In November, our Board of Ordained Ministry released a statement about the criteria by which they will judge candidate’s fitness for ministry. Our Wisconsin Association of Confessing United Methodists responded, and in their response, they called for me to issue a statement and to take action to replace Board of Ordained Ministry members who are not in “compliance” with our Book of Discipline. After much prayerful discernment, I feel it is much too soon to take such action and that it may be perceived as “taking sides.” Instead I am looking to scripture for guidance. Matthew’s gospel gives us good instruction to first seek reconciliation, before seeking judgment and condemnation. In both chapters five and eighteen of Matthew’s text, Jesus gives instruction that we should first talk TO one another, rather than ABOUT one another.

To be faithful in this way, on January 18, I have invited leadership from the Executive Committees of our Board of Ordained Ministry and the Wisconsin Association of Confessing United Methodists to meet with me. I want to offer a time of deep listening. As a next step, I will offer an opportunity to meet with a professional mediator (at a time and date to be set prior to Annual Conference). The outcome of these gatherings is not necessarily a mutual agreement, but a forum in which not only may I hear from both sides, but that they may hear from each other, and deepen their understanding of the tensions in our community in Christ. I am hoping to open a “grace margin,” where we may relate to one another beyond our diverse issues and positions. My entire focus this year is answering this question: “How am I loving God more?” As people of faith, love of God is our constant goal and challenge, and we show this love in how we treat one another.

How we love God more and more leads to a focus on mercy and justice that breeds unity, and brings reconciliation. My mind goes immediately to the Apostle Paul, who brought Gentiles and Jews together with these words from Ephesians 2:13-16, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”  This is my vision and my hope.

I in no way believe that the earthly disagreements that divide us are stronger than the healing power of Jesus Christ. When I arrived in Wisconsin, our Clergy Covenant Team was working to bring us together for dialogue and reflective conversation. The wonderful and transformative work they began, I pray we will continue together in the time to come. Our entire Cabinet attended training from the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, and we are convinced that faithful Christians can disagree in healthy and respectful ways. We will take our next step as the Wisconsin Conference in our own “way forward,” as we trust our Bishops and the denomination’s leadership of our Task Force on A Way Forward to do their work. We are now, and evermore, one in Christ, one with each other, and one in service to all the world.

I hope and pray that we can be known for our love of God. As it is written in I John 4:18-19, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.”

Grace and Peace,

Hee-Soo Jung, Bishop

Wisconsin Conference