Last week we inaugurated our 46th president and vice president and saw 2 new senators from Georgia sworn into office. These events followed a long and tiring election season in which we were bombarded with political ads, debates, ugly attacks, and often blatant falsehoods spread for the seeming purpose of dislodging the confidence we have in our election process and system. No matter where you might fall on the political spectrum, it was a tough campaign season, and I am very glad that it is over. I watched the events of the attack on our capitol with the same shock you did, and I do not know what will ultimately come of it. We are throwing around a lot of words to describe, demonize, and stake ground around all of the events of the last few weeks in our nation's capitol. It is disappointing and disheartening. There is a temptation to turn the news sources off, stop paying attention, and retreat into other parts of our lives, looking for solace, justice, normalcy--even just a few of the many things we lack right now. I confess I have thought more than once about the uninformed life and wondered if it is as sweet as it seems right now.
And then I received an email newsletter from the United Methodist News Service with the following information that caused me to stop for a moment and reverse that desire to be uninformed: "The newly started Congress has 31 United Methodists — 17 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Six of the denomination’s members serve in the Senate and 25 in the House." Three of these United Methodists are from Georgia, and they are all members of the House of Representatives, including Nikema Williams who will now serve Georgia's 5th district most recently served by the late Representative John Lewis. Rep. Williams is a Democrat; the other two, Reps. Allen and Carter, are Republicans.
Why does this matter?
I believe it matters because we are in a covenant with other United Methodists. We are not more special than other Christians, but we are shaped by a particular theological understanding that helps us interpret the world around us and our place in it. When Reps. Allen, Carter, and Williams joined the United Methodist Church, they pledged to support it with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness just as you and I did. Even though I may not agree with every vote they will each cast in the 117th session of Congress, I know that we have something in common that is even more fundamental: a commitment to God in Jesus Christ that is upheld by a community of faith that practices at least some similar spiritual disciplines, beliefs, and liturgical actions to what we know and do in our life together. They have (I hope!) learned about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral--the principal factors that John Wesley believed illuminate the core of the Christian faith for the believer. Those principal factors are scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. If you'd like a refresher on this subject, ask one of our five current confirmands: Alix Coulter, Seth and Emily Guarnizo, Porter Messick, and Julia Witcher. Our Confirmation literature includes the following thoughtful reflection on how this Wesleyan process can help us continue to become who God has made us to be:
We can easily skew the Quadrilateral to reinforce the views we already have rather than using it to help us think theologically about the issues in front of us. Because of that, two people can use the Quadrilateral rigorously when studying the same topic and end up with very different conclusions. So, it's important to remember that the Quadrilateral doesn't tell us what to do. It offers us a process for thinking through the questions a life of faith brings our way. But that process is only as effective as our willingness to have our minds change. If we are really open to being challenged and formed by the Holy Spirit, then we might find ourselves with a new understanding of God." (from Collaborate Methodist Confirmation by Sparkhouse Publishing)
We are part of a community that is broad and diverse, disagrees among itself from time to time, shares a rich heritage, and perhaps most importantly is trying right now to figure out how to move forward into an unknown future. So much potential is before us in Congress, in the church, and in our individual spiritual lives. Right now, while the hope of a new year is still hovering, my prayer for our elected leaders, our church, and for you is that something new is happening that will help us more deeply connect with God in ways that will make life different and better from now on. How that will play out in any of those three realms remains to be seen.
But I know this: "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:19.
Whatever God is up to, let's get up to it, too.