Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?
May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?
Without all doubt, we may.
John Wesley, in his sermon “The Catholic spirit”
I have many fond memories from growing up in the southern part of Norway, in a town called Flekkefjord.
I remember playing soccer with my friends in the park right by our house, running around with the other kids who grew up in the same street as I did. I remember the smell of summer rain when we stood down at the docks fishing. I recall the sound of all the cars passing by, as we were climbing the enormous tree across the street from the church. I remember how we knew everyone we met when we were taking a walk downtown. It was a good life growing up in this little town.
Luckily, I remember going to church, too. Or “Metodisten”, as it was often referred to. One of the things I remember the best from my childhood in “Metodisten” is attending Sunday School. The Sunday School teachers taught us about Jesus, the prophets of the Old Testament, the Bible and much more. They taught us that the Gospel was about loving and caring – even for those who did not deserve our love and caring.
They taught us that the Good News was about unconditional love from Jesus Christ to all humankind. In summary, it is fair to say they taught us the same things that Sunday Schools all across the United Methodist Church in Norway did.
When I became a teenager, I was proud of being a part of church with a real care for the world and the people who live in it. I learned that there were many cool examples of how John Wesley and the people
called Methodists had worked to make the world a better place.
As a student in Kristiansand, I had the pleasure of attending a UMC congregation whose pastor was really keen on reaching out to new people with the message of God’s unconditional love. I do not think I
will ever reach his level of commitment, but he inspired me to talk more about God’s love to people I met in my life. Kristiansand was also the place where I first experienced and realized that the people called Methodists were not of one mind in all questions. However, this was not a negative thing for our work or our fellowship. We had good dialogues about our different opinions on many different topics: human sexuality, our responsibility for our planet, how to understand different passages in the Bible and much more. No matter what topic we talked about, I never experienced that anyone thought less of me when I was expressing my opinions and beliefs. One of the elderly in that congregation even said that our disagreement on certain issues was a good thing, since it forced him to really think things through and to study the Scripture.
There are many social justice issues throughout history where the people called Methodists have been in the forefront, fighting the good cause. The fight for the abolition of slavery is one example; the fight for
women’s liberation is another. This year we are fortunate enough to be able to celebrate the 60th anniversary for the ordination of female clergy in The United Methodist Church. The long and painful struggle
fought by the faithful, visionary and brave Methodist women, and some men, paid off at the General Conference in Minneapolis in 1956. These brave women sacrificed a lot, just to make sure that you and I
could inherit a stronger and more inclusive church. A church where equality is fundamental.
However, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that there is equality between the genders as soon as the organizational and disciplinary obstacles are removed. Even though one may say that the battle was won 60 years ago, we still see that there is a long way ahead – even in our Central Conference. I’m truly thankful for belonging to a church that has been in the forefront in the fight for gender equality. But we should be wary of simply praising ourselves for our previous victories, as there is still much work to be done when it comes to gender equality. For example, we have yet to see a female bishop in our Central Conference.
Neither has there been a long line of female district super intendents in any of the Annual Conferences in this Central Conference, even though we have seen a few in both Latvia and Russia. For my own
Annual Conference, I must sadly admit that we have only had one female district superintendent, and that was early in the nineties. Moreover, for our laity in all the different annual conferences: the average
female worker earns less than a male worker in a similar job. One can find many saddening examples of inequality both within our church and in our society. The struggle was not just a one-time fight, won once and for all in Minneapolis. It is our job – yours and mine, clergy and lay – to honor the brave Methodist women who fought for us, to continue their fight, both within the UMC and in the societies where we live our daily lives.
Returning to the topic of ordination of women within the UMC, there is on aspect in particular that fascinates, and sometimes frightens me: It is 60 years since we changed the Book of Discipline, but still we
are not of one mind in this question. The disrespect some of our female colleagues experience from some laity and clergy members of The United Methodist Church is unworthy, especially since The United Methodist Church so clearly is a Church where gender is irrelevant when it comes a person’s ability to live out their calling from God.
