“I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning… If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
With these words above Peter entered a controversy that would split the church of his time. It was between the “Jewish Christians” and the “Gentile Christians”; a story that takes up almost a third of the book of Acts (chapter 10-15). It was a bitter split that centered on how the Law of the Torah applied to the inclusion in the church of those who did not abide by certain parts of the Law (“Gentiles”). The fight at that time concerned ritual circumcision which the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) requires of all faithful.
At a called Council meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 15) it was decided to amend the Law (verses 1-29) thus allowing those who were considered outsiders (non-circumcised) to become full members of the church without needing to be circumcised. The church saw a movement of the Holy Spirit in this group of “outsiders,” they called Gentiles, and in grace and spiritual discernment, changed their interpretation of the Law. It was the first of many amendments of the ancient Torah we have in our Old Testament (How many of us eat Kosher?). A very important decision for most of us, as we were never ritually circumcised or part of the Jewish Community; never had a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. The decision opened the doors to us; it is an important part of our story of faith as the “Gentile Church”.
Discerning a new movement of the Holy Spirit is difficult and the faithful often see things differently. Our history as the Christian Church has many splits and disagreements.
I bring this up for a couple reasons: It appears that we in the United Methodist Church have reached a historical place of likely division over what the inclusion of the LGBTQIA Community should look like. Like the time of Peter and Paul, there are deep divisions in the United Methodist Church as we seek to serve God. First, I want to remind all of you that disagreements and even splits are nothing new in the Community of Faithful. Methodism alone has had several historic splits in given times when the Spirit moved. Just as at other times the Spirit has moved us to reconcile our differences and come together. It is part of the walk of faith.
Secondly, I want to address what many of you are seeing in the news media, some accurate and some not so accurate. The “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” that has been worked out by a diverse group of United Methodists through a mediation process has received a lot of coverage. I want to remind you that only the General Conference of the United Methodist Church speaks for the church; they are scheduled to meet in May of this year. The “Protocol…” is a proposal for that meeting; it needs several steps to be considered, as it is late for the deadline for submission. It joins nine others under consideration. This is not a “done deal”, rather it is the beginning of a conversation.
So, I ask you to be in prayer for the United Methodist Church and the Monroeville United Methodist Church as we travel through this historic time. God has guided in the past; God is here now; and God will lead us through!
Yours in Christ,