I recently read a book recommended by Director of Youth and Family Ministries Keith Calara that I found to resonate particularly well with my observations of the imbedded bifurcation that has affected our politics and our faith. Author Christena Cleveland (PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara) is a social psychologist who teaches at St. Catherine University, consults with pastors and organizational leaders on multicultural issues and speaks regularly at organizations, churches, conferences, universities and schools. She brings to bear the latest studies and research on the unseen dynamics at work that tend to separate us. I find her writing especially enlightening for a denomination which may be on the eve of separation over its stance on the inclusion of LGBTQ persons across the church and its ministries (especially ordained).
In Chapter 5 entitled Running for Cover, she addressed how the groups we form protect our identity and self-esteem. If you are a member or friend of Napa Methodist Church, you’ll hopefully recall that our mission is to build a loving community to invite people to become followers of Jesus Christ. Our journey is to grow people in God’s love. Our vision is to serve our neighbor. On pages 97 ff, she writes: “We need to adopt the belief that to be a follower of Christ means to care deeply about and pursue other followers of Christ, including the ones that we don’t instinctively value or like. We need to adopt the belief that to be a follower of Christ means to allow our identity as members of the body of Christ to trump all other identities. We need to adopt the belief that to be a follower of Christ means to put our commitment to the body of Christ above our own identity and self-esteem needs. We’ve coped with our divisions long enough. It’s time for us to discover our true identities as members of the family of God. It’s time for us to rally around this identity, overcome our divisions and change the world. In sum, it’s time for us to change the way we see ourselves.”
Among the seven membership vows taken to become a member of a local United Methodist Church are these: 4) To remain a faithful member of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world; and 5) to be loyal to The United Methodist Church and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries. Given the sentiments of Christena Cleveland and the core values expressed in the two aforementioned vows, I’m hard pressed to understand how a denomination such as ours could be on the verge of schism. Please continue to pray for our denomination as we explore ways to be an authentic church while responding to contemporary issues in society. And, you may want to ensure you join us for worship at 9:30 am this Sunday as we explore the meaning of the phrases in the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.