Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.*Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Luke 10:38-42

This is such a familiar passage of scripture that we might think we have nothing new to learn from it.  Seemingly, this story preferences the devout attention of Mary to the many tasks of Martha.  For the Martha’s in this world, there is a sense of injustice.  Isn’t service and care as important as devotional attention?  Aren’t we called to be doers of the Word and not hearers only?  Shouldn’t Mary bear part of the load in order to free Martha to sit devoutly at the Lord’s feet?

This is a classic example of meaning and message getting lost in translation.  Latin, Greek, and Coptic translations offer subtle, but significant differences to this passage that I believe are important for us today.  In a basic and fundamental way, this is not an “either/or” story (being like Mary – good; being like Martha – bad), but a “both/and” story (two ways to relate to the Lord).  You see, the problem is not that Martha is doing anything wrong, and that Mary is in the right, but the key relates to another teaching of Jesus; that of Matthew 7:1-3, ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?’  Mary is perfectly happy and at ease with the choice she made.  But Martha is judging that Mary should choose differently.  Martha tries to impose a Martha standard on Mary.  Jesus in effect is saying to Martha, “Mary has chosen what is right for Mary, you Martha have chosen what is right for Martha.  Stop trying to make Mary into a Martha.  Be at peace with your own choice for yourself.”

What a necessary message for our day and for our church!  We are spending so much time trying to impose a “one size fits all” morality and ethics on a widely diverse, richly textured, and radically unique tapestry of people and perspectives.  Let those of us of one mind be at peace with our own mind and let us offer grace and space to those who relate to God and their own faith in uniquely different ways.  This is the heart of our gospel.

This nuance celebrates Marthas as Marthas.  Hospitality is a cornerstone gift of Hebrew and Christian culture.  Those who “live to serve” are beloved children of God.  But when we resent those who do not serve (or who do not serve like we do, or think like we do, or behave like we do) the grace-light goes out of our hearts and spirits and we are left feeling burdened by our faith.

What a gift, joy, and liberation it is to be able to celebrate everyone, no matter how different their approach and perspective might be.  To love all the Marys for being Marys, and loving all the Marthas for being Marthas (and the yous for being you, and the mes for being me) is a grand and glorious revel in the unconditional love of God.

Judging others robs us of the precious time to get to know them as beloved and valued children of God.  Finding fault denies us the opportunity to discover gifts, talents, and blessings.  Resentment undermines the joy that God intends.  Let us seek not to judge or condemn, but instead let us covenant together to seek, and to find, the Christ in each other.

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’

Matthew 8:23-27

In the wake of hurricane Dorian and in the midst of hurricane season, stormy seas provide a vivid image and a metaphor for life.  Throughout our world, throughout our country, throughout our church, and in our individual lives, storms are raging.  Some are physical.  Some are actual natural disasters. Some are emotional, some relational, some institutional, and some spiritual.  In tempest tossed times it is well to remember we worship a Savior “that even the winds and the sea obey him.”

As physical flood waters recede, I am amazed and impressed by the compassion and generosity of people.  Throughout our denomination, people set aside differences and disagreements to rally together in mercy and relief efforts.  And not only in the immediate response time.  I lift up and celebrate the ongoing and faithful work of ministries such as that at the Winding Rivers UMC under Deborah Burkhalter’s fine leadership, partnering with community, conference Volunteers in Mission, and regional relief organizations to help rebuild and restore community life following fall and spring flooding.  Natural disasters have long-term effects, and it is easy to think the need passes as quickly as the event.

As president of the General Board of Global Ministries, and my time in leadership with UMCOR, I am privileged to see our efforts at a global level.  I can hardly express the appreciation and gratitude I feel for United Methodists all around the world.  Where needs are great, The United Methodist Church responds – in every place, at every time, facing every challenge.  Be proud of the mission and disaster response of our church.

In our own Wisconsin Conference, we owe a large debt of gratitude to Bud Budzinski and Lynnette Jordan for their exceptional leadership in disaster response.  To our VIM and IVIM (Volunteers/International Volunteers in Mission) we owe our thanks.  In every church and every district, we have relief efforts and response teams offering faithful Christian service in the face of disaster.  This is our church at its very best!

Some may say that we would respond regardless of whether we were Christians or not.  On an individual basis, that might be true from time to time, but it is a source of pride and commitment in Wisconsin to serve those in greatest need.  I am inspired by the level of dedication to being Christ’s hands and feet, heart and voice to our communities.

