Methodists have a way of envisioning and living out our faith that is expressed in three simple rules:
- Do no harm
- Do good
- Stay in love with God
Bishop Reuben P. Job describes the first rule in such a way that we can see its potential to change the world one relationship at a time. We live in a time of intense culture wars, political battles, religious squabbling, and international tensions. We see the huge scale of harm being done in the world through both careless and deliberate acts, too often by people of faith and religious institutions. So it helps to hear Bishop Job describe the first simple rule as an “act of disarming, laying aside our weapons and our desire to do harm.” Healing the world requires change from within the human heart as well as outward behavioral change.
For years now the United Methodist Church has been doing considerable harm to our LGBTQ neighbors, family members, and friends. We have had language in our guiding document The Book of Discipline that marginalizes a whole community among us. A day will come when the language will be removed and the church will repent of all of the harm it has knowingly or unknowingly done to peoples’ lives. Especially painful is the legacy of young people who have felt rejected by the very church that exists to nurture love for God and one another.
Bishop Job writes that the act of disarming and seeking to do no harm is revealing in other ways: “We discover that we stand on common ground, inhabit a common and precious space, share a common faith, feast at a common table, and have an equal measure of God’s unlimited love. When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly. Disarmed of the possibility to do harm, we find that good and solid place to stand where together we can seek the way forward in faithfulness to God” (Reuben P. Job, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, Nashville: Abingdon Press, © 2007, pages 23-24).
We, the people of the United Methodist Church, need to remove language from our Discipline that continues to harm individual lives as well as the heart of our spiritual community. We need to listen deeply and intently to the stories of our LGBTQ neighbors, family members, and friends, about how the gospel is being misrepresented in our broken institutional life. We need to look deeply and intently into our own hearts for the places we are armed with weapons of fear, mistrust, and judgment, and seek God’s help in laying those weapons down. We need most of all to repent of the harm the church has already done to persons of sacred worth and commit ourselves anew to manifesting the beloved community where God’s justice and righteousness reign!
We inhabit a common and precious space. Let us begin to act like it.
God, in your grace that exceeds our imaginations and confronts our complacency, hear our prayer.
Words © 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo © 2014 Dallis Day Richardson