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Commentary: "Crisis talk may be the crisis"

by Bishop Kenneth L. Carder* April 15, 1998


"Crisis talk" is a popular pastime in the church these days. According to some among us, the United Methodist Church is in crisis. Membership decline, conflict over homosexuality, and lack of doctrinal conformity are among the most discussed "crises" in our denomination.

Calls for withholding contributions and requests to sign "Confessing" documents are among the responses to the church's crisis offered by widely publicized pundits.

Crisis talk gets attention. Hence, such talk introduces many articles in religious journals and frequent sermons at denominational gatherings. I have occasionally engaged in it myself. Warnings of existing or imagined crises tend to awaken the apathetic and inflame the faithful. After all, crises are real and ever present.

There are, however, dangers in crisis talk. It can be a means of manipulation and diversion. Much crisis talk is followed by descriptions and prescriptions that do not meet the test of accuracy and faithfulness. It is like Chicken Little shouting, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling." It gets temporary attention and creates unnecessary fear. It diverts efforts away from the real problems and needs.

While membership decline, sexual orientation and practice, and doctrinal correctness are important matters, they are not the crises confronting the world and the church.

Thirty-five thousand children dying every day from malnutrition and hunger, when Jesus warned that harming one child is an invitation to judgment: That is a crisis! Forty million people perishing each year from poverty-related causes, when Jesus said he came to bring good news to the poor: That is a crisis! Millions of people being pushed to the margins of society and denied their full dignity as children of God because of the color of their skin, when God shows no partiality: That is a crisis!

Perhaps crisis talk may be the real crisis confronting the United Methodist Church. It seems to be diverting us away from the bold and hope-filled proclamation of God's reign of justice, compassion, generosity and joy. While we engage in crisis talk within the church, the world keeps filling up with hurting, broken, starving, abused, hated, oppressed and dying people who need to hear and see a church that really believes the Gospel.

Jesus went along the lakeside announcing, "The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:14-15). Now, that is the crisis talk the church and the world need.


*Carder is the bishop of the Nashville Area, which includes the Tennessee and Memphis annual conferences. This commentary appeared first as a column in the weekly newspapers of those two conferences.


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