There are two significant ways that we all can support the ongoing efforts of our United Methodist Church as it continues to engage in mercy and restoration work.  First, pray.  Do not discount the power and effectiveness of prayer.  Pray for victims and responders.  Pray for communities and governments.  Pray for relief efforts and resources.  Pray for healing and restoration.  And, please, don’t stop praying.  Many people need prayers six months after a disaster as much as, if not more than, they needed it immediately following tragedy.

Second, support UMCOR, our Advances and Advance specials, and our Special Sundays – particularly World Communion Sunday (which supports the education, training, and support of the leaders we will need to continue to be faithful into the future).  Our mission giving is a key element to our discipleship that transforms the world. 

We are a generous people in Wisconsin.  It is sometimes so easy to be distracted by the thunder and lightning crashing all around us, causing us to forget – Jesus is in the boat with us.  And as long as this is true, we truly have nothing to fear.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung 

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.

Psalm 104:16

I have been reflecting on the imagery from scripture concerning trees, especially the “cedars of Lebanon,” mentioned so often in scripture.  The mighty cedars were planted by God.  They represent the sound, the solid, the enduring –in essence the very will of God.  Repeatedly, the historians and prophets point to the destruction of the cedars of Lebanon as the sign of disobedience, disrespect, and disregard for God’s creation and covenant.

I find the metaphor of trees in a forest compelling, especially the redwood tree.  Redwoods grow to amazing heights, though they do not lay down deep roots.  Instead, the root system stretches wide, and the roots intertwine and fuse together with other redwoods.  One 350-foot redwood has roots stretching 100 feet from the trunk, creating an interconnected network of roots that gives strength and stability to the entire forest.  This interdependence is an excellent image of what our strong United Methodist Church system should be.  As each tree grows, it strengthens the system; what affects one part of the system, affects the whole.  Very similar to the Paul’s image of the Body of Christ in I Corinthians 12 – where one member suffers, all suffer; where one is honored, all benefit.

Equally important is the integrity of the system, rather than the value of the parts.  It is impossible to uproot one tree without devastating other parts of the system.  The interconnection goes so deep and stretches so wide that to do damage to one part causes massive destruction to the whole body.  When I hear people talking about “amicable separation,” and “gracious exit” from The United Methodist Church, the imagery of the redwood root system always comes to mind.

I do not believe there is a path to separation that will not cause irreparable harm, both to the members and to the system.  Those individual parts who want what they want, no matter the cost cannot achieve their ends without doing deep harm to the system.  If indeed our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we can do this so much more effectively with the system intact rather than in tatters.

I understand the depth of passion, commitment, emotion, and even the wide range of interpretations of scripture and theological perspective.  We are not of one heart, mind, or spirit on many things.  Yet we are call connected.  We share a common baptism.  We share a common covenant.  We are, all of us, recipients of God’s grace, forgiveness, and love.  We are reconciled beyond our own individual weaknesses into the body of Christ; not by our own doing, but by God’s.  Our roots are intertwined.  Our roots are fused.  We can no more go our separate ways with no harm or damage than we can uproot a single redwood.  “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,” is a beloved refrain from “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” and this is more that fanciful poetry.  We are all fed, nurtured, cultivated, and cared for by God.  We are the product of God’s will, God’s vision, and God’s purpose.  We are the cedars of Lebanon that God planted, and it would be nothing less than sin to see our mighty forest torn apart, burned, and destroyed.

My constant prayer is a prayer for unity.  My ongoing desire is that we embrace fully the General Rules; doing no harm, committing ourselves to doing all the good possible, and attending cooperatively and compassionately with the many uniting and unifying ordinances/practices of God that open us constantly to the means of grace.  There are things that bend us, but I pray they might not break us.  There are things that threaten us, but I pray they don’t destroy us.  And there are things that cause disagreement, but I pray they do not ultimately separate us from each other and from the will of God.

Let us pray faithfully and fervently together: God, thy will be done, in us and through us.  Amen.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung 

It is my joy to invite Dan Schwerin, facilitator of our Task Force on the Wisconsin Option for the future, to share his thoughts and reflections in this week’s Soul Food.

