For a long time, I’ve fretted over our United Methodist denominational divisions. We suffer from competing interests. In part, they are regional, geographical and cultural, but the ones we most often discuss are theological.
Those theological differences, when you start to probe, are hard to pin down. We use labels (“conservative,” “liberal”) that are threadbare, past usefulness, like the heels of an old pair of socks that we know we should throw away but can’t quite bring ourselves to do. Like that old pair of socks, our competing interests are rubbing us raw.
Competing interests within an organization have to do with control of decision-making channels and resources, financial and human. We want a certain something to happen, so we maneuver to get our hands on the levers. We pit ourselves against each other. We campaign.
I understand that, to a large degree, competing intersts are largely unavoidable. But they only work for Christians if we share a vision, if there is something that we fully recognize as grounding us in something bigger and more important than my group’s particular concerns.
Competing interests work against two necessary virtues that shared vision require: humility and trust. Humility requires that I listen openly and empathetically to people with whom I know I disagree. It means that I resist the temptation to dismiss their concerns by impugning their motives. It means that I believe (trust) and assume their integrity. Maybe more basically, it means that I recognize we’re on the same team. How often do you hear coaches and players talk about trusting their teammates?
I fear that we have neither humility nor trust in United Methodism broadly. Competing interests are winning out over shared vision. Some might argue that our mission statement: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” is a shared vision. I don’t think so. I think it’s a slogan General Conference delegates could agree to as a cover for already-well-established agendas.
I sound cynical. I’m not. I’m looking for the shared vision.