Thursday, May 3, 2012

Much Ado About "Nothing"

“For I am convinced neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -- Romans 8:38-39
When all is said and done, I will have added “nothing” to General Conference 2012. That is, the preamble to our Social Principles in the Book of Discipline will now say, “Nothing can separate us form the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” based on Romans 8:39. With tremendous help from my delegation, I made an amendment to an amendment in an attempt to move us from political posturing to a Scriptural statement about the God we worship. 
Here’s what happened: A majority report from Church and Society created a lengthy addition to the preamble of our Social Principles, which express our stand on difficult issues like abortion, the death penalty, and homosexuality. Many of the more liberal delegates supported this report because it specifically stated we are not of one accord on these issues. We voted for the more terse minority report favored by the more conservative delegates. This report said we affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the gospel. In an effort to compromise, an amendment was proposed: We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all and that neither belief nor practice can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
When this amendment was proposed, I mumbled at my table that Romans 8 says “nothing” can separate us from God’s love, not simply beliefs or practice. My fellow delegation members urged me to make an amendment to the amendment. At first I had the wrong color card, so the presiding bishop wouldn’t call on me. Finally, I got the white card and started jumping up and down by my seat to be recognized. When I made the recommendation for “nothing,” we took a vote. It passed by only 56 percent. 
Facebook and Twitter feeds lit up that only 56 percent of conference delegates believe Paul’s words that “nothing” can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. While I’m aware there was tremendous political posturing happening, I’m also troubled by the notion that we can’t even agree on this important verse of Scripture. At the start of our lunch break, I spent 20 minutes conversing with a delegate who believes that sin does, in fact, separate us from the love of God. I stood firmly on the prevenient grace of Jesus that comes before we’re even aware. 
It seems so small to have added “nothing” to the Book of Discipline during my 15 seconds of General Conference fame. One of my seminary friends joked that I’d soon be signing advanced copies of the 2012 Discipline for my fan club. But in all seriousness, that “nothing” may really be something. It may somehow be the gracious word of God’s love we all need to hear. 

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