Bishop Jung,

Thank you for your thinking in the last Soul Food message and your commitment to a ‘do no harm’ unity that engenders radical inclusion. I wonder if I can offer a response that is not meant to be a last or better word, only a word from a fellow hand in the field.

Some of us experience unity as being partnered in an abusive relationship with the Church. This partner abuses power and seeks silent assent. This partner lacks insight into its own behavior. The vessel of covenant becomes an instrument of abuse. That said our entire human condition is in a state of mutual incomprehension that requires covenant community for discernment. More than that, the corruption we share—whether it be human nature, or self-interest, or the inherent limits of having eyes on one side of our heads--means we must welcome God's wholeness for us to taste a healing wholeness. Your article reminds me we need a God whose nature is One, especially now.

With each passing day each of us moves toward surrender into the Wholeness of a Shalom that already is, the Wholeness that is our death and resurrection. At any moment an accident or angina could reveal the whole that is always present but easily forgotten. The healing nature of Wholeness is lost among us when unity is a bully stick. Unity is part of the sacred flow of righteousness that is the good of our life together.  We enjoin the good and enlarge it, and reveal the kin-dom of God when we can dismantle structures of racism and sexism and abuse that we might make the stream of wholeness larger and undivided.

Whatever measure of unity that remains after 2020, a harvest is ready now in Wisconsin. We cannot have some siblings live in fear of trials or reprisal. I feel urgency to make progress with the Wisconsin Way Forward and to choose a preferred future rather than have a lesser one dumped in our laps.

For those who may not have heard about the Bishop’s Task Force and the Wisconsin Way Forward, a new task force has been assembled with an inclusive composition in order to:

  • Increase among us just resolution practices rather than resort to trials.
  • Work with GCORR (the General Commission on Religion and Race) and the Connectional Table to dismantle racism/exclusion in our systems.
  • Deepen conversation about human sexuality and action a do no harm culture than can reach each of our people.
  • Engender a radical inclusion lived in our structures and the moral documents of our budgets.
  • Free our systems of Egypt that we can be led by love and serve those God is giving us to love.

This will take time and prayer—and call forth a healing unity—which is frightening to us now.

I have heard disappointment that persons who identify as LGBTQIA will be marginalized if we work on racism, and I have heard that if we work on LGBTQIA issues, our Persons of Color will be marginalized. I believe in our efforts to get Egypt out of our bones, we are most free when we are led by love, not fear. Bishop, I pray that we discover unity alive among us by means of love that dismantles the unjust systems before us.  

As you know, I have tried often to withdraw from service in our life together. I tire of the attacks of Christians. I think you, too, must tire of the attacks. That said, I am tired, too, of seeing others hurt—and the hurt we share. Too much is at stake. Your letter reminded me we cannot withdraw from the body that gives us life. The unity we enjoy in the life of God is a gift and our healing. Thank you for your leadership in making disciples loving enough to transform the world.

Yours in Christ.

 Rev. Dan Schwerin

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6

The word that leaps out of this passage of scripture is “one.”  Bear with one another. One body. One Spirit.  One hope.  One Lord.  One faith.  One baptism.  One God.  I shake my head when I hear people question and challenge the concept of unity in our scriptures – “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  My blessed siblings in Christ, this is why we are here.  This is why we exist.  We are the one body of Jesus Christ, incarnate and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to participate in God’s holy work of the transformation of the world.  We do this together.  In the spirit and teaching of John Wesley -- Solitary religion is not to be found there. “Holy Solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than Holy Adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection. (Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739)– where he explains that we cannot be truly Christian in isolation from a faith community, we need each other.  The trend toward personal and individual holiness so prevalent and popular in recent times is completely foreign to the understanding of ancient Hebrew culture, early Christian culture, and our Wesleyan heritage.  We are Christian together.

In recent months, unity in the church has become not only a topic for discussion, not only the battleground for debate, but the focal point of a real effort to divide the church.  Again, John Wesley offers clear and precise opinion on the matter: “Itis evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christians with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren.” (On Schism, 1786)  There is no goodness or grace in separation, only an admission that we lack the love that can unite us together.

United Methodism proudly offers an open communion table.  We do not deny the grace and acceptance of God to anyone who wishes to partake of this holy meal.  And in our standard liturgy, we proclaim and request together that “through the power of your (God’s) Holy Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”  This is who we are.

