I am one of those cradle Methodists. I will also soon be approaching forty years of ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. For those of us who have been in the denomination that long, we have had front row seats to the slow and tortuous decline of the UMC. We have watched our beloved church, in our own lifetimes, go from vibrancy to its current demoralized state of division, decline, and false teaching. This is a time for lament.
The COVID-19 delays in General Conference from 2020 to 2021, and now to the fall of 2022, have created time and space for even more dysfunctionalism and self-destructive activity. This is a time for lament.
Those of us committed to historic faith have been slow to recognize the true nature of the forces arrayed against us. We were originally told that the One Church Plan was about creating a denomination where both the progressives and traditionalists would have their views respected side by side, despite the post-modern view of truth that would nourish. It is now clear that the OCP was actually just another step toward normalizing same-sex behavior and gender reassignment in the church and the actual goal was to silence our voices within the UMC. The Protocol, after all is said and done, shows us the door. The “open table” of love and respect is extended to many, but not to those committed to historic orthodoxy. This is a time for lament.
We all remember that rare moment of transparency when on the day before the vote on the One Church Plan at General Conference in 2019 the orthodox were referred to by a prominent UM pastor as a virus that must be exterminated. It was one of the most honest moments of the General Conference. This is a time for lament.
After orthodoxy was upheld yet again in 2019, the forces arrayed against us became even more committed to our demise. Forty years ago, I could not have imagined that we would come to a time in which episcopal leaders (in the UMC, the Episcopal Church, and in the PC USA) across this nation would take actions that would end in the seizure of land and property. Some of the most vibrant congregations in the country have found themselves, after all is said and done, locked out of their own facilities. This is a time for lament.
The Protocol is the latest delay tactic to lull us into thinking that someday we will be given a grace-filled exit ramp. There may be no grace-filled exit ramp in our future. We were already prepared to walk away from our denomination; now we must be prepared to walk away from our buildings and land as well. This is a time for lament.
We know that someday God will set things right. We all realize that this includes us, because we will also be judged by how we respond in these perilous times. Jesus Christ is the only truly Righteous One. But, in the meantime, we must “endure hardship and struggle” (Heb. 10:32). We must endure “false accusations, reproach and affliction” (Heb. 10:33) and we must find space to “joyfully accept the plundering of our property” (Heb. 10:33). This does not mean that we do not cry out to God to set things right. The struggle is real. There will be courts in the country who will stand by us, but most will not. There will be a few faithful bishops who will refuse to allow their evangelical churches to be scattered and plundered, but most will not. We do praise God for those faithful voices committed to historic orthodoxy within the Council of Bishops. Nevertheless, this is a time for lament.
We must remember that we stand in solidarity with William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Thomas Cranmer, John Bunyan, and thousands of others who were burned at the stake or imprisoned by the church because of their commitment to stand with the Word of God. Should we expect that we will be spared from this? Are we prepared to not only lose our livelihoods and property, but our very lives in this struggle for the rebirth of apostolic Christianity in the midst of a pagan and ever-increasing hostile world? This is a time for lament.
My wife, Julie, is an amazing, prayerful Christian and a great musician. Together we have cried in recent days over the anguishing events taking place around the country. We realized that despite the great hymnody of Methodism, we really do not have many hymns that capture the lament we are currently in. But I found myself singing a lament Julie had written a few years ago when we were in another challenging season, and I thought it would be encouraging to share it with the wider church. The hymn is entitled, “O Sovereign God, Thy Constant Care” and is taken from images found in the book of Habakkuk. It can be sung to tunes you know, like Tallis’ “Canon,” the “Doxology,” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Brothers and sisters, let us not turn to bitterness or hatred or despair. Let us walk the way of love and learn the language of lament. It is here dedicated to all United Methodists across the entire denomination who are in lament.
O Sovereign God, Thy constant care is with us in our deep despair,
and keeps us ever in Thy sight through hidden ways and darkest night.
Lord, guard our hearts that they may be protected in Thy constancy;
keep us from giving way to fear, and fill us with your Spirit here.
Though evil prosper for a time, and proud ones seem to ever shine,
The righteous still will live by faith, by daily trusting in Thy grace.
Though trees are barren in the field, and vines and plants refuse to yield;
Yet we will still exult in Thee, our strength and shield you’ll always be.
O Sovereign God, Thy plans unfold as we have seen through ages told.
For none can thwart Thy sovereign ways, O keep us faithful all our days.
Lament is the song of faith. Lament is the doorway to hope. Lament is the promise of a brighter day to come.