President Trump and the first lady have tested positive for the coronavirus. I pray for their swift recovery. New York is also seeing growing coronavirus clusters, and the flagged hotspots include communities that have flouted COVID-19 regulations due to religious reasons. With the coronavirus crisis still ongoing, there are rising concerns that a post-election constitutional crisis could be coming our way. Should the candidate refuse to accept the result of the election, it will not only provoke political chaos but pose a fundamental threat to the nation’s democratic system.
An orderly and just society rests on the rule of law. The church is no different. While the Scripture is the “true rule and guide for faith and practice,” we United Methodists have the legislative body called the General Conference to set forth official policies, as well as the governing rules and processes called The Discipline. Yet our commitments to peaceful and constitutional decision-making does not mean that reaching an agreement within the community is easy. In February 2019, the General Conference decided to uphold the current Discipline on the definition of marriage and LGBTQ clergy ordination. Persisting disagreements, however, led to the new proposal of amicable separation which was likely to come into effect after the May 2020 General Conference. But as the response to the pandemic took priority, the conference has been postponed to September of next year. A virtual meeting is still a likely possibility. Whether an online General Conference will be able to effectively sustain the envisioned amicable separation – constructively bringing together delegates from the five jurisdictions and seven central conferences throughout the world – is still a matter of question.
Recently the bishop of the New York Annual Conference informed me of the principles for dispute resolution within the local church. The issue relates to certain illegal actions that came to light as of late. Simply put, the church must follow the principles, rules, and decision-making procedures established by the denomination. As an ordained elder, I too must speak and act within those regulatory boundaries. And the bishop underscored that the words and actions that disregard the rule of law and disrespect the process established by the church will be held directly accountable.
The rule of law is for ensuring order and protection of human rights. The church, however, must be able to rise above and beyond the requirements of the law. And this is only possible through the heart of God, the assurance of grace through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the works of the Holy Spirit that change the world by the power of the Gospel.
While reflecting on the long-term effects of the pandemic, I came to reassess certain assumptions that had been pillars in my ministry. To live out the church’s social principles, I placed much importance on history, culture, and humanities in my preaching and overall approach to ministry. While these tools of analysis may promote a better understanding of our social context, they’re simply not enough to overcome the harsh realities of the present world. What the church must seize with greater fervor is its mission to illuminate the times with the Word of God, and lift up its prayers for the works of the Holy Spirit.
The more I ponder over the ways to overcome the coronavirus crisis, the more resounding in my heart are the words of Jesus: “Throwing this kind of spirit out requires prayer” (Mark 9:29, CEB). We find ourselves in a global crisis which reminds us there are limits to human understanding and ability. The challenge that we’re facing, then, belongs to the realm of God; and what moves God is the prayer of the faithful. We must pray for recovery and healing, for strength to overcome the current difficulties – precisely because it’s our responsibility and privilege to pray and bring forth the fulfillment of God’s salvation and promises toward us. In times of great darkness, prayer invokes the light and the power to overcome.
Let us pray without ceasing. Starting October 13, six churches across the country will be joining for a 40-day Early Morning Revival. May our prayers transform the current crisis into stepping stones for spiritual renewal and more abundant life in Jesus.