But I am concerned about how different our actions are from our words and our core values and beliefs.  Do our racial and ethnic minority people feel they are one with us?  Do many women feel they are truly one, with equal voice and power and respect as many of their male counterparts?  Do our gay and lesbian siblings feel they are one with us?  And even because of our theological and political differences, I question how many of our same culture, same background, same gender baptized children of God feel they are one with each other?  In a Christian fellowship where God works constantly to forgive, redeem, unite, and reconcile people, we choose instead to focus on our differences.  In a denomination defined by prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace, many choose instead to focus on sins, and faults, and failings.

My distress over these realities led me to create a Bishop’s Task Force on a Wisconsin way forward – leadership dedicated to discerning a Wisconsin Option as alternative to schism and split.  We cannot solve all the challenges and problems facing our church today, but we can work together to create a space for prayer, discernment, humility, and hope – a grace margin – that allows us to slow down, not be overly reactive, and to engage with one another in mutual respect and regard, to hold each other accountable to the highest standards of civility and dignity, and to put our Christian faith and values into action.  We want to be a people who do not attack, do not insult or assault, and who “do no harm” in the ways they treat one another.  We are making a commitment to “do all the good we can,” embracing a Golden Rule code of conduct, and seeking to think the best of one another instead of the worst.

Make no mistake, the Task Force is not doing this for the conference.  They will be leading the conference – all of us together; clergy and laity, younger and older, of every status of education, economics, ethnicity and heritage – to make a fundamental paradigm shift.  The Wisconsin Option is a choice of unconditional love and forgiveness.  We will live faithfully into the Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace for all who confess Jesus as Christ and Lord.  We will hold our disagreements as a sacred trust – to love those with whom we disagree and formerly judged as beloved children of God.

Let us pray for God’s presence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we truly, deeply, and honestly seek healing, wholeness, and oneness as the body of Christ.  Let us spend time in contemplative reading of our scriptures and the teachings of John Wesley.  Let us enter into true and faithful Christian conference and conversation – both with those with whom we agree as well as those with whom we don’t.  By God’s grace, God’s will is done in us, and together we can witness to God’s miraculous work of grace.  Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peacce, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”

Genesis 6:11

As I come home from a wonderful trip to Korea, Bangkok and China, my heart breaks for the victims of gun violence, most recently in El Paso and Dayton, but for those across the country almost daily.  According to USA Today, there have been 250 mass shootings in the first 215 days of 2019.  People are picking up assault weapons to randomly shoot and kill innocent victims.  This is tragic, this is terrible, and this is wrong.  We must acknowledge that many in our society are succumbing to “a corruption” and they are “filled with violence.”

But it is important not to demonize the shooters.  In many cases, these people are suffering a breakdown of sorts.  They are examples of an illness of spirit and mind that is prevalent in our culture.  Beyond the gun violence, hate crimes and violent demonstrations that are becoming the acceptable norm in our United States, there is an undercurrent of anger, fear, rage and resentment.  It is difficult to feel good about a country where so many citizens see violence as their only choice, and where so many live in fear of others.

In a Wisconsin University study, 61% of Madison citizens surveyed feel safer having a gun.  However, in the same poll, 87% feel less secure knowing that others have guns.  I anticipate that this call to pray for healing for the victims, families, friends (as well as shooters and their families and friends) will cause some to be very angry that I oppose gun violence – each time I write a call for prayer concerning mass shootings I receive messages from upset people defending guns – but this isn’t about “guns” in general.  I am not saying people shouldn’t be allowed hunting rifles or even handguns for home self-defense, if that is what people desire.  However, our American culture has gone weapons crazy.  In a New York Times article, it is reported that over 40% of all guns currently in America have been obtained illegally, are automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons, and they are only used for attack.  These are the weapons that I oppose.  Including such things as rocket launchers, grenades, bayonets, machetes, knives, and other weaponry in addition to guns, Americans spend $13 billion each year (NBC News).  Placing this in perspective, in our United States all Christian mission giving combined is about $5.2 billion a year.

But much of this is beside the point.  Guns and the way they are abused in our culture is a huge issue that will not be resolved easily.  Underlying the fact of gun violence is an abject despair and hopelessness, combined often with anger and a sense of helplessness and injustice, that leads people to lash out in hurtful and hateful ways.  In most cases these people aren’t “monsters,” but are merely seriously ill or desperate people who lack relationships that help them cope in non-destructive ways.

