It is time to take the “me” out of Methodism and replace it with “we”. Somewhere we lost touch with the fact that this is God’s church and that each of us is fortunate and blessed to be allowed to be a part of it. The church does not exist to serve our individual needs. It doesn’t exist to make us happy. It doesn’t exist to make us feel good about ourselves. It exists to do God’s work and will in the world, and we are invited to be active participants in the glorious creative miracle of God’s unfolding vision. We have got to get over ourselves. At the very limited extreme, church may be about “us” as a whole, but never about us merely as individuals. The whole “me and my buddy Jesus” mentality that pervades our culture has virtually nothing to do with church, Christianity, or the Bible. Our boiling everything down to a personal and private religion has a historical name — heresy. It isn’t all about me — and our denomination is suffering an acute case of “me”-thodism.
Yes, it all begins with accepting invitation into a personal relationship with God. Yes, the individual must consent. Yes, the individual benefits. But those are the fringe benefits. This is similar to the baby who must be born and then gets held, fed, and changed. While this is a good beginning, few would argue that this is the goal and purpose of birth or that this describes a mature engagement with the world. Yet, it is where many Christians choose to stop. Immature and dependent Christianity is the default for a growing, toxic, self-absorbed population within organized religion (not just United Methodism), and it is time to name it and change it. A church based on personal preference, need, and expectation is no church at all. Consider this quote from an email I received three weeks ago from someone who found out our Social Principles supported the poor and disenfranchised through the egalitarian process of collective bargaining:
I will support no church that disagrees with my personal belief in what is right.
Wow. Is this person going to be lonely? Personal belief defines what is right and wrong. This isn’t a matter of personal principles — this is a case of expecting the whole universe to flex to one’s individual will. Can you say “narcissism?” The Holy Spirit works through the body of Christ — through the fellowship, through the community, through the cloud of witnesses. When we make religion the manifestation of the personal preferences of the individual we are in deep trouble. And were this an isolated problem, we could ignore it, but it isn’t. We have individuals who want to call the shots. Any disagreement leads to dissolution. Here is another quote that illustrates the modern problem:
A church has one chance – one chance – to prove to me that it is worth being part of. The first time it disagrees with me, I am gone. If the church doesn’t believe what I believe, it isn’t worth my time.
My time. Disagrees with me. What I believe. Hmmm. Where in the world did we ever come to a place that we think this is appropriate,valid, or mature? And you know what? Pastors act exactly the same way! Jesus wept. There are as many egotistical narcissists on the clergy side as the laity. Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from a pastor from a few year’s back:
I am telling my congregation not to pay apportionments — the liberals are wasting the money on things I believe are evil and stupid. I am encouraging them to save for the future. If I can talk them into it, we will break from the Methodist Church and become independent. I will lead this church until I retire.
Yikes! Me, my church, I, I, I, me, me, me. Does anyone actually believe this is what God had in mind for the church? When the church is about us, it simply isn’t the church. It is a pathetic parody of what the church should be. When individuals — clergy or laity — define the church in terms of what they want, what they believe, what they expect, it is a horrendous bastardization of something good and holy. It is, in the classic Hebrew sense, “evil.” Those who hate and call it love, those who judge and call it righteousness, those who create conflict and call it faithfulness are destroying what Christ came to create. Together, we as the true Christian community, work out OUR salvation with fear and trembling. We look to the grace of God to define us, not the narrow-minded selfishness of a few Puritanical malcontents. We live into the shared vision of the whole body, not the stylized reductionism of a disenfranchised minority. “We” are not “either/or.” “We” are not conservative or liberal. “We” are not progressive or cautious. “We” are not inclusive or exclusive. “We” are not confessing or reconciling. “We” are God’s children, entrusted with the sacred task of finding out how to live together in love, grace, harmony, and compassion. What you or I want is of insignificant account when compared with what God is calling us to.
Again, I say, we need to get over ourselves. Let us commit to allow God back into our churches. Let us act as if we believe that God is love and that we are the body of Christ together. Let’s stop looking for ways to alienate and disenfranchise one another, and instead, let us witness to the healing grace of God to a broken and contentious world. Please?