What a week this has been for people watching! Not only did I watch students, I also went to a parade. Even though this is an annual event, since this is an election year, the UCM’s homecoming parade was filled with much more than the typical floats, groups, cars, and bands. We had the addition of what seemed a hundred campaigning for political offices.
I have not been too far away from town this week, because we also had parent-teacher conferences, which kept us at school until 8 p.m. on two days. This provided another opportunity for people watching. The parade of parents did not even cause a back up in our building, so what I saw at the conferences was only a tiny picture into the home community of my students.
Community is a key word today as we look at the social principles. Each time I see a student, I know that there is a new beginning for them. They walk into our building and hopefully find a nurturing world that is willing to take them in just as they are and let them have that new beginning they need. As a Christian, I work hard to see these young people as God sees them. They may be hardened by the life on the streets or absent parenting or poverty or addictions, but my personal goal is that they come in and find unconditional love and someone who can see their value.
The nurturing world is outlined in our social principles yet I was somewhat confused as to why there was a separate category of social community. I thought that the nurturing world and the social community would be the same. But after reading them, reviewing the various issues, and comparing them, I think I understand how the General Conference has structured these two categories.
First, the nurturing world needs to be defined. Remember how the social principles outlined the natural world as “water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space.” Well, the nurturing world is defined as “the community [providing] the potential for nurturing human beings into the fullness of their humanity.”
The nurturing community really looks at the Christian family unit and the issues that confront it in today’s society. For instance, the social principle includes the category of the family and explains that this is the “basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect and fidelity.” The family is even identified more carefully outlining the nuclear family as the traditional male father, female mother, and their birth children. Today’s family unit changes so the principles under the topic “nurturing world,” breaks down the issues even further by including statements on the following:
- single persons,
- women and men,
- human sexuality
- family violence and abuse,
- sexual harassment,
- abortion and those who have had abortions, adoption,
- faithful care for dying persons, and
Each of these issues can upset the traditional family unit, the traditional family cannot be guaranteed to be nurturing. The nurturing world of family is being bombarded with almost everything that breaks down the family. The community is no longer as nurturing as it may have been, but even God knew that we needed some guidelines in order to strengthen the nurturing community. Look at Leviticus 19. When I began reading it, I realized that if only we would follow these rules, the family would be less battered, and the issues the social principles outline for our social community would be largely eliminated.
Let me paraphrase some of the rules:
- do not lie, cheat or steal;
- pay for the labor you hire;
- do not be mean to the deaf or the blind;
- treat everybody fairly;
- do not gossip;
- be honest with how you feel but do not act in revenge or bear a grudge.
These are such basic guidelines that if followed would eliminate the problems which can tear down a relationship with a family member or a neighbor or even a business associate. The social community then would be acting in a manner to help preserve the nurturing world of the families, the neighborhoods, or even the global community because we would be nurturing each individual from God’s point of view.
The United Methodist Church goes into detail concerning the social community but the principles can mostly be summarized by this one line: “We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God.” The social community principles detail the wide range of individuals who are part of the nurturing world. I am also saddened that each of the categories must be identified in order that all Christians are accountable for their attitudes toward all individuals regardless of anything.
Consider that each of these categories is included under the heading of social community:
- Racial and ethnic persons
- Religious minorities
- Young people
- The aging
- Persons with disabilities
- Equal rights regardless of sexual orientation
These issues are ones that political candidates have used repeatedly in the campaigns much like we are hearing right now. I remember when I was in high school, the issues in the news included race, women’s rights, 18-year-olds voting, and a few others. Including these issues in the social principles provides United Methodists with a clear understanding of our responsibilities. Thank goodness they are not laws, because I fear we are guilty of breaking them over and over.
Maybe I can credit my parents, especially my mom, for teaching me to see each person as a unique, special individual in God’s eyes. I have had experiences with so many of these categories of people, and I have worked hard to accept them for who they are and not what I want them to be. During the Civil Rights movement, my community was extremely divided. We could draw a line around the white and the black communities within that town. Our Methodist preacher wanted to join in one of the marches with Dr. Martin Luther King. Now Mom would have gone, too, but she was the farmer’s wife and her contribution was to keep the preacher’s kids while he went. She worked hard to blend the black congregation with the white one in town; and when it would not blend, she would go sing special solos for them.
The social community broadens the nurturing world because we are asked to step away from our own families that we safely love unconditionally. We are asked to see each individual through God’s eyes, to find the qualities rather than the defects in each individual. We are asked to consider how we can best support the principles as approved by the General Conference. We are asked to serve one another in a manner that supports the quality of each person’s life.
John Wesley understood this. At a time in history when the working class could barely exist under horrible working conditions or could not make enough money to adequately support their families, Wesley shared God’s unconditional love with all who would listen. Wesley found ways to serve in as many ways as he could. He saw the community through God’s eyes.
Today we need to ask ourselves just what does God see. Does he see me working to share Christian love or does he see me badmouthing someone because of his or her own choices? Right now I am working through a book with the students, Hear Our Cry, which is published as part of Ruby Paine’s Ahh! organization. Ruby Paine is an educator who wants people to understand just how people in poverty have a culture of their own. This book I am using with the students is trying to make the students realize that living in poverty has established certain behavioral expectations and some of our community’s negative character is due to poverty.
This is a tough lesson to share with the students because they are there. The students are in poverty, in the streets, making poor decisions, and often ending up in jail and/or failing in school. As United Methodists, what are we doing to make sure that young people in poverty are treated fairly? Are we looking at the people around us as God does?
When we read about Jesus healing people, touching the untouchables, or sitting and teaching even the little children, we see God in action. In Matthew 19:19, Jesus is answering the young rich man’s question about how to have eternal life. He said, “ Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
These words are a shortened version of the law we read in Leviticus, but the laws still are basically the same. If we truly follow these rules, especially “love your neighbor as yourself,” the nurturing world and the social community would not have to be so thoroughly lined out in the social principles. The families would be so much stronger. The issues, which contributed to so many unhappy people, would be gone.
Therefore, as United Methodists, we need to be aware of the very issues that are tearing down the nurturing world we depend upon. The families need strengthening. The issues that erode the mental and physical health of our people need to be erased. Our unconditional love needs to mirror that of God’s unconditional love. We are not living in a vacuum; we are living in communities all around this earth. We must take our personal responsibility to uphold the social principles that protect the nurturing world. We need to accept our responsibility when making decisions or helping others with difficult decisions to safeguard the dignity and the welfare of these individuals. We must work together to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I have struggled to understand all these social principles in order to assure that we are protecting the nurturing world, but it is hard. Give me the added love to see each individual, despite the handicap, the poverty, the mental state, the damage as well as the loving, the achiever, the leader and more, as a child of God. I want to love unconditionally and I want to see the value of each one through God’s eyes. –Amen
Please join me in our United Methodist social creed:
We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.
We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.
We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.
We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.
We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.
We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.
We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.