As Christians, we sometimes have a tendency to overcomplicate questions that should be held simple. In our transition from being a Methodist Movement to becoming a Methodist Church, we have complicated many things – both organizational and theological.
In all Sunday schools I have attended – both as a child, as an uncle and as a dad – they have kept their teachings simple. Some might say too simple, but I am not sure that is entirely true. Their teaching is not false: It is just easy to understand and to get a grasp of. The main mission of the modern Sunday schools is to teach the essence of Christianity: God’s unconditional love for all human beings.
I have heard many pastors and many wise lay preachers preach in such a manner that you have difficulties with really understanding their message. The older I get, the more I grow fond of what is written in
Luke 18:17: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”. In a society so fixated on growing up that we almost go from toddlers to teenagers in one giant leap, maybe we should try to hold on to childhood and all that comes with it. If not all, then at least some aspects of it.
In our different Annual Conferences, we all sing different songs that in essence is quite like the English song “Jesus loves me!”. The way I see it, these types of songs sum up what we want to teach our young ones: The Bible tells us that Jesus loves us. End of story. No questions asked.
Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.
By now, I think many of you will say that I am keeping it too simple and you might be wondering how we should deal with the difficult questions. You might even wonder how I can make up my mind in difficult
questions, when all I seem to care about here is a simple message of God’s love for all. But I say, let us keep it simple.
Let us not overcomplicate things.
Let us stay true to the essence.
Let us not be fooled to focus only on minor details.
Even John Wesley struggled with people being of different minds within the same church. In his sermon “The Catholic Spirit”, Wesley talks about people being of different minds, but still of one heart. And even though he stresses the point of unity, he also says: “Hold you fast that which you believe is most acceptable to God, and I will do the same.”. For some, it might seem as a contradiction – especially when we start talking about social justice and our fight for equal rights.
For me, social justice and the fight for equal rights is an essential part of being a Methodist, whether it be for female leaders in our church, for LGBTQ people or against racism. For others, it is not. For United
Methodists, there are many topics on which we do not totally agree on all details. Examples include the status of LGBTQ people within the United Methodist Church and society as a whole, baptism or our role as caretakers for a green but wounded world. Nonetheless, we stay united. We are a global church covering hundreds of different cultures. Our differences are natural and nothing to be afraid of. We are of the same heart and acknowledge that our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is easier done when we stay united and work united as one body for Christ. A good example of our united strength is the spectacular results of the campaign “Imagine no Malaria”.
To sum this up; In his sermon “The Catholic Spirit”, John Wesley says that we all should stay true to what we believe is correct, even if others of same heart do not share your point of view. And this is important!
It is in our Methodist core, our theological DNA, to use the Methodist Quadrilateral to interpret Methodism and not just accept a set of rules and teachings. The Methodist Quadrilateral is a method of theological reflection that embraces, but also encourages, people of same heart to have different opinions. It is utopian, and somewhat naïve, to think that I will get the same answer as you in all questions when we use Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience to find out what religion and Methodism is to oneself.
The reason why we are here in Fredrikstad today is that we are of one heart.
The reason why we all go to the same churches each Sunday (and the other days of the week too) is that we are of one heart.
The reason why we stick together as a United Methodist Church, a church who wants to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, is that we are of one heart.
We are not, and will never be, of one mind. Nevertheless, we have the choice to stay together. We can choose to stay together because we are of one heart and because our mission is greater than our differences.
In closing, I would like once more to congratulate the United Methodist Church and the women of the United Methodist Church with the 60th Anniversary of the ordination of Women. This is a fundamental
celebration, and we will use this as motivation:
As long as it is needed, we will continue our fight for equal rights.
And even though the road ahead of us may be bumpy and sometimes unpleasant, we must remember our mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Therefore, we will continue together.
As long as it is needed, we will continue to fight for what we believe is right.
As long as it is needed, we will stay a United Methodist Church.