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Disarming a Weaponized Church: Moving Forward Amid Turmoil in the UMC


Rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

(Proverbs 12:18)

The United Methodist Church feels like a war zone. Tribal factions seem to be battling for resources, property, and people. If we let the headlines tell the tale, Methodists are destroying each other through schism. We do so while largely remaining irrelevant to a post-Christendom world. 

These issues are not unique to Methodism. Sadly, this polarization exists across the many expressions of the body of Christ. While this is an oversimplification, in many cases, a minority of extremists at far ends of the spectrum have weaponized different theological distinctions. Conservatives have weaponized the term “orthodoxy” and accuse progressives of abandoning the historic faith. Progressives have weaponized the term “inclusion” and accuse conservatives of injustice towards the LGBTQ+ community. Both use Scripture, what Walter Brueggemann has referred to as texts of “rigor” and “welcome” to justify their positions. These passages are wielded like swords slicing opponents to pieces. 

Yet, many everyday believers live in the wide middle between these extremes.   

Amid this seemingly endless diatribe, how do we be faithful and fruitful in our task of sharing “good news for all people” (Luke 2:10-11) with people for whom it is not only good but also news?

I believe the way forward is to “beat our swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4) on the anvil of compassion. Here are three principles that can guide us.

1. Recentering Missio Dei in Passio Dei

Has the missional church conversation become a shouting match? Both conservatives and progressives increasingly use the term “missional” to describe their activity. 

Perhaps we can experience a course correction through recentering mission in the compassion of Jesus?

Missio Dei (Latin for “mission of God”) understands mission as an attribute and activity of God, and furthermore that the church is missionary by its very nature.

Passio Dei (Latin for “passion of God”) is grounded primarily in the incarnation, suffering, crucifixion, and death (passion) of Jesus. 

Matthew 9:36 reports that when Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The Greek word for compassion, splanchnizomai: means to be moved as to one’s bowels. Jesus experiences a gut-wrenching love that inspires him to act.

The unbounded mercy of God manifests in Jesus’ ministry of compassion and finds ultimate expression in the cross. God’s nature is the self-emptying (kenotic), other-oriented, and sacrificial love fully displayed in the crucifixion. The passion of Christ expresses God’s inhabitation of human vulnerability and suffering.

The church as the “body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27) in the world is an expression of Christ’s own compassion. An active, practical, inclusive and holy compassion should emanate endlessly from the church.

Overemphasis on orthodoxy (“right belief”) or orthopraxy (“right practice”), while disregarding orthopathy (“right pathos/suffering” i.e., experience of God), causes harm. The passio Dei seeks to normalize the experience of Jesus’ passion in our own missional approach. 

The Passional Church Movement reminds us that the great commandment (love God and neighbor) comes before the great commission (go make disciples). Missional describes what God does, passional describes how God goes about it.