Embodying Unity in Turbulent Times

Bishop Scott Jones


On the connectional level, we United Methodists are in for some turbulent times. In the midst of many different forces seeking to blow us off course, it is crucial that we remember: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Some of the turbulence is coming at us from the current issues facing American culture. Specifically, a variety of forces have led our political life to be characterized by shallow posturing, inaccurate soundbites, polarized factions, demonizing insults and intellectual intolerance. Recent trends and events have led to a great deal of anxiety about racism, law enforcement, income disparity, healthcare systems, immigration, and cultural change. Americans are frequently dealing with these issues by stoking our fears and jumping to false conclusions. These traits are far too common on all parts of the political spectrum. The current presidential election contest exemplifies America at its worst.

Some of the turbulence we face is generated from within our church. Our structural deficiencies are inhibiting us from addressing our challenges in helpful ways. We are not as united as we should be. Bishops and conferences are violating the order and discipline of our church, and our decentralized system of church governance provides insufficient remedies.

How do we faithfully serve Christ in such a time as this?

Every day, as part of my private devotional time, I read Ephesians 4 which begins with these words: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Paul calls us to humility. Paul calls us to gentleness and patience. He also calls us to bear with one another in love. As I read these words, I am hoping to stay in dialogue with those who see issues from a different perspective than mine. I want to honor them. I do not want to act rashly. I seek to serve the unity of the church and lead all United Methodists. I embrace our racial, geographical, theological and political diversity.

At the same time, I will only be able to faithfully serve through these turbulent times if I am also talking with those who agree with my perspective and who will encourage me in the godly traits Paul describes. Our church is complex enough that gatherings of people who share similar points of view are necessary to discerning the best way forward.

Recently several persons have expressed concern about the formation of a new group in the life of our church. The Wesleyan Covenant Association will host a gathering this week of people in Chicago. Some, reacting out of fear and stereotypes, see this as a schismatic group. I disagree. I take the WCA’s leaders at their word when they say “We are a coalition of congregations, clergy, and laity from all jurisdictions that are committed to promoting ministry that combines a high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment. We encompass a broad range of worship styles and ministry practices. What links us together is our desire to witness to the transforming power of God to change and redeem human lives and societies. We have come together to support, network, and encourage one another as the future of The United Methodist Church comes into clearer focus.” This makes them comparable to other groups in the life of our church that are clearly within the boundaries of our discipline and yet gather for strategic thinking and mutual support.

In difficult times, returning to the basics of our faith and our purpose is essential. The main thing is our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I am supportive of all efforts that focus our resources on serving that cause.