Bigger Than A Math Problem

Dear Friends,
 
Let’s suppose that I bought a horse from a man, and for that horse I had to pay, in cold hard cash, a grand total of six dollars. When I get home with the horse, everyone’s excited. My kids think I’m a hero. My frugal spouse thinks I’m a great bargainer. The horse is definitely a hit with the family. But after a while, problems arise. The horse is too big for the house, even though I’ve told the kids, “no galloping in the living room.” It’s getting expensive to feed this animal, too. Finally my spouse declares, “that horse has got to go.” I take the horse back to the man who originally sold it to me, and he’s gracious enough to buy the horse back for eight dollars. But I miss that old horse. A lot of times at night, after the kids have gone to bed, I can be found staring up at the moon and playing my harmonica, singing cowboy songs. My spouse, bless her heart, can’t stand to see me mope over old Calico, so she finally gives in and says, “Oh all right, go back and buy that horse again.” This time I buy the horse from the same man for ten dollars. You can guess what happened. No sooner did we get the horse back to the house that we began to face all the old problems again. The kids were still horsing around and horse was doing a major number on the carpet. I could see the handwriting on the stall. I was going to have to get rid of old Calico. So, I took the horse back to the same guy and sold him my horse for twelve dollars. I no longer have the horse, but I do have a question. After all my wheeling and dealing on that horse, did I make money or lose money? Not counting feed, or gas back and forth to the farm – did I come out ahead? Did I go in the hole? Or did I break even? And if I did gain or lose – how much did I gain or lose? 
 
Take a moment to come up with an answer to that question. The answer I come up with is that the man made a four dollar profit. (He spent six dollars and ten dollars = sixteen dollars; He received eight dollars and twelve dollars = twenty dollars; subtract sixteen dollars from twenty dollars and you get a four dollar profit.)
 
I’m expecting a variety of different answers to the posed questions because of the nature of the story and the sequence of events within the story. I’m guessing coming up with an answer will be confusing, difficult, and maybe even frustrating for some as you struggle with what seems like an algebraic equation that it calls for. 
 
This word problem was originally printed in a second-grade math book. Knowing that, the answer to this problem should have been easy to arrive at. But was it? If your math skills are like mine, then the answer is definitely no.
 
I share this classic word problem with you this month as a metaphor to the position our denomination finds itself in right now. The United Methodist Church, its Annual Conferences, and individual congregations (including ours) within them, are trying to solve a problem surrounding the matter of whether or not to fully include the LGBTQIA+ community.
 
For some, on paper this problem seems easy and simple to solve. To others, it is anything but simple or easy. It is outright confusing, painful, and frustrating. Especially when everyone seems to come up with a different solution, perspective, or understanding of the problem – and they all think they are right!
 
To summarize again, our denomination has voted recently (February) to continue its ban on full inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community meaning no same-sex marriages or no ordinations of homosexuals. Our Annual Conference recently voted to oppose this denominational ruling (as has 80% of all American Annual Conferences) showing its support of full inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community. This means that our congregation will also move forward within the Conference as a congregation in support of full-inclusion. 
 
As a result, within our congregation, I have observed these three distinctly passionate solutions to the “problem” of whether or not to fully include the LGBTQIA+ community in the life of the Church – and each feels they are right. Interestingly, each of these solutions are also biblically based. The first – “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong. If my denomination says otherwise I cannot remain a part of it and I must leave.” The second – “In the Bible Jesus says we are to love God and love my neighbor. If my denomination cannot love my LGBTQIA+ neighbors unconditionally, I cannot remain a part of it and must leave.” The third – “In the Bible Jesus teaches us not to judge others. This is the denomination I’ve grown up in, raised my family in, and have been a part of for years. It doesn’t matter to me how others choose to live their lives. To each their own. Who am I to judge? I’m not leaving my church!”
 
Of course, this is a bigger matter than a second-grade math problem and obviously demands additional questions. Is there a right answer? Are there multiple solutions? How will we know our answer is the right one? How are we making our decisions about what is right and wrong, good and bad, or true and false? By what means do I come up with my own solution?
 
Each of these responses I’ve observed deserve respect and understanding even in the midst of disagreement. I only hope such responses or decisions are made out of time spent in prayer, reflection and devotion. As you hear of others within our congregation who look at the matter of full inclusion in our denomination differently than you do, I only ask that you listen to them, affirm them, and respect their point of view as you would hope others would do towards you. Remember, all are trying to remain faithful to their understanding of God’s Word, and God’s Word is bigger than all of us or our understandings of it.
 
The stark reality is that our congregation will likely look different than it has in recent years once individual’s and/or family’s decisions are made to stay or move on. However, for all who choose to stay, our mission remains the same – To Grow in Love of God and Neighbor (the Great Commandment, Matthew 22:37-40), To Reach New People (the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20), and To Heal a Broken World (the Great Proclamation, Luke 4:16-21). 
 
My ongoing prayer for us is that we don’t get consumed or distracted by any one matter of life and faith, but rather that we always remain united towards accomplishing the mission – as a whole – that has been set before us.
 
Grace and peace,
 

Pr. Dale