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The Great Commandment

In recent blogs I’ve written about the Conference’s apportionment payouts and the implications on Conference finances. More recently, I wrote about the Financial Leadership Forum and the fiscal crisis facing the larger church. Today, I head for Austin for the Judicatory Leaders’ Retreat sponsored by the Texas Conference of Churches (an ecumenical gathering including leaders of various Christian communities across the state – Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.). At that gathering we will work on three areas: 1. The Nuts and Bolts of Living Ecumenically: How to Put Forward a Consistently Ecumenical Message Without Compromising Denominational Integrity;  2. Working Cooperatively as Christian Leaders in Texas; and 3. Changing Demographics of Christianity in Texas.             As I head south, I cannot help but think of the economic struggles facing our state in balancing the budget and more particularly in its impact on education and health care. I am conscious that good Christians can differ on how they think complex problems should be challenged. Just as Conference and United Methodist economics are challenged, we are challenged now as a state and as a nation. The issues are complex and deep, and with the best of intentions on all sides, we can vary greatly on how to address those complex fiscal issues facing us.             As I look at the future before us, I am also conscious of the Great Commandment of Christ: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Facing complex economic issues, I believe Christians need to be focused on how we best love our neighbors. To that end, I as an individual have signed an ecumenical statement urging that monies in the “Rainy Day Fund” for the State of Texas be available for use in the current fiscal crisis. In doing so, I am conscious that next year may be even worse than this year. Hard judgments about how to use the “Rainy Day Fund” money will need to be made. Furthermore, with Christ’s words ringing in my ear to love my neighbor, I remember in particular his teaching that when we help the “hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison” (Matthew 25:44). This admonition of Christ is also reflected economically. To that end, I urge us to prayerfully be engaged in ways that we do not balance the budget by hurting those least able to take care of themselves: children, the poor, and the elderly. In particular, healthcare must not be accomplished with a short-sighted expense of simply letting others suffer. Complex issues demand deep and prayerful wrestling with how best to solve the problems. We must not balance the budget on the backs of the poorest in our midst.