Freakonomics recently did a six-word motto contest for the United States. It had tons of ideas, responses, and votes. And looking at what they ended up with, I thought it was very relevant for the United Methodist Church.
No surprise there. Our three-branches system reflects the US Government, our denomination grew up as our country was growing up, and our denomination split right before the civil war. Today, the UMC is seen as a bellweather for social issues affecting America. So, a six word motto for the USA…perhaps it can describe the attitude of the UMC (while never, of course, explaining our mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ…hey, that’s six words too!).
So, what were the results? The unofficial six-word motto for America?
Our Worst Critics Prefer to Stay
That’s neat, huh? Even those people who rail against America prefer to actually live in it. This is true of people on all sides of the political aisle: we have a freedom to speak freely, and even though we rail against America, we still love it.
It made me think of the United Methodist Church. We are meeting in two weeks in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about divisive issues again. We talk about them for years, then resolve them all to everyone’s satisfaction in one week. Right. There are always lively discussions about polity within the UMC. Why?
Because Our Worst Critics Prefer to Stay
This motto is significant in light of a UMNS commentary written by Steven Webster:
Some have described the church’s long dialogue over these issues as “a thorn in the flesh.” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 that he endured a painful “thorn in the flesh” that would not leave him even though he pleaded with God to remove it. God’s answer to Paul applies to us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
We feel weary and weakened by this long dialogue over homosexuality, a dialogue in which I have actively participated in many ways these past 36 years. The faith that sustains me is that God intends to perfect us through these trials, and we, the people of The United Methodist Church, look forward to a real peace which is, in King’s words, the presence of justice and not merely the absence of tension.
Some don’t want to talk about the issues. The Connectional Table sends out an email to delegates outlining four goals and seven paths, and none of them have to do with some internal divisions within the UMC. It’s almost like if we focus outside ourselves, then we will have peace.
My friends, that’s a donut mission: focusing outward without healing divisions internally leaves a hole in the middle where our soul should be.
- The Six-word motto of Jesus Christ at the Ascension was: “To Make Disciples of All Nations” means to work on our own discipleship and our own willingness to reflect on how our actions and corporate policies reflect our discipleship.
- The Six-word motto of Jesus Christ at the beginning of his ministry was: “Repent! God’s Kingdom is At Hand!” Repent means to examine where we have failed and heal those wounds so that we CAN bring forth the kingdom of God.
- The Six(ish)-word motto of John Wesley could be: “Do No Harm, Do Good, Love God” The “Do No Harm” section certainly means examine how within the church we are doing harm to one another.
My friends, in the UMC, Our Worst Critics Prefer to Stay. Unity in diversity is the best way forward to be forced to examine the issues. Breaking apart and schizm leads us to our own echo chambers where we will not have to deal with diversity again. And for the sake of our own discipleship, keep on these divisive issues, because by ignoring them, our outward appearance is happy, but our souls are rotten.