Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Thinking Like Christians

I’ve just returned from the third of our “Bishop’s Conversations on the Iraq War.” Thanks to Anne Wheeler and her team for organizing these events. Nearly four hundred Alabama United Methodists engaged in fruitful, prayerful conversation and thereby modeled Wesleyan “Christian Conferencing.”

These conversations were planned to be learning experiences. I told each group, “Here we are going to try to think like Christians about war and this war. We will try to think biblically and in a specifically Christian way.”

I was proud of the way we discussed a passionate, controversial issue. I hope everyone grows in the faith and understanding. I sure did.

Here are some of my learnings:

  • It’s a real challenge to think about things as followers of Jesus Christ. It’s much easier to think like Americans of the left or of the right, to ask merely “What works?” or “What do most people think?” It’s a challenge to ask, “What does Jesus require of his followers?” or “What does the Bible say?”
  • There is no Christian consensus on the current war, even though I did find general agreement that scripture and the church’s tradition make war, this war in particular, or any other war, a questionable action for Christians. Christians who defend war as an appropriate response to evil and conflict have got their work cut out for them.
  • Among those United Methodists who defend the war as justifiable they are diverse and conflicted in what they think about the war. Many people who believe this war is justified, believe that these who initiated this war have done a terrible job of executing the war. There are many diverse opinions, which is one reason why I don’t think “resolutions” do justice to the complexity of the issue.
  • There is widespread regret and even deep repentance among our United Methodist people about this war.
  • Many of our people are eager for their pastors and their church to give them help in thinking like Christians about the war. They were grateful that their church had these gatherings, though many felt that such discussion was long overdue.
  • Church resolutions, statements by bishops or Annual Conferences about this war may not be as helpful as prayerful, humble, conversation with fellow Christians. (Perhaps I was the one who said that!)

After these experiences around our Conference, I encourage your church to engage in “Christian Conferencing” on this issue. Write Anne Wheeler annewheeler@yahoo.com and she can send you some great resources from our church that should be helpful.

William H. Willimon

12 comments:

roadtripray said...

Bishop Willimon,

You get a resounding "AMEN" from me on the statement that passing resolutions aren't really that helpful, at least not as helpful as fostering discussion. Some of the resolutions our annual conference (SC) passes get under my skin -- even those that I agree with in principle. The reason is because they just oversimplify the issue.

I don't have much confidence that a one-page document from an annual conference will change too many minds. But you allow holy conferencing where people can speak about their faith and work through the issues from a Christian perspective, and you build faithful disciples who will transform the world.

Peace,
Ray

roadtripray said...

Okay, sorry to double dip, but I had another thought about that. Issuing "decrees" sounds closer to what the Sanhedrin did in Jesus' time. Jesus, on the other hand, didn't just issue a blanket statement, but he rebuked in such a way that he turned each incident into a teaching opportunity. He seized the opportunity to instruct and correct those who needed it, but not condemning.

It just seems to me that so many of our resolutions sound like finger wagging with very little opportunity to instruct and equip.

Peace,
Ray

Steve West said...

Dear Bishop,

Thank you for taking leadership on this. I appreciate the way this was handled. My only regret is that I was out of town and unable to attend personally.

As I have shared with you, I wish that on the General Church level, we found some way to do more conversing and listening (and less legislating and posturing) over complex issues that are not so "black and white."

I think that the Christian traditions of both pacifism and just war theory are in danger of becoming lost articulation of our precious and careful ethics over many generations. More churches should dust off the bishop's teaching document from years ago during the cold war nuclear threat. You are right that it is a difficult task for a Christian to justify this war in particular, or any war for that matter.

preacherman said...

Brother Willimon,
Wonderful post and thoughts.
It is so hard to think like Christ when we are surrounded and influenced by this world. It is my prayer that more Christians especially Clergy will start thinking like Christ!

Gallagher said...

Great Thoughts! Thinking like Christians will be tougher for those involved in the 2008 elections in the USA.

Many people will put their political beliefs above their Christian beliefs in their thinking over the next few weeks. There will be much more time spent on politics than Christ for some.

Thanks.

Real Live Preacher said...

Thank you for this. I'm featuring this today at CCblogs.

Ruth said...

"Church resolutions, statements by bishops or Annual Conferences about this war may not be as helpful as prayerful, humble, conversation with fellow Christians. (Perhaps I was the one who said that!)"

Thank you Bishop Willimon. I am an Elder in the N. GA Conference and a fan of your writings.

William H. Willimon said...

I am glad to hear so many see that there is another way forward.

Webmaster said...

So, how do we then encourage and empower our connectional system to work even more within the mindset of conferencing and conversation?

Slingshot said...

Isn't Jesus God?

John 10:30
"I and my Father are one."

Did not God send the Israelites into battle?
Joshua 8: 18-26

"And the Lord said unto Joshua, 'Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai. ...they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire... then they turned again and slew the men of Ai... all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai. For Joshua drew not his hand back... until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants [by God's command, killed all men, women, and children] of Ai.


"...And the man without a sword must sell his coat and buy one."

Would it be Christ-like to allow your enemy to come into your country and kill your children?

Is it Christ-like to allow a dictator to practice ethnic cleansing?

Were you people opposed to Bosnia?

Please explain....I am visiting a Methodist church...I think I will have to go somewhere else after reading this!

Slingshot said...

The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name.

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