- by Jarell Wilson -
Last Monday I had one of the most interesting online experiences: I discussed controversy in the church with people all over the UMC connection, 140 characters at a time. Twitter has allowed people like me who are relatively new to The UMC to be in conversation with bishops, clergy, and other people all across the world. DreamUMC is a grassroots effort that was born out of General Conference 2012, to effect change in The United Methodist Church. We seek conversation with everyday people to dream big for our Church. Every two weeks, we gather virtually on Twitter to discuss a given topic.
Of course, discussing controversy can be a breeding ground for controversy, but it produced a lot of fruit. Everyone seemed to agree that when faced with controversial issues we need to listen to the other side and be patient with one another. Yet I still found something worth pondering in this discussion. #DreamUMC is a diverse place, albeit it leans toward progressive, but there are plenty of conservatives contributing to it, and if all of us agree that listening and patience are necessary for moving through controversy why, aren’t we actually doing it?
Although we all agree how to navigate the rough waters of controversy, our ability to practice what we preach is lacking. We all agree that we need patience, but...
How do we tell that to LGBT Methodists who have been patient for 40+ years, waiting for the Church to change?
How do we tell African delegates to be patient for a few more decades until we decide to pay attention to them?
How do we tell the youth and young adults of our churches to wait patiently for a few more years while non-denominational churches are dealing with issues they care about right now?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, and ironically, only time will tell how the UMC sorts out these issues.
After the #DreamUMC tweetup was complete I found myself tweeting with a man named John Lomparis, I had no idea he was tied up with The Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), a conservative Christian alliance, and as we continued discussing for the most part the conversation remained civil, but Twitter isn’t really the best place to have a theological discussion.
140 characters is great for telling people about your day, complaining about GC2012, stalking Beyoncé, and getting news updates – but real holy conferencing can really only take place in person.
While I love #DreamUMC and wholeheartedly believe that the work it does is wonderful, unless it brings about real physical conversations between different sides, its impact will be very limited. Although, reason would have me believe that John Lomparis had no intention of changing his views on LGBT inclusion in the UMC, our conversation was one that should have taken place in person. Would we have been as civil as we were on Twitter? Would we have remembered to listen and been patient? Only God knows. We both probably would have left even more persuaded that we were right and that we need to educate the masses so that the UMC ends up on the right side of history.
There is something holy and sacred in two people coming together to discuss important issues, there is something holy in humbling oneself to hear another voice. That something holy is the very presence of God, for where two or more are gathered for the sake of Christ; Christ cannot help but show up. Yes, Jesus has had experience with controversy over everything from taxes (Mark 12:17) and who is included in God’s Kingdom (Mark 7:25-30) to children (Matthew 19:14) and eunuchs (Matthew 19:12). Controversial topics will be with us for a while, and will change, but one thing should remain consistent – the Church should be a place where we handle controversy with humility, with grace, and with the confidence that we are not approaching this issues alone, Christ is with us.
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Jarell Wilson is a 21 year old senior undergraduate student majoring in Sociology. A recent inductee to the UMC, he has dived head first into this church and plans to seek ordination as an elder. He is a lover of books, music, and Dr. Who. He also tries his hand at blogging & tweeting @Singing4joy.