Photo courtesy of Sky McCracken
It's a quote from a Star Trek movie (First Contact), admittedly with a gender bias, but it certainly applies: "Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgment." I think if you're going to be an elder in the United Methodist Church, it is good advice - and if you are going to be a district superintendent (or "presiding elder," as one lay leader in Paducah calls me), you really need to be a man/woman and let God be the judge of what you do. That means saying and doing some tough things in the name of the Lord. What follows are some tough things that I think need saying in light of a church that is in desperate need of renewal. I think our laity are desperate for it.
1. Changing the stance on homosexuality in the United Methodist Church will not stop the loss of membership in the denomination. It's at best a red herring and at worst a lie to espouse otherwise. The Southern Baptist Church continues to lose membership; they are in their fifth year of decline, and they have a very decisive, very clear statement on their opposition to homosexuality. On the other side of the issue, the Episcopal Church also has a very decisive and clear statement on homosexuality, where they bless and celebrate same-sex unions as they do male-female marriages, even though doing so separated them from the Anglican Communion. Did it help them gain members? Their membership is now lower than it was in 1939.
The loss of membership in both denominations, as well as in the UMC, can reasonably point to one reason: failure to make disciples. We can blame society, we can blame the president and Congress, we can even blame MTV. But we can't blame our stances on homosexuality. The fact that I hold an orthodox view on this issue and agree with my denomination's stance doesn't let me off the hook for anything - that has nothing to do with a failure to make disciples in the name of Jesus Christ. And yes... that is what it says in Greek: μαθητεύω - to make a disciple - it's a verb, aorist tense, imperative, plural, second person. And as Dallas Willard reminds us, we are more often guilty of the Great Omission: once we baptize folks, and/or they have been converted to follow Christ, we seem to forget the rest: "teaching them to do everything that [Jesus] commanded you." That's discipleship. We have failed at discipleship - we suck at it! - and have for several generations.