Shepherds and Sheep

I initially posted this in a slightly different form to a specific forum, but it has been suggested to me that the problem is greater in scope and the question could appropriately be presented in a broader venue as well, so I have taken the liberty of editing it somewhat for clarity and re-posting it here.

In light of the events and statements made at the recent jurisdictional conferences of The United Methodist Church, I’ve been led to ask:

Is it only possible for someone who looks like me to represent my interests?
Must I only find leadership in someone who shares my history? Can I only be nurtured by someone who thinks the same way I do?

I celebrate the universality of God’s grace and the diversity of the Body of Christ, and I certainly recognize the danger of groupthink when all of those at the table possess a similar, limited background; I further recognize the insidious nature of unconscious racism, sexism, ageism, or other discriminatory perception, which danger mandates continuous and ongoing self-examination and a commitment to intentional efforts to ensure that other perspectives are being considered in our deliberations. Nevertheless, the idea that every organizational entity, or any particular one, must reflect the appearance of the population as a whole seems to me one that listens more to the mind of the world than the heart of the gospel.

Jesus did not look like me, did not speak the same language, did not grow up in the same culture, but his message of grace and his call to holiness nonetheless resonate within me and call me to become more than the sum of my history, call me, indeed, to take on his image, which any of us can do only inwardly. I pray that we will all seek to see the hearts of those to whom we minister and who minister to us, while still being attentive to their circumstantial characteristics.

Choose Your Battles

In my reading tonight, I happened upon John Wesley’s sermon # 104 which treats primarily the question of whether the efficacy of ministry is a function of the spiritual state of the minister, but which closes with the following, more general, statement.

33. Let us not then trouble and embroil ourselves and our neighbors with unprofitable disputations, but all agree to spread, to the uttermost of our power, the quiet and peaceable gospel of Christ. Let us make the best of whatever ministry the Providence of God has assigned us. Near fifty years ago, a great and good man, Dr. Potter, then Archbishop of Canterbury, gave me an advice for which I have ever since had occasion to bless God: “If you desire to be extensively useful, do not spend your time and strength in contending for or against such things as are of a disputable nature; but in testifying against open notorious vice, and in promoting real, essential holiness.” Let us keep to this: Leaving a thousand disputable points to those that have no better business than to toss the ball of controversy to and fro, let us keep close to our point. Let us bear a faithful testimony, in our several stations, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, and with all our might recommend that inward and outward holiness “without which no man shall see the Lord!”

Now, I suppose, we need only to be able to agree on how to distinguish adiaphora from the essentials of the gospel, a task I’ll leave to wiser heads than mine.