Violence, in all its forms, is evidence of the brokenness of our humanity and indicates the deepest meaning of sin – separation from God.  We are failing to live fully into God’s will and God’s vision for all people – unconditional love and acceptance that makes sure there is a place for everyone, and that no one “fall through the cracks” into a dark place of depression and despair.

So, what can we do?  There are many small ways that we can act and do what is within our power to work for a solution.  First, and always, pray.  Pray for victims and their families.  Pray for the communities impacted by acts of hate and violence.  Pray for those who act with violence and destruction and their families.  Pray for people living in fear of violence, and for those who consider violence as an acceptable course of action.  Begin to write to our governmental representatives and to the NRA to ban the sale and ownership of weapons of war.  It is one thing to own a hunting rifle or a handgun.  It is something quite different to have an AK-15 or AK-47, or an AT4 rocket launcher.  When we make ownership of weapons of mass destruction normative in our culture, we cannot be surprised when such weaponry is used. 

Our Christian witness should always be one of peace.  In the face of violence, in the face of division, in the face of aggression, and even in the face of war, Christians call for God’s vision from Isaiah 2:4 –

“He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war anymore.”

So, my beloved siblings in Christ, pray for peace.  Pray for healing.  Pray for reconciliation.  Pray for true community and inclusiveness, so that no child of God will lose hope, will despair, and will pick up a weapon to cause harm to another beloved child.  Pray for an end to violence and to every contributing factor.  Blessed are the peace-makers; thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Read the World Council of Churches Statement, Latest gun violence in US poses challenges for churches

“But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:8, 12-17

There is a Coptic phrase that translates pretty closely, “What you tolerate, you embrace.”  This is used in both positive and negative ways.  In the positive case, it means that when we are tolerant of differences, of changes, of new ideas, of other cultures, we will come to accept and even embrace them.  When we are patient and non-judgmental, everyone benefits.

However, there is a negative side which is offered as a caution.  When we are tolerant of hateful, arrogant, hurtful things – like racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia – we can come to embrace these ideas and actions as acceptable and normal.  As Christians, we must be ever mindful and watchful for these behaviors and stand up against them.  Racist, sexist, exclusionary and hostile behaviors are not acceptable.  And this charge to oppose such behaviors crosses all lines of theology, politics, culture, and creed.  Bad behavior is bad behavior, and when we witness it, we should name it for what it is.

I have great respect and regard for the position of the president of the United States, regardless of the party he (or perhaps, one day, she) represents.  I have been shocked and dismayed by racist and sexist comments made by our current president.  It does not matter what party is in power, no one has the right to tell United States citizens, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”  Let me be clear, the president of the United States has the right to disagree with, and even criticize, those who make comments about how the country is being run.  But to attack, to demean, to disrespect, and to deny their citizenship is unacceptable.  It sets a standard that cannot be tolerated – for to tolerate it is to embrace it.

We can do better.  We must do better.  We must be better.  And we need to call our leaders – of every party and political perspective – to exemplify the kind of behavior that befit a civilized and healthy society.  While there is a separation of church and state, there are still some basic tenets of common decency and respect that people of any faith, or no faith, can share. 

Most of us are taught from childhood to be kind, to share, to refrain from hitting, to not call people names, to be respectful of the feelings of others.  We have a basic grasp of what to do and what not to do.  Being kind, considerate, patient, loving, helpful, and tolerant are all signs of maturity.  Few people rank bullying, being abusive, being disrespectful, insulting, or intentionally hurtful as mature behaviors.  We all know better.  And as a people who follow a savior who instructs us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) we cannot be tolerant of such things as racism and sexism, regardless of the source.

I invite us to pray for our president and our politicians.  Our government leaders are not in a good place when it comes to treating one another with respect.  Our culture has become tolerant of many of the behaviors Jesus and Paul warned against.  There is much angry, malicious, abusive, and slanderous language used by our political leaders.  And as our leaders lead, so do we often follow their example.  But let us offer a different way, a better way.  Let us turn aside wrath and malice and slander and abuse.  Let us call for a new rhetoric and a new language – a language of grace and peace and hope and compassion and love.  Take time to let your representatives – at all levels – know you are watching and listening.  Let them know when they do well but hold them to account when they abuse their position and engage in hateful, hurtful, and damaging talk and behavior.  In time, as we become more tolerant of each other, perhaps we will embrace a gospel vision