When I was a student at Asbury College we had four presidents in four years. The campus was torn by animosity and accusations hurled back and forth among students, faculty and administration. It was not pretty, but like everything else at Asbury at the time, it was cloaked with a layer of spirituality. Prayer meetings abounded, underground newspapers sprouted and the divisions remained until by the grace of God, C.R. Hager stepped in as interim president. Through his own personal integrity and warmth, he brought the campus together in a marvelous way.
In the midst of it all, I remember a quotation from Asbury alum E. Stanley Jones which was emblazoned on a brass plaque in Hughes Auditorium:
In my research for a book on E. Stanley Jones, I discovered it was actually a motto for the Christian Ashram he established in India. There is no evidence he ever said it about Asbury College, but someone sometime thought it was a good idea to connect it with Jones’ Alma Mater and there it stands today.
I quoted it in more than one sermon in more than one church as a hope for our life together. Though we weren’t doing a very good job of it at Asbury at the time, and we didn’t always succeed in my congregations, at least we acknowledged it as a vision for our life together. Sometimes we agree to differ, but underneath our differences, our common love and commitment to serve bind us together in a lasting fellowship.
For our nation…
In the midst of our incredible divisions, talk of national unity needs to begin with agreement on some basic shared values–the belief that all persons are created equal, a commitment to liberty and justice for all, respect for the rule of law and that not even Presidents are above it. At the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln’s priority was restoring the unity of the nation and at first he was willing to compromise on slavery in order to achieve it. Ultimately he realized true unity could not include slavery. I’m all for unity, but I am not willing to include white supremacy as a part of it. There should be plenty of room to “agree to differ” on many things but unity requires a common commitment to some shared values which should not be compromised.
For the United Methodist Church…
Unfortunately, the frequent typo is becoming reality. We are becoming the Untied instead of United Methodist Church. I still believe what holds us together should be stronger than what divides us, that we should be able to agree to differ on some things and still resolve to love and unite to serve. Wesley said except for things that “strike at the heart of Christianity” we “think and let think”. Now it appears we are ready to split over things which I don’t believe “strike at the heart” of what it means to be United Methodist. It’s tragic.
The good news is Asbury College made it through those difficult times and the congregations I served modeled a commitment to love and serve even in the midst of our diversity. That’s the character of a true fellowship.
Perhaps our nation and my denomination can find a way to do that too.