By Jessica Brodie
Headlines and rumors can sometimes make everything seem so dire; don’t you think? The irony that I write this as a journalist is not lost on me.
The new year started off with an announcement that a group of United Methodist traditionalists, centrists, progressives and bishops signed an agreement aimed at an amicable separation of The United Methodist Church. Called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, it came about because conflicting views related to human sexuality after the 2019 Special Session of General Conference failed to resolve differences among church members.
News sources, from The New York Times to Fox News to NPR, immediately released stories titled “United Methodist Church Announces Plan to Split Over Same-Sex Marriage,” or “United Methodist Church Announces Proposal to Split over LGBTQ Rights.” Take a look at the headline on our own front page.
While true, many readers get an immediate knee-jerk reaction to this, as though this one proposal is the only proposal, as though it had already been decided because so many important people were involved in the collaborative plan.
Here’s the thing: an announcement that a group of people have come up with a plan split does not mean a split is imminent or preordained.
General Conference, which is the only entity that can speak for the denomination, does not meet until May 5-15. The delegates to General Conference are the ones elected to make decisions about the UMC’s path forward. No decisions have yet been made.
And the most important thing: God is still the God of the universe—and the head of this denomination.
And God has the power and authority to do whatever God wishes—including change our hearts and minds and push through whatever plan God intends, whether this one or another entirely.
Reading the Book of Ezra this week, my heart stirred at a story about the Israelites, finally released by the king of Persia to come home to Jerusalem after their exile to Babylon, preparing to rebuild God’s glorious temple. The people worked hard, laid the foundation, and “rejoiced very loudly” (Ezra 3:13 CEB). Their enemies heard about this and did all they could to stop the rebuild (4:4-5), eventually writing to the new king and artfully, strategically convincing him to order the Israelites’ work to halt (4:21).
After a time, a new king, Darius, came into power, and two Israelite prophets received a word from God and convinced the work to resume (5:1-2). Much strife ensued, and finally King Darius, swayed by God, agreed to search for a decree from an old king authorizing the Israelites to rebuild. That scroll was found, and King Darius took a righteous stand for the Israelites, ordering that their work could continue and that their enemies must help provide supplies and funding.
When the house of God was finally complete, the Israelites joyfully celebrated with festivals and sacrifices, “because the Lord had made them joyful by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria toward them so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:22).
God changed the king’s heart! And this wasn’t the first time—or the last time—God had done or would do such a thing.
God’s power is far stronger than any proposal, any work of humankind, anything period. His will and plan will be carried out. That will and plan might be this Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, or it might be something else.
We need to remember this and rest in the peace this offers. Everything will be OK—God has it all under control.