If you know anything about the United Methodist Church lately, it’s that conservative and liberal factions have been hotly debating several topics and may be on the brink of dividing. However, Morgan Guyton, a campus minister, has consistently shown me the best of the UMC by both asking hard questions and reaching out to humble reconcile with those who disagree with him. He is firm in his convictions without painting others as enemies. While this is a rough time for the UMC, I asked Morgan what he loves about it and why he would suggest others should join him:
United Methodism: A Messy House Filled with God’s Love
We live in a world in which ideological tribes are increasingly siloing themselves in isolation from each other. We like mouthing off on social media about the hot-button issues of our idea, but it feels oppressive to see somebody from the opposite side mouth off so we unfollow and defriend them. There are very few spaces in our society anymore where people of differing ideologies congregate and build community together voluntarily. One such space is my denomination, the United Methodist Church.
The United Methodists may be the only major big-tent Protestant denomination left. Every other Protestant denomination has split into a conservative faction and a liberal faction usually along the fault-line of either female ordination or homosexuality. It hasn’t been easy, but United Methodists have stuck together. I actually did not realize there were conservative United Methodists for the first half-decade that I was a United Methodist. I had grown up in a moderately conservative Southern Baptist home. I always thought the fundamentalists were probably right and I was just an immature rebel.
But over time, after drifting through Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Unitarian phases, I found myself in a mostly LGBT United Methodist congregation in Toledo, Ohio.
It was in this congregation where I discovered the gospel that I believe today. I had never really believed in the gospel that told me that Jesus’ purpose was to save me from his angry father who was eager to torture me in hell forever. But I’d never discovered a viable alternative to that awful caricature of the Christian story. It was in a church book club that I attended with mostly lesbians where I discovered Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved in which Nouwen argues that our greatest challenge is to actually live as though God loves us infinitely. Nouwen contends that the reason we sin and hurt other people is because we haven’t accepted God’s unconditional love. The process of accepting God’s love is a lifelong journey toward salvation.
To me, Nouwen’s account of the gospel was a much more compelling piece of good news than the angry God gospel I’d received from my evangelical upbringing. I learned years later that Nouwen was touching upon a core definitive doctrine within United Methodism: prevenient grace. Whereas some Christians believe that God has decided who to send to heaven and who to send to hell before the beginning of time, the doctrine of prevenient grace describes the premise that God offers his grace to everybody and is constantly pursuing us and seeking to win us with his love long before we are even aware of God’s presence in our lives.
I’ve discovered that there are many United Methodists out there who haven’t had their most formative spiritual experiences in book clubs they attended with mostly lesbians. Particularly in the Deep South, there are many United Methodists who disapprove of the very people who gave me the gospel that saved me from the ugly caricatures of God that had kept me from fully trusting in him. This has been a very difficult thing for me to discover. If queer Christians are an abomination, then I am an abomination even though I’m straight because they have been such a decisive influence in my journey.
It’s painful being part of a big-tent denomination. And yet, the pain is absolutely worth it. I totally understand and respect the need for LGBT people to find Christian communities where they are accepted and their gifts are appreciated and utilized completely, even if that means leaving the contested battleground of United Methodism. As for me personally, I have been richly blessed by being in a community with people who have very different ideological perspectives from me. It’s obvious to me that they genuinely love Jesus and they genuinely want for people to know how much Jesus loves them. Though our disagreements are real and painful, our shared belief in prevenient grace does give us a powerful common theological foundation.
Though at times I would much prefer to be surrounded by people who agree with me, my experience in United Methodism loving and working side by side with people who have different beliefs has given me a lot of hope. If you try finding your place in an ideologically diverse denomination like United Methodism, you will definitely find people who are completely on the same wavelength with you. You will also find people who aren’t but are willing to accept you and build community with you anyway. Our denomination may be a messy house, but it’s a messy house filled with God’s love.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Morgan Guyton is the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA. His wife Cheryl is a certified candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church as well. Both Cheryl and Morgan attended Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC, where they met. Cheryl has served as a hospital chaplain in the past, but is currently taking some time off to stay home with their two boys Matthew (8) and Isaiah (5).
About Denomination Derby
This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.
We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.
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