UNITING METHODISTS

Uniting in Christ for the Transformation of the World

VISION STATEMENT

Uniting Methodists is a movement of Christ-centered, hope-filled, holiness-seeking United Methodists, uniting to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We challenge in love that which divides, and we offer to all people God’s saving grace that transforms the world.

MISSION STATEMENT

The Uniting Methodists movement bears witness to the holistic way of Jesus, offers a voice that clarifies and unifies our church, urges holiness as the rule for our relationships, calls for cooperation with Christ-like love and honest, humble conversation, and desire spiritual and structural unity in the church.

We bear witness to the holistic way of Jesus, which calls us both to return to our Wesleyan tradition and to follow into the new spaces where Christ will lead us. We seek to keep our hearts and minds centered on Jesus, so we are open to wherever the catholic spirit of God’s love might lead us. We trust a God who is fixed in covenant relationship and free to extend that covenant life to all, a God whose grace both saves us and moves us toward perfection.

We offer a voice that clarifies and unifies our church. We offer a vivid contrast to the harmful polarization that plagues the wider culture and has infected the church. We are not interested in being another combatant in a denominational tug-of-war.

We urge holiness as the rule for our relationships. We affirm the Wesleyan commitment to personal and social holiness. We recognize that we sometimes disagree on how best to pursue holiness, and those differences can lead to conflict. Though we may differ in understanding, we are committed to loving God and neighbor alike.

We call for mutual cooperation with Christ-like love and honest, humble conversation between the left and the right. The Holy Spirit leads us to resist dehumanization and self-righteousness, in whatever forms they present themselves. We seek, through mutual love and humble conversation, to discover greater ways to undo our polarization and to uphold our covenant together.

We call for spiritual and structural unity in the church. We are committed to working out how we can be a people of the God who is fixed in a desire for unity, and free to redefine what unity means. We are committed to imagining how that unity might be enacted in new structures, models, and shapes as The United Methodist Church reforms for the future.

A SHARED COMMITMENT

This statement offers the biblical foundation for our shared commitment to call for unity in Christ. It is built on the following four convictions:

  1. The current divide is based on differing perspectives that are biblical and faithful;
  2. Sole adherence to one’s perspective leads to tragic division;
  3. Centering on Jesus Christ is God’s way of reconciling division;
  4. The Holy Spirit works to unify the church while using diversity to advance God’s mission.

In John 17, Jesus prays for the unity of his followers. For a very long time, even since the formation of Israel and the beginning of the church, unity was threatened by a crack that is much deeper than any one presenting controversy. The biblical narrative shows that this fault line is neither unusual nor new.

In ancient Israel, many leaders believed that holiness was established by returning to God and keeping God’s instructions. For Israel, God’s laws and commandments were fixed and reliable, but the people strayed and needed to turn around to get right with God. This theology is located in the Temple, the fixed place where God resides, to which faithful people could return.

Other leaders in ancient Israel perceived that holiness was found by following God wherever God led them. God’s presence was perceived as mobile and free, leading God’s people on a journey, through particular contexts and into whatever new experiences God had for them. This theology is symbolized by the Tabernacle, which was the visible reminder that God led the Israelites away from slavery into freedom and a new promise to fulfill.

Both theological perspectives were deeply embedded in the collective conscience of the Israelite people. These seemingly irreconcilable positions contributed in part to the split between the Southern Kingdom – who believed in a God who was fixed – and the Northern Kingdom – who believed in a God who was free.

Both perspectives are biblical and evident in the church today, and both are necessary.

Some leaders, through a faithful reading of the scriptures, call us to return to our Wesleyan tradition. They honor a God who is fixed and reliable and caution against the sinful lures of a culture that veer us away from God. Other leaders, also through a faithful reading of scripture, follow God who is still moving and leading us into new knowledge and understanding about the world.

Most leaders are probably shaped to some degree by both a fixed and flexible way of relating scripture to culture, yet this polarity seems to form the basis of the profound divide that once again threatens our unity as God’s people.

Is God fixed or free? We believe, through God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, the answer is both.

JESUS CHRIST: BOTH FIXED AND FREE

Jesus was the fixed, constant Word who became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14). He was born in the royal lineage centered on the Temple, as the God who is fixed. He also offers good news to ever-expanding circles of people, beyond boundaries and borders, as the God who is also free.

He reveals a higher way, a holistic vision of the kingdom. God’s love in Christ calls us to a life in which we learn to place our love toward God and others above any partisan position or doctrine, no matter how well-informed we might be. All of us, without exception, can be guilty of wanting to be right more than in love with each other.

The church experiences that divide most vividly and controversially today in our debate over human sexuality. Some leaders, based on a scriptural reading, consider homosexuality to be a sin which should be repented and cannot become the basis of a faithful marital relationship. Other leaders, based on a scriptural reading, believe that same-gender attraction and love can be the basis of a faithful marital relationship. With no wide, middle ground established for this dispute, the unity of the church’s discipline is undermined.

