0ggQF9z.dpuf

When I read these words by John Wesley I hear this. What makes us different from others. what made Methodists stand out to begin with was a central belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. All Scripture is breathed out by divine inspiration. And the written word of God is the by law by which we should mark all of our lives. However, I there is a simpler way to make Wesley’s point.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[b] You shall love the Lordyour God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Put God First. I think for the United Methodist Church to remain the United Methodist Church the denomination as a whole needs to step back from the precipice of being either pro – gay clergy or against; pro – gay marriage or against. Instead we need to be united in the essentials and agree to think and let think on all else.

Scripture tells us we are to build our lives on the rock of Christ Jesus. I am deeply afraid that when we become stuck on these peripheral issues we have been pushed off of the rock of Christ Jesus and have instead planted our flag on the polarizing rocks of either pro or against homosexuality, pro or against racism, pro or against feminism, etc. Those are all side issues. Are they important? Yes. Are they the most important? NO! What is most important? By what have we been saved by grace? By what are we given new life that is ever lasting? What gives us lasting joy which is so much better than fading happiness? What is the answer? Jesus Christ.

Sisters and brothers this is spiritual warfare at it’s finest. The devil doesn’t have to convince us he isn’t real, or that God is a fake. The devil just has to push us off center or convince us there is something better than the rock of Christ Jesus. But the truth is there aint no other God like my God, and there is no other name by which people can be truly saved from the chains of sin and death.

By all means let us be united in fighting against injustice. By all means let us be united in our quest for compassion, equality and fairness. But first and foremost let us realize the power to bring about inclusivity, justice and peace does not come from the efforts of human beings alone. Peace, hope and love come from the giver of life, the God of creation, the one who loves us more than we love ourselves. Let us put God first, and trust God to give us the discernment for the best ways to show compassion, and offer justice to those in need. Let us be united in this. Let us be Methodists who are united in putting God first, and then if necessary let us agree to think and let think about the rest.

In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.