Friday, December 8, 2000

"He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives."

Last July I volunteered to work at Jurisdictional Conference and there had the opportunity to attend discussion forums with some episcopal candidates. The very first candidate I saw began his conversation by talking about unity. It was clear, that as bishop, keeping the church unified would be a top priority for him. During the question and answer time, someone asked him how he intended to achieve unity in a church that is deeply divided on a number of issues. He answered, "We need to lift up those things we agree on, and de-emphasize our differences."

For the first time in my life, "unity" made me uneasy. The United Methodist Church has never been known as a church which "de-emphasizes" differences. We have historically believed that our great richness comes from our diversity. Clearly it is right and good to celebrate our commonality--but it is also right and good to recognize that it is in our diversity that we are most blessed.

And it seems to me that when we "de-emphasize" our differences, we also de-emphasize people who are different. I believe we have lost our way when we start de-emphasizing people for the sake of unity.

We will never have unity until those who have been disenfranchised and ignored and oppressed and rejected have been brought into the Church with their differences intact. The fear of breaking apart, or of falling apart, should concern us less than the fear of leaving some of God's people behind.

We are so preoccupied with unity and right practice that sometimes our quest for unity looks more like a quest for conformity and orthodoxy. But, as civil rights leader Rev. James Lawson said recently, "We can be orthodox or we can be followers of Jesus...but we can't be both." We are not captives to conformity. We are disciples of the Great Dissident who gave life and breath to God's justice. --AD

PRAYER: We pray in the spirit of Emmanuel, God-with-us. "O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel." (United Methodist Hymnal #211)

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