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We ARE they

When I was in seminary, I was taught in my theology classes that you had to pay close attention to prepositions. You know, those (often) small words that express relation (like “in, under, towards, before”), or various roles of phrases (“of, for, with, to”).

In that light, I want to also suggest that pronouns matter, maybe even more here at General Conference.

In several settings this week, I have heard people use the phrase, “they are saying…”, or “they are doing…”.

In truth, “they” is really “we.” If WE are a family, a United Methodist family, aren’t we all one? How quickly “we” fall in to the divisive language of us/them, we/they.

I have a friend who is a retired United Methodist clergy. For years, Jim has delighted in complaining about the actions and inactions of his annual conference. “They don’t know what they’re doing,” he would often say.

To which I would reply, “But Jim, you ARE they! You’re a clergy member of the conference. You ARE they.”

For these two weeks in Portland, Oregon, United Methodists are gathering in a huge community. This is generally a time of forward-looking hope. But this morning, my heart broke as a member of the BWC delegation stood before me in tears.

She had taken to heart all the sniping and griping, belittling and behaving. She was downhearted as the people around her demonstrated by their behavior their answer of “no” to the question, “Will they know we are Christians by our love, by our love?”

Here at the Oregon Convention Center, there’s a person walking around outside the building wearing one of those advertising sandwich boards, which simply reads, “Love Means All.” I’m told that at one point yesterday, two white men, both delegates, approached the message bearer and proceeded to taunt him, asking him if that love would extend to animals, to insects. Love of all, love of LGBTQ people, their actions showed, was a joke.

That’s partly why this member of my delegation was in tears this morning. The harsh, divisive, disrespectful treatment that is unfolding among people who seem certain about the will of God is doing more to destroy our church than anything else. Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, in the episcopal address, spoke eloquently about this. He called on us to recognize each other as beloved children of God.

And yet, it is so easy to complain, to judge, and ultimately to sit back and do nothing. Fine; that is your right and your privilege. But until we find a way to become truly “we,” instead of the current “we = us/them,” then WE (as in ALL of us) are in trouble.

Unless we find a way to be church, this morning’s tears won’t be the last.