By Andy Adams
“But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union; yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.” – John Wesley, Sermon XXXIX, Catholic Spirit
The last Sunday in April I participated in a public viewing of An Act of Love with a talkback session with me and another member of our General Conference delegation. Sara and I are friends and colleagues although we are “not of one opinion” on the United Methodist’s current language regarding the practice of homosexuality. Despite our differences, Sara and I have engaged in helpful and healing dialog and, by God’s grace and Holy Spirit, modeled that type of dialog in front of the 150 or so gathered to watch the documentary. You can read more of the background in Part 1 of this post. I now want to spend a little bit of time reflecting on how it is possible for us to, as John Wesley put it, “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.”
First, let me say that I would not have willingly engaged in a public talkback session like this if it weren’t for my trust in Sara herself. Sara is a well-respected and fruitful pastor in our conference and the two of us have been friends and colleagues for several years. Not seeing eye to eye on this topic has not defined our relationship. Our love for Jesus and our love for people does. And maybe that is the first “how” steps in being “of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.” We choose to think the best of each other and each other’s motivations. We choose to not see each other as the enemy. I know and trust that she loves Jesus, the Bible and people at least as much as I do. If our denomination is ever going achieve a “Catholic Spirit” we must start with mutual respect and love and stop the divisive rhetoric that paints one another into categories of “heretic” or “hater.” In order for that to happen we must individually develop genuine friendships with colleagues on the other side of the fence and engage in difficult dialog seeking to understand before we are understood.
Secondly, while preparing together for our public talkback, Sara and I agreed upon similar goals. Here are a couple of those goals:
We agreed we would not approach this as a way to try and change the other’s mind. We assumed that our viewpoints and interpretation of Scripture would not be altered because of our dialog. Let me just say that we DID hope to change the minds of those in attendance – not to “our side” of the issue – but rather to change our perceptions of those who don’t see eye to eye with us.
We agreed we did not want to approach this from a win/lose standpoint, but rather a win/win standpoint. We decided that if either of us were getting negative pressure from someone in attendance that we would rise to each other’s defense. We also sought to give each other the opportunity to dispel common stereotypes that opposing sides like to promulgate to make themselves look better. For instance, progressives are often accused of not loving the Scriptures or being fruitful pastors. Conservatives are often accused of being haters of gay people or homophobes or unable to read the Bible contextually. We sought to dispel those stereotypes, which would lead us to “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.”
Although we did not write these goals down, we did covenant together to abide by them. I would not have agreed to participate in this forum had it not been for this agreed upon covenant with Sara. If either one of us would have sought to get our digs in and undermine our covenant, everything would have fallen apart. There is enough hurt surrounding this issue that we don’t need to create any more.
As I approach General Conference, I do so with opinions. I’d like to think those opinions are well thought out over countless hours of prayer and study and dialog. But simply because someone has a different opinion from mine does not make them my enemy. I’m a pretty competitive guy, and it’s natural for me to think in an us/them framework. Praise God I’m heading to General Conference empowered by the supernatural. I invite you to join me in submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit. Not to change how you vote necessarily, but to change the way you see those and treat those who vote differently than you. In that way, I believe we can be of one heart.