We bear witness to the holistic way of Jesus, which calls us both to return to our Wesleyan tradition and to follow into the new spaces where Christ will lead us. We seek to keep our hearts and minds centered on Jesus, so we are open to wherever the catholic spirit of God’s love might lead us. Amid complexity, we trust a God who is fixed in covenant relationship and free to extend that covenant life to all, a Triune God whose grace saves us, sanctifies us, and moves us toward perfection.

THE HOLY SPIRIT: BOTH FIXED AND FREE

Jesus promised his disciples that God would be with them through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, whose work throughout history has offered both stability and mobility for the people of God.

That same Spirit hovered over the chaos of creation and brought new order into being. God’s Spirit filled both the Tabernacle and the Temple as the visible sign of God’s presence, to which the people of God could reliably return. The Spirit’s descent at Pentecost birthed a church marked from its inception by a unity forged through diversity. The Holy Spirit creates, stabilizes and clarifies God’s people.

Yet the Spirit also creates new realities and new understanding. Just prior to his prayer for unity in John 17, Jesus described the work of the Holy Spirit in John 16 as the one who would “declare to you the things to come.” The Spirit led Philip to share the good news with an Ethiopian eunuch, spreading the gospel beyond boundaries of race and sexuality. The Spirit also brought Peter the vision of the descending sheet, expanding God’s hospitality to the Gentiles.

Throughout Paul’s letters, he described the stabilizing, unifying work of the Holy Spirit in the church. He described the church as having one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-5). He called the church to a unity in which there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, or male or female (Galatians 3:28). And his admonition to the Philippian women Euodia and Syntyche was that they be of one mind (Philippians 4:2).

But he also witnessed the Spirit’s work in re-imagining the unity of the church to expand the mission of God to new people. The Jerusalem Council decided to welcome Gentiles into the church, which “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). And though Paul and Barnabas separated along different paths shortly after that decision, they were both united in affirming the Holy Spirit’s work to expand the hospitality of God to the marginalized.

THE CHURCH: BOTH FIXED AND FREE

Our call from God to move toward perfection must also be characterized by stability and mobility, tradition and change, with both a desire for unity and an openness to what unity might mean.

The Uniting Methodists movement offers a clarifying and unifying voice that guides the church through the harmful polarization that plagues the wider culture, and has infected the church. We are not interested in being another combatant in a denominational tug-of-war.

While many have debated the degree of the outside culture’s influence on the church, we ought also to focus on the culture we create within the church. How do we create a culture rooted in generous and refining grace within the church? We have all been responsible for how division and polarization has shaped our interactions with others in the church.

We are all called to repent of that sin. By God’s grace in Christ alone, we can and must seek the holiness that can only come through our common witness and united spirit. We must watch for and participate in the unifying work of the Holy Spirit that creatively shapes and reshapes the way we perceive and relate to each other, demanded of us by Scripture’s witness. There is no room for humiliation, dehumanization, or self-righteousness in the church.

Regardless of our starting point in this or any other polarizing debate, the Holy Spirit is always refining and renewing us. The Spirit leads us communally and individually to positions that we would not have claimed before. By the power of the Spirit, the church can be a community of love that holds the space open for individuals to be on their own journey of prayerful self-examination.

We urge all of us to affirm the possibility that God’s grace can lead a person of any sexual orientation toward greater holiness in and through the baptized community. We urge all of us to uphold our covenantal bonds with one another as a way of loving our neighbor as ourselves and as a mark of visible holiness. We urge all of us to uphold Christian marriage as a covenant between two faithful people in a relationship of self-giving love.

Only in mutual love and through humble, honest conversation can we discover other, greater ways to diffuse the sinful polarization that plagues the church. We urge all our words and actions be dedicated to follow God’s law of love. Out of mutual respect, we encourage all to choose to assume the best intentions in others, especially when we disagree with them.

UNITY: BOTH FIXED AND FREE

The severity and weariness of our disagreements over human sexuality lead some in the church to see separation as the only possible resolution. Some feel like a “divorce” is the healthiest and most sensible outcome, so that both sides can pursue ministry as they discern it.

However, the question of united or separated structures of the church is a binary choice defying the holistic teachings of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit who maintains unity and redefines what unity means. Even in the wake of a divorce, where ex-spouses consider their marriage to be irrevocably separated, it is the children of that divorce who must reimagine the unity of their family, and push all its members to consider new ways that they are still one family together.

The Uniting Methodists movement clearly urges the United Methodist Church to stay united, both in spirit and in structure. We do so not simply to maintain the institution or to preserve the status quo but because we believe that remaining united in our diversity enables greater holiness and fruitfulness within the churches, by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. The United Methodist Church does not become weaker or culturally acquiescent when it includes those committed to embrace an unchanging God, while others are adept in responding to changing cultures and communities. This kind of diversity makes us multilingual and more effective in fulfilling God’s mission.

That mission calls us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people, and to pursue holiness of heart and life. Our members care for both the inner transformation of people as well as the transformation of our communities and our relationships with each other. This mission calls us to seek changed hearts and lives through professions of faith.

We pledge together as disciples to resist the systemic sins based in discrimination that dehumanizes others through racism, sexism (including sexual orientation), wealth inequality, poverty, hunger, human trafficking, violence, and many other evils that treat others as less than fully human. This mission stems from our baptismal vow to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, in whatever form they present themselves.

This mission is best achieved through unity, the same oneness Jesus prayed for in John 17, led by the creative and mobilizing power of the Holy Spirit.

If structural unity cannot be maintained, we urge the church to look at unity through the perspective of God’s “children”: the spiritual offspring who have been and can be birthed through the advancement of God’s mission together. Perhaps God may be calling the church to stay united, while re-imagining what unity might mean, through yet unrevealed ways to reorganize our life together. We pray for and anticipate the work of the Commission on a Way Forward to interpret on behalf of all of us the possibilities that God may be revealing to us.

Even with our profound differences, we can be people of the God who is fixed in a desire for unity, and free to redefine what unity means. We can therefore be co-parents in the mission of disciple-making for the transformation of the world.

A CALL TO UNITY IN CHRIST

The following is a one-page summary of our mission, vision, and shared commitment.

God has called the Uniting Methodists movement to be a unifying and clarifying voice in a divided conversation and a polarized culture. We are not another combatant in a denominational tug-of-war, but a Christ-centered, holiness-seeking, hope-filled people committed to preserving unity in Christ, who offers grace to all people.

Unity does not come naturally, especially in matters of the church. Unity requires intentional work empowered by the grace of God. Unity is not to be desired for its own sake, but as the best means toward holiness of heart and life, as God uses the entire church in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The most visible fault line in the church today is in how to minister to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons. Arguments are based on differing yet faithful perceptions of biblical theology and personal and social holiness. When there is sole adherence to one’s own perspective, tragic division occurs among God’s people.

Because it is not God’s desire for people to live in tension and fractured relationships, God offers redemption through Christ. God has entered our brokenness and offered redemption and reconciliation in Christ through his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. Christ offers a holistic vision for new life and new expressions of faithfulness. And because the Holy Spirit works to unify the church while using diversity to advance God’s mission, God is calling us to both remain united and be open to new structures for unity.

In Christ, we urge our communities of faith to remember our baptismal vows: to renounce wickedness, reject the powers of this world, resist evil, and repent of our sins. We urge our communities to affirm the reality that God’s grace can lead all people of any sexual orientation toward greater holiness. We call all of us to uphold our covenantal bonds with each other as we practice the difficult work of mutual love of neighbor. We urge all of us to uphold Christian marriage as a covenant between two faithful people in a relationship of self-giving love. We urge all our actions to reflect the love that Christ has shown us, and we encourage all to assume the best intentions in others – to understand that we are all striving towards perfection, even in our disagreements.

In Christ, we believe that diversity is a means to holiness, allowing us to more deeply understand the ways that God is at work with us and through us in our communities. We urge spiritual and structural unity in our church, and we are open to the creative ways and yet unrevealed ways that the Holy Spirit might redefine and reimagine what unity might mean for the future.

In Christ, we pray for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward as they seek possibilities that God would reveal to us, and covenant to uphold and support their work as we envision a life of holiness together.

Through Christ, we call the church to unity, despite our faults and divisions. We know that Christ is at work among us, and when we stand before the living God, we know that the transformative work of grace has already begun.

A LITURGICAL AFFIRMATION

And so, in the spirit of unity, we call the church to prayer, confession, and praise of God. This affirmation is offered not to displace any of the traditional creeds of the church, but to clarify and center our life together, in the context of our current divide.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
who leads us into holiness;
who rests upon chaos and orders creation;
who rests upon us in Bread and Wine, Book and Baptism,
gathering us into community,
where we receive the Spirit’s many gifts,
and celebrate these gifts in one another.

We believe in our Lord Jesus Christ,
who calls us to live holy lives
wherein we fully love God and neighbor;
who welcomed Nicodemus and the young ruler,
the Samaritan woman and the blind man;
who is the firstborn of new creation;
who is the head of the church;
in whom all creation holds together;
and through whom all people are reconciled to God.

We believe in God our Father,*
who is the Holy One;
who calls forth light and life;
who raises up the dust with the Holy Spirit’s power;
who raised Israel out of Egypt;
who raised Jesus Christ from the dead;
and who even now raises up a people called Methodist
for the sake of transforming the world.

We commit ourselves to follow the Holy Spirit’s witness:
to lovingly challenge all within us that is divided,
for the sake of holiness of heart and life;
to lovingly challenge all that divides us one from another,
for the sake of the unity of Christ’s body, the church;
to lovingly challenge all that divides us from our world,
for the sake of making disciples of Jesus Christ
for the transformation of the world.

And so we believe; God, help our unbelief. Amen.

 

*in place of Father, other names for God, such as Creator, Parent, or Divine can be substituted.