DALLAS – The president of the United Methodist bishops addressed the problems of anxiety and divisions within her denomination during the weeklong, semiannual meeting held in Dallas, April 28. Bishop Saron A. Brown Christopher said a “transcendent Christian community,” is crucial for creating a community that overcomes divisions and gives hope in all situations.
"Christian community is embedded in our United Methodist identity,” she said. "It is our DNA. The practice of our Christian faith, (John) Wesley style, is all about connection."
"With the United States engaged in a global war on terrorism that apparently has only just begun, with international relationships defined by shock and awe, and for many other reasons … I believe our human family is scared to death," she said. "Fear has found us, and we are not prepared. Our fear is jeopardizing our faith."
People both in and out of the Methodist church are searching for a sign of hope, she said. "We long for another way that pulls the human family together in a manner that leads to life, not death."
The Christian movement is what could offer that hope. "I believe that the antidote is Jesus Christ, given and shared in transcendent Christian community."
Describing her personal experience of being “profiled” by others as “judgement not based on reality, she contended that the incidents of profiling based on skin color or other characteristics have been ever increasing for the sake of international security.
"Throughout our church, as I listen and watch, I am observing a fierce hardening of mental and spiritual categories that leads to behavior that is brittle and rigid and causes assuming, judging, controlling, closing," she said. "The behavior is filled with the spiritual malaise called arrogance -- ‘my way is the right way,’ or more to the point, ‘my way is God’s way.’"
This arrogance is also anxiety, she said. And when insecurity and anxiety take charge, encounters become confrontations, and the other person becomes an enemy who must be discounted or changed, she said. "We attempt to secure ourselves and maintain control of our own lives by diminishing others, by reducing their threat to us through profiling.
"Profiling is a sign of the smoke and fire within our world and church and emblematic of the deeper issues facing us in the church," she said. "I note that this behavior is not the exclusive property of one side or the other."
The church’s malaise centers on "our faith having gone to our heads, resulting in battles of ideologies as if our lives depended on them, while forgetting our hearts that shape our relationships with one another."
The bishop drew on the biblical accounts of the early church, noting, "life in God begins in relationship." It begins in Christian community – one not defined by the absence of disagreement but characterized by how the members love one another as Jesus loved, she said.
How, she asked, can the council help the church remember its baptism, teaching, preaching and living so that all Christians on all sides "will know deep in their hearts that they are loved unconditionally" by Jesus? What conditions must be created so that the newspaper headlines during next year’s General Conference will reflect United Methodists’ love for one another – in contrast to the stories in 2000 that focused on division in the church?
"How do we so order the life of the church that the anxiety that binds us and sets us against one another is transformed into the courage, confidence and hope required for us, as one body, to engage and defeat the powers and principalities of our world that hold the human family hostage?"
The bishop said she prayed that the bishops would lead the church "so that conditions for transcendent Christian community are set, our church touched again by the transforming power of Jesus Christ, and our splintered world given a fresh … sign of the hope that we know in God through Jesus Christ."
By Pauline J.