Reason 7 that I am #ProudtoBeUMC and will #BeUMC going forward – Christian community is necessarily formed by diverse people united in Christ. Paul speaks of this reality in terms of Spiritual Gifts in 1st Corinthians 12. In Acts 10, Peter and Cornelius reveal that our diverse unity challenges and changes insider and outsider alike. The covenant of Christian marriage is significant not because compatible soulmates find each other, but because diverse persons are united in a covenant meant to overcome the forces that threaten to divide. Almost every large scale atrocity committed in the name of Jesus has involved an attempt at making “them” become like “us” rather than creating enough room for every child of God to find their unique place in the one body of Christ.
The idea of a “big tent” denomination or “a place for liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between” is undoubtedly a messy and at times chaotic proposition. It is also true that there have to be boundaries and expectations of some kind for any community to exist in the first place. However, I am proud to take part in a denomination that is increasingly committed to finding a pathway toward diverse unity in the midst of a culture that increasingly pushes us toward ideological purity and tribal conformity.
Bishop Mande Muyombo from the North Katanga Area of Africa was recently interviewed on “Pod Have Mercy” (found at youtu.be/drLl4j9FIxs). His comments on whether or not we can disagree on human sexuality and still be one church resonate deeply with me. In part, he shared the following:
“I’m an African. As an African, I will tell you, culturally same sex marriage is not accepted, because of my ethos. But do I have the right to impose that on other people? I don’t think so. I think our theology should be informed by who we are, culturally, the way we’ve been brought up in our ethos. I’ll just make you laugh, I’ll tell you this… my mom told me when I was young, a boy cannot spend time in the kitchen. Each time I would go to the kitchen, try to touch the plates, she would come and pull me out. As a result, I can’t cook. But in [the US] if you don’t cook for the one you love, that’s trouble.”
His example is intentionally a bit silly, but serves to remind me of how many of the things we do and take for granted are not foundational truths about human nature – they are contextual and cultural assumptions that may or may not make sense across time and space. Bishop Muyombo described the need to not only be right but to require that everyone else agree as a very US centric approach. In contrast, he highlighted the Christmas Covenant legislation and other such efforts led by Central Conference members. These approaches embrace regionalization and expect contextual differences as a necessary part of becoming a truly global church.
In Bishop Muyombo’s own words, “Contextual theology creates a prophetic church.” Prophecy is not future prediction, it is a word of God’s truth that reshapes the world. Our denomination needs to be reshaped – we need revival, but not a return to ‘the glory days.’ We need to finally grapple with what it would mean to be a truly global church – not just a US denomination that exported its version of the gospel, but a united church that reflects the diversity of all God’s children.
I don’t expect that the UMC will get it right any time soon or that there is a simple or short term way to fix all the problems we’ve created. But I do believe the majority of leaders committed to the future of the UMC are beginning to take seriously the calling to be a church that is diverse in expression and context, while remaining united in purpose and mission around one simple conviction – the good news of Jesus Christ. That is the kind of church I am happy to serve and honored to help build.