By Andy Adams
Sometimes I get tunnel vision – when I fail to see too far beyond my own circumstances. And sometimes, sometimes, by God’s grace I’m blessed with a Holy Spirit insight into a broader picture.
The United Methodist Church just finished a set-aside day of prayer to begin our specially called session of General Conference to determine a way forward in the midst of differences in views on human sexuality. In the midst of our united prayers, God opened my eyes to something I already knew but easily forget in my tunnel vision.
In the months, weeks and days leading up to this General Conference, I personally received somewhere between 200 and 250 “contacts” from those concerned about the direction of the broader church. These contacts consisted of a few phone calls, and dozens and dozens of emails and letters. A small handful were from the congregation I serve. The vast majority were from United Methodists within our Illinois Great Rivers Conference. And I received a handful from others across the United States. Furthermore, I spent many hours reading blogs and articles written by UM leaders with varying viewpoints. As much as I hoped to keep my mind open to all points of view, I realize now that I was undoubtedly in a tunnel – a tunnel of Stars and Stripes – Red, White and Blue.
But in our day of prayer, I was ejected from that tunnel by the Holy Spirit. We spent segments of our day in prayer led by United Methodist bishops from all across the world. We prayed for the church in Europe and Eurasia, singing songs in Russian and Swedish. (By the way, did you know that “How Great Thou Art” was originally a Swedish hymn?) We were led in powerful prayer by representatives from Africa – the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Yes, we were also led by leaders from the United States but concluded our regional prayer-times with moving leadership from the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Again, God’s Spirit reminded me of what I already knew. Roughly 45% of the 864 delegates to this General Conference are from outside the United States. In my attempt to remain open minded to all viewpoints, I realize now that I missed hearing from nearly HALF of our connection.
Make no mistake about it. We have all studied the Scriptures and the legislation before us. There is deep faith, tradition and courage in the global church. And we are here collectively as a worldwide United Methodist Church to discern God’s will. We each bring our cultures and regional tunnel vision, but collectively we will discern God’s will that transcends any one culture. I take comfort in that. I take comfort in the fact that God (for better or for worse) has yoked me to a denomination that is connected across oceans, national boundaries and languages. (We all have translation devices!) And God has used that BROAD connection to help me get out of my narrow tunnel vision.
No matter what decisions are made or not made over the next few days, I hope you take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit, who transcends all cultures, is working through a global body to discern God’s will together. Could we still get it wrong? Yes, that is always a possibility. Will people be upset and even hurt by the decisions made here? I’m sure that will be the case. But there is a far greater probability that we will get it right and that we will be able to share grace and compassion with one another precisely because as a worldwide church, it is a lot harder to get caught up in isolated tunnel vision.