Unity amidst differences

5/15/2016

By Randy Robinson
Randy RobinsonAs a reserve clergy delegate to General Conference, my responsibility these two weeks is simply to be available, to be ready to step in at a moment’s notice should one of our clergy delegates need relief.  On Friday and Saturday of week one at General Conference, I responded to such a call.  Actually, it was pre-arranged.  One of our delegates needed to return home for a daughter’s graduation.  For two days, I took his place in a legislative committee.
 
In that rather small committee of 47 delegates, I met faithful United Methodists from the Philippines, Congo, Liberia, Finland, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Indiana, and other places where The United Methodist Church exists.  I continue to be amazed that our global faith tradition is expressed in many languages representing diverse cultures.
 
At the close of Friday afternoon’s session, the chair asked for personal stories: who would share with the committee something personal that no one else would know, unless you shared it?  Several rose to speak, deepening our appreciation for each other.  Suddenly, one delegate, then another, received text messages that the chairperson of Church and Society 2 legislative committee had passed out and EMTs were working with him. 
 
Immediately, we turned to God in prayer.  First a French-speaking African woman led us.  I couldn’t understand her language, but, as on the Day of Pentecost, I experienced the Holy Spirit’s power to communicate on a deeper level.  Next, a Liberian led us, followed by our singing, “At the Cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light and the burden of my heart rolled away…”  Another African prayed, followed by “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” in a tune unfamiliar to me, but known by African-Americans among us.  This was the most moving and powerful experience of intercessory prayer I have experienced in a very long time made all the more powerful by a global fellowship of mutual concern and abundant grace.
 
Our deep bond of trust would be tested the following day, as we reconvened to act on resolutions sent to us by another committee whose work load would prevent them from acting upon all that had been assigned to them:  six more pieces of legislation, the final one of which was a resolution on same-sex marriages in The United Methodist Church. 
 
This caused a collective groan, followed by the half-amusing, half-anxious observation, “Will this issue kill the trust in each other we have experienced?”  Discussion began and continued respectfully, patiently, graciously.  Several who spoke began by noting that faithful, committed, Christ-loving United Methodists disagree on this issue.  Each shared his/her conviction, why the church should or should not allow pastors to conduct same-sex marriages and why our churches should or should not be used for such ceremonies.
 
When the vote was taken, 16 favored the resolution, 26 opposed.  Beyond the vote count, there remained deep appreciation for one another, and abiding agreement that in spite of our differences, we could, in fact, remain one in Christ and one in The United Methodist Church.  It was profoundly gratifying to experience a contemporary fulfillment of Jesus prayer in John 17, “that they may all be one.”  Our unity in Christ is greater than our deepest differences.

(Rev. Randall Robinson is pastor of Decatur St. James UMC and is the first reserve clergy delegate in the IGRC General Conference delegation)