|Kay Woo holds up a peace cross during a report from the Committee on Peace by the Korean Association of the United Methodist Church, May 19 at the 2016 General Conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS|
...So that they may all be one. (from John 17:11b)
One of the most moving events that I attended at General Conference was the Korean evening of celebration and prayer for unity. For nearly 70 years the Korean Peninsula has been divided between North and South Korea, separated by the Cold War between Communist countries in the East and Capitalist nations in the West. Even after the Korean War cease fire in 1953, the two nations never signed a peace treaty and remain technically at war.
At this General Conference gathering there was a gracious dinner and several presentations about this tragedy and about the hope that someday there will be a united Korea once again. We were further encouraged by a presentation from Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, of the former West Germany, and a pastor from the former East Germany, who both spoke of the reunification that miraculously occurred there in 1990. They said they did not believe that unification would ever happen, but God made a way. Koreans of goodwill on both sides of the peninsula are fervently praying for a similar miracle.
Division a grievous thing
Division of people, especially people of the same ethnicity and culture, is a grievous thing. The concerns that divide people are never as big or important as the essential values that should unite them. But we humans are obsessed with position, power and pride. And while some may cling to long-revered principles, too often they forget Jesus’ priority that, “The greatest of these is love.”
When people focus on what unites us, so much more can be accomplished. The human family can prosper. And swords and spears--instruments of death and destruction--can be beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks--farm implements used to nurture life. This is certainly true for the family of God in The United Methodist Church.
The division in our denomination around issues of human sexuality and ministry is deep and hard. Inflexible lines have been drawn by people who are passionate on both sides. Yet, at every General Conference I always feel something else.
I feel these “middle” people, the ones who want peace and moderation. They are there, quietly choosing through their votes to soften the hard lines, voting for “may” instead of “must,” for grace over the law. We witness them promoting a generous goodness, instead of planning strategies in closed-door meetings to defeat the “other.”
The gracious “everyone is welcome” spirit that this middle group promotes is the unifying Spirit of God. It affirms my belief in God’s amazing Pentecost Spirit. And it gives me hope: hope for Korea, hope for our human sexuality and ministry debate, and hope for every place on this earth where humans are in deep conflict and division. Our very survival and prosperity depends on it.
I need you to survive
Hezekiah Walker’s famous song: “I Need You to Survive” speaks well this sentiment:
I need you. You need me. We’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me; agree with me. We’re all a part of God’s body.
It is his will that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.”
When we think like that, we can’t be drawing swords against each other, using weapons of division and discord against one another. Instead we need to be like the Apostle Paul, who encouraged us to use the “weapons of righteousness” (II Corinthians 6: 7), in which we overcome our divisions with “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God.”
Over the next few years the Council of Bishops has been charged with crafting a way forward so that the UMC can remain unified despite the divisions between our different beliefs about human sexuality, ministry and marriage. Pray for this process. Pray for the church, our church, as it continues to pursue its mission and ministry in the world.
Pray for unity and for peace, especially in the body of Christ. That, in his name, we may all be one.