If you have not read the statement made by The Commission on the General Conference or our Council of Bishops President Cynthia Fierro Harvey’s comments, I encourage you to do so. Also worth reading is Bishop Ken Carter’s detailed reaction. I will not restate their faithful and prayerful work. My desire now is to help turn us all to our work as people of God.
My first response is one of deep vulnerability. I have been at a place of lament for quite some time as my spirit tries to navigate and process all that is before us, including this recent announcement around General Conference. We have waited on pins and needles for this decision with passionate feelings about what should have been the answer. We have come up with scenario after scenario. Even while waiting on this announcement, people were working on resolutions for annual conferences and so forth, but I cannot help but wonder if we must now lead from our hearts. Leading with the heart of Christ in this world can be a dangerous and often painful thing because the heart of the law is mercy, peace, love and justice. Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.
I did not have a ready-made response; maybe I should have. I did not prepare responses either way. I wanted to leave my heart open. Open to my own brokenness and our brokenness as a people. Thanks be to God that we are never left in brokenness, but God, through Christ Jesus, guides us through the brokenness as a gracious shepherd if we but allow it.
Now that the announcement is made, I am sure there will be statements and pathways of discernment to be prayed over and sought through. However, in this brief moment I invite each of us to take a spiritual breath and ask, how would a passionate spiritual disciple of Jesus Christ react to news that is not necessarily what you wanted to hear? Whatever the decision, there was no way to satisfy everyone. How we as bishops, clergy, local churches and laity lead from here will be critical.
We have tried this from our own points of view, our own understanding, and our own theological and political viewpoints. I pray we take a step back from our initial responses and “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:1-5)
This is what I intend to do, by emptying my heart of all its preconceived notions and continuing to be the shepherd of all God’s people. The work of God must still be done even while we have mountains to climb, rivers to cross, valleys to endure, healing to be done, and issues of trust in each other (not in God) to be worked through.
We still have people to feed, peace to make, justice to do, and a call to walk humbly with God. We still have people to reach for Jesus. I hope we do not lose sight of this in the midst of our frustration and disappointment.
I am calling on each of us to remember that long before there was debate about scripture, doctrine or The Book of Discipline; long before there were United Methodist Churches or General and Jurisdictional conferences; long before we put the vision on paper, a calling to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” was placed on our heart. Long before any of this, God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son who turns his face to Jerusalem to redeem the world.
In one of her most powerful statements, Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Brothers and sisters of Christ, I call on each of us to remember who we are and whose we are.