Back in the 1970’s when I was a newly minted Clinical Social Worker, I went to work as a clinician for a private family counseling and child welfare agency. This meant the occasional case of an Adoptive Study for couples who, often due to infertility issues, were applying to adopt a newborn infant. Each of these couples came with some sense of calling and purpose, and most did deserve to receive a child. Taking into account the best practices and actual policies of that era, I did the best I knew at the time to assess the loving capacity of these couples both while in my office and in their home. My vetting process included a review of other professional opinions, which seemed to invariably include a nice letter of recommendation from some priest, minister, or rabbi. Yet, as I had to clarify in every initial session of the study, I was not there to find these nice parents some special baby. I was there to find some special baby the most loving parents. My actual client whom I worked for was the baby, who without any exception deserved to receive healthy, loving parents. Already in that decade, the tide of public social policy in Washington was shifting, and there were more available parents than babies for us to work with. I couldn’t get every loving couple a baby, even if I’d wanted to. But I could, purportedly, get every baby a secure and loving set of parents who would be flexible enough to meet a full range of that child’s needs growing up.
I bring this up because, now that I’m in my own 70’s and looking back on a couple of careers including ordained Christian ministry, I feel a sense of empathy toward a group within my own church denomination of United Methodism. This group is called the Commission On A Way Forward. See http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/commission-on-a-way-forward-about-us if you would like to know more about them. Phrased less eloquently, they have the job of keeping the United Methodist Church United. This group of commissioners is being asked to represent the family of United Methodists. Keep that family together, prevent a divorce, serve the best interests of our family going forward.
Lotsa luck with that one, I cynically say to my retired and relieved self. Having acquired a few of my own battle scars from conflicts past, I could probably offer up a bit of advice if ever asked to do so for this Commission On A Way Forward.
I won’t be asked.
But if I was to toss out an opinion of sorts in any direction these days, it might go something like this. Commissioners: be quick to clarify who your client is. And isn’t. Hint: it isn’t the family of United Methodists. It is the baby Jesus. The church is his body. Not anyone else’s. Belongs to him. So he alone is the client. Just because the United Methodists are paying you and the baby Jesus isn’t, don’t be fooled into taking on the family as your clients.
The Hebrew Bible tells of a time when King Solomon was to decide for the best interests of a particular baby. See I Kings 3 when you get a chance. Two different mothers. Used to be two different babies but now there was only one. Each mother claimed to be the rightful Mom. Solomon’s job? Find a way forward. Not for the sake of the mothers but rather for the best interest of that one living baby moving forward.
Now I have no idea how I’d have handled that case if I were Solomon. But I can pretty much guarantee I’d have not been wise enough to do what he did. As the story goes, he commissioned, of all things, a sword for the purpose of cutting this one living baby in half. Each mother would receive half. Both would then be satisfied.
You remember what happened next, don’t you?
One mother openly consented to Solomon’s plan. The other mother openly protested, preferring to give her baby away to that other mother than to have him killed by Solomon’s sword. At which point Solomon knew who the rightful mother was and with whom he would place the infant. Case solved.
Lots of great theology in that story, of course. Jesus himself would go on to teach his disciples about how the ones who would lose their lives for his sake would be saved, and those who would save them would then be lost. Same principle. And Jesus himself would bring forth the sword (Matthew 10:34) commissioned by the all-wise God whose Kingdom he served.
So maybe it is time for the Commission On A Way Forward in the United Methodist Church to call forth the competing parties in conflict, place the sword atop the baby Jesus come Epiphany Sunday of 2018, and invite that party which has the perfect Scriptural hermeneutic and perfect Spiritual discernment to strike the first blow to cut Jesus in half, to make the first cut of incision, to draw the first blood, to sever his body in two.
If Jesus is truly our client, we will give him the loving support he deserves moving forward. It may be time once again for Solomon’s sword. It won’t be the first time Christ’s blood was shed for our iniquity.