Our church is struggling – what is the young seeker to do?
May 25, 2017
Editor's note: This commentary is in response to the recent debate on human sexuality and the Commission on the Way Forward, which will present its report in February 2019.
Submitted by the Rev. Aaron Gray
Pastor, Redlands United Methodist Church, Grand Junction, Colorado
I have not followed the most recent discussion on human sexuality as closely as I have in the past. Mainly because we have been talking about the same thing in the 33 years of my time in ministry with the conference. The stakes are higher now in that our conference worship attendance has continued to decline. Churches have closed and it appears that the list of churches unable to support a full-time pastor continues to rise.
Nationwide, there is hope for a conference called "A Way Forward" to be held in 2019. Some respected voices have said the conference should center on a plan that would allow the church to split with dignity. We own the word diversity, but are all of us at that place where we can say that no matter the outcome of that symposium or any gathering, I will accept the results even if the decision doesn’t agree with my own?
If not, then we are not the church or the community that we were empowered to be. It’s so strange in some ways, but I believe our hope is found in the old, old story of our passion for those who are seeking Christ – maybe now especially for that age group between 12 to 30 years old. At this point, what matters most to them is not discipline or policies, but it is that they are able to function in a world that is divided ... as in their lifetime they may know more about war than peace.
We must also realize that social media has made the world a very small place and now there are tender-age discussions around human sexuality, racism, sexism, etc. And when you consider that a murder was recently shown on Facebook, then truly the world is a very small and often scary place.
Youth and young adults are faced with the most difficult of choices. Some persons have decided to "opt out" as demonstrated by the fact that the Western Slope town in which I live ranks highest in Colorado statewide suicides. Nationwide, hate crimes are on the rise and some persons reading this letter have – in their lifetimes – lived through sanctuary movements, and now they are on the rise again.
Faced with these decisions and the climate that youth and young adults are living in, shouldn’t we be concerned that they are having to make decisions that can impact them for a lifetime, without a united voice proclaiming that in Christ there is transformation? What if we decide, as Dr. King said 24 hours before he was killed, "I just want to do God’s will." Then we are meant to be together processing – out of humility – the most difficult issues because we are then "owning" that, unless we are at the discussion table, lives could be at stake.
A "radical love" declares that we value everyone, including those who are living on the margins as they, too, belong to God. A chorus of diversity would be meaningful as we are then saying that God is able and God can do even more than we ask ... and more on top of that.