The Uniting Methodist Conference in early November 2017 was filled with a great number of teachings and fellowship opportunities. I heard once again the ways the Church is following and not following the three rules of the Church (Do no harm, Do good, Stay in love with God). I am thankful to have been there.
Like all movements there are those who feel the movement is not what it should be. Some feel the movement is too bold and others feel it is not bold enough. At the heart of this tension seems not so much a desire to do what is Right, but rather to do what is Pure. Traditionalists desire that there be a purity of standards and Progressives desire there to be a purity of justice. The striving for a “purer” expression of Church is one of the most illusive and sometimes most destructive endeavors we embark upon. In our pursuit of purity we can really do some great harm to others and our own selves.
It is clear to me the “incompatablists” on the left and right are trapped by the same desire for purity. As one who upholds unity as a core value, I find the movements to embrace purity to be misguided and unhelpful. Frankly, purity hurts. It is why Jesus was less concerned about purity than about healing.
Purists would desire a church that is free from whatever it is they find less than pure. And if there is a blemish in the church then the blemish is to be removed. The efforts to create a pure Church ultimately lead to a Church that is the whitewashed tombs Jesus spoke against. A charge against the Uniting Methodist Movement is that centrists do not stand for anything, that they are lukewarm.
So let me be clear, centrists in the Uniting Methodist movement stand for mercy over purity (Matthew 9:13).
The pursuit of purity in the church reminds me of the great work of Carlo Carretto. Specifically how, without calling it purity, he calls out the idolatry of a Church where purity is promoted:
How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms. No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, though not completely. And besides, where would I go? Would I establish another? I would not be able to establish it without the same faults, for they are the same faults I carry in me. And if I did establish another, it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ. I am old enough to know that I am no better than anyone else. –
I invite anyone who understands that a pure church is less a church of Christ and more a church of ego, to join the Uniting Methodist Movement.