Monday, May 05, 2008

To See a President

Every four years, a group of people come together for a somewhat strange gathering for the uninitiated: it is called the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. At this gathering, there will be representatives from across the world, who have traveled to pray and worship and debate and learn and eventually to make decisions that will affect all members of this large group, over eight million strong.

The process is slow, laborious, often tedious, frequently frustrating. Because we are international in scope, and because there is high value placed on diversity and openness and careful listening and cultural sensitivity, simple motions on the conference floor may take hours to "perfect" before they can be voted upon. Every delegate (about 1,000) has the privilege of speaking to every motion. Most don't exercise that privilege, thank goodness, but all know it is theirs if needed.

The United Methodist Church has been described as a "wide umbrella" able to offer covering and space for people of radically divergent opinions. As I heard one person say recently, "Senator Hillary Clinton and President George Bush are both United Methodists. If they can both fit under that umbrella, then we have room for just about anybody!"

Underlying all those radically divergent opinions, however, is one common mandate: we are all called to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Every one of us. As United Methodists, we work through this mandate held together by something called "the connection."

"The connection:" it's the glue that holds and preserves us. It's the connection that holds us up when someone begins to fall. It's the connection that leads us to rush to the aid of others when tragedy strikes. It's the connection that gives Christians from a big city in the US a sense of love for Christians from rural Africa, and vice-versa.

As part of that connection, I was privileged to hear Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, a small nation in Africa, speak last week. This powerful woman, born and reared in Liberia, educated in schools established and supported by The United Methodist Church, has stepped in to lead a country left devastated by the previous president, Charles Taylor, now exiled from that country. The challenges she faces boggle the mind—85% unemployment, a economy ruined by the greed and corruption of the former president, mass illiteracy, poverty so intense I personally can't even imagine it.

With courage, conviction, presence and power, President Johnson-Sirleaf and her administration are beginning to make inroads to recovery. As I listened to this woman speak, I became even more aware of the responsibility of every Christian, not just one called to political office, to work to fight injustice and help bring peace to the world. How often we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God has called each of us to connect with one another and to help bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth—a place of justice, righteousness and hope. Let us all have the same courage that President Johnson-Sirleaf evidences as we live as God's men and women in this world.

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