Monday, February 18, 2013

Neil Alexander: Why I Choose The United Methodist Church

Our past reveals embarrassing imperfections; our present is marked by sharp divisions; our future filled with uncertainty.

And yet, we are here and we are there, diverse and widely scattered United Methodist people striving eagerly to bear witness to grace upon grace. It is reassuring to be linked with folks who openly grapple with tensions over theology, missiology, ecclesiology, and social witness. Why? Because of what we believe, where we serve, how we worship and live together, and what we stand and work for. These things matter.

Right from the get-go the brothers Wesley were in full-throttle pursuit of a vibrant, relevant Spirit-led community deeply rooted in an historic, ecumenical, and world-changing Christ-centered way of being and doing.

It is a wonderful challenge to be part of a church that
  • hungers for people everywhere and through all time to know and love God
  • sometimes grudgingly but nevertheless emphatically has come to repudiate systems that oppress or discount the least and the lost
  • opens its heart and treasure to link arms with and care for the welfare of people all around the world—especially the poor
  • ambitiously sets out with passionate evangelical zeal to reform the nations and spread scriptural holiness across the lands.
I’m grateful beyond measure for our predecessors who preached the Gospel and drew faith communities together near and far, for all those who cultivated the women’s mission movement that established houses of hospitality and centers of education for immigrants, for bands of Wesley’s heirs who set up hospitals and established colleges, for a people who eventually learned to hate slavery and work to end racism and who in time affirmed the call of women to ordained ministry. None of these and a thousand other imperfect but glorious hints of faithfulness came easily, given entrenched traditions and privileged social orders that fiercely resisted many grace-filled initiatives.

Yes! How gratifying to be part of a connection of would-be disciples who are reluctant to engage in self-congratulation at a time when the world is so obviously desperate for a even more pervasive and deeper evidence of authentic personal and social holiness.

We’re here! We’re there! In East Africa and the Philippines, in Wyoming and Alabama, in Berlin and Anchorage. In many places and soon in even more, we are engaging with people who are seeking and suffering and serving as the body of Jesus Christ.

Together we are involved in outrageously difficult ventures:
  • planting new churches in Laos and Vietnam
  • providing quality care for children in the war-torn Sudan
  • starting new communities for worship and disciple-making in downtown Chicago
  • raising tens of millions of dollars to eradicate malaria in Africa.

Some might choose to retreat or take a less ambitious path in the face of discouraging cultural trends, economic woes, and a conventional wisdom that says our days of glory as the people called Methodists are long past and we risk being increasingly out of step with the needs and sensibilities of the post-post-modern world.

I don’t choose the UMC because we’ve got it all right. I choose the UMC because we have been and continue to be head-over-heels in love with God, followers of Jesus who is moving way ahead of us into the hearts and hurts of the world and beckoning us to catch up. I’m not in love with the UMC because we were or are perfect, but because by God’s grace we are moving on . . .

Neil M. Alexander is president and publisher of the United Methodist Publishing House.

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