Photo by Diane Degnan, United Methodist Communications.
Way Forward Ash Wednesday
Members of the Commission on a Way Forward worshipped with staff of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries at their Ash Wednesday service, March 1, at Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
The great 20th Century Methodist evangelist E. Stanley Jones said: "We could lose all of the Old Testament and much of the New and keep Jesus's Sermon On The Mount, and there would be enough valuable information contained therein to keep one busy for a lifetime." As a retired Methodist preacher with over fifty years of service, most of it in the local church, several things come to mind.
For one, I wish the Council of Bishops and their Commission on A Way Forward much success. I'm assuming that these distinguished ladies and gentlemen, who have been selected to represent all of us who sit in church pews Sunday after Sunday, will endeavor to seek and serve the best interests of us all. No doubt in their way forward, the primary subject of the Council will be that of unity, a oneness of spirit and purpose. As we all know, a sense of unity on which the members of the General Conference can mutually agree is a must. No unity, no way forward.
Revolving around the subject of unity is the centuries-old issue of human sexuality. For all too long, this topic has had a death grip on the Church. Jesus made no mention in his Sermon on the Mount of gays, lesbians, and homosexuality. Urgent issues always face the human race. Questions revolve around political turmoil, war and peace, the environment, massive hunger,health problems, and immigration, and God forbid an atomic war and the possible annihilation of the human race. Therefore, it would seem short-sighted for a major religious denomination, Methodist or otherwise, to become endlessly bogged down in the sexual beliefs and practices of consenting adults, which have been with us since the beginning of time.
Human sexuality is not and never has been at the heart of the Church's problems. We are! It is we the people. We are the problem. Methodism's motto, "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors," is a farce if we believe otherwise. This motto means just that. Jesus didn't 't look behind the closed doors of everyone who followed him. He only said: "Follow me..." No questions asked.
The world totters on edge, and we the Church look the other way. Is the Church guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Could be! What if an enemy dropped a deadly bomb on one of our largest cities killing millions, endangering the nation? No Church denomination would pause to call a commission to study the subject of unity; as good neighbors, we would automatically and courageously respond in unison to the need of human suffering, regardless of who, when and where. That has always been the role of the Church.
Waiting in the car while my wife was shopping nearby at her favorite supermarket, I turned to the pocket New Testament I purchased in 1953 while a young student at Candler School of Theology. To my amazement, the little Testament opened to Matthew 23. The heading read, "The scribes and Pharisees: their hypocrisy and vanity." The second entry read: "The sevenfold indictment of the scribes and the Pharisees." I quickly scanned the chapter and thought immediately of the role all of us are called upon to play in the Way Forward movement of our beloved denomination. Check it out!
One of my favorite authors was a gifted Italian-American lecturer by the name of Leo Buscaglia. Leo was born in 1922 and served in the Navy during World War II. He later graduated and received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, with a degree in special education. His inspiration came when one of his students, a young woman to whom he often looked to gauge his teaching effectiveness, committed suicide. He realized then, according to the website that now preserves his legacy, that he had a broader mission: "What are we doing stuffing facts into people and forgetting that they are human beings?"
Leo was the author of more than 15 books. This happy-go-lucky, loving and caring Italian left us with endless and valuable quotes such as: "Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word,a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." If we United Methodists adopt Dr. Buscaglia's counsel as a contemporary version of Jesus' teachings, what a way forward!
A retired clergyman and military chaplain, the Rev. Billy Cox lives in Louisville, Ky.