By Walter B. Fenton
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
As the seventh of eight children, conversations at the Thanksgiving dinner table could, to put it charitable, become a little contentious. And, to my shame, I sometimes served as an instigator or abettor. With embarrassment and shame, I wonder why, in a close family like mine, full of warm embraces at the beginning of a blessed holiday, I sometimes contributed to a day that descended into anger and tears by its end. It was Thanksgiving for heaven’s sake!
Perhaps one saving grace was that the arguments were seldom over trivial things; almost invariably, they were about politics (Democrat or Republican?), economics (capitalism or socialism?) and the theological differences among Methodists, and Baptists. We were keenly interested in one another and what we thought about things that really mattered to us. And oh, how they mattered sometimes!
With the passing years, a little wisdom, and good deal of maturity, we learned to avoid topics where opinions were fixed around deeply held political positions or theological convictions. Without pretending our differences were superfluous, we found unity and commonality where we could. And most importantly, we accepted we were a family. We were not a political party, or a denomination called together to hammer out a political platform or a doctrinal confession. We came to allow plenty of room for people to be passionate Democrats or Republicans, or dedicated Baptists or Methodists, and still enjoy – greatly enjoy – our family unity. Our unity, we recognized, was grounded in our love and grace for one another, not in our political or denominational convictions, however important those convictions might be for each of us.
I am finding that those of us joining the Global Methodist Church can resonate with my family and theirs. Acknowledging we are frail and fallible people, we are under no illusion we will ever have, in this life, perfect unity on all matters. We take it for granted we will have disagreements, and that we will be passionate as we contend for this or that side of an argument. To a certain extent, this is necessary, since debates help us clarify how we should move forward together. Done well, they help us discern God’s will for the church, and so make it stronger and more resilient in the days ahead.
At their best, engaging in debates with our brothers or sisters in the faith is a sign of the respect and love we have for them. We want to be united with them, so we want to hear and understand their opinions, and of course, we want them to hear and understand ours. We want this even when we sense there is friction between us. Indeed, the friction kindles our interest in one another’s opinions, and the possibility of learning and growing together. I am convinced when we initially engage with one another, we most often to do so with the belief, however naïve, that we will finish more united than we began.
Only people with malign intentions begin debates looking to belittle and embarrass others. Only people with malign intentions refuse to apologize for intemperate and hurtful words. And only people with malign intentions set out to sow discord and so sever the bonds of unity. They are not interested in unity, but in conquest.
I am thankful the Global Methodist Church is rooted in Scripture, the core confessions of the church catholic, and a warm hearted Wesleyan expression of the Christian faith. GM Church members know these things bind us together, so we hold to them tenaciously. Paradoxically, we believe the exclusive confessions and convictions of our faith not only unite us, but also instill within us a passion for the whole world. What unites us, opens us to others, to welcoming them into the loving embrace of God’s grace and forgiveness.
As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, let us resolve to be thankful for one another. Let us engage in conversation and debate that is healthy and respectful, openly acknowledging our differences but doing so in a spirit of love and charity. In our genuine efforts to understand one another and to learn and grow together, may we gain a foretaste of how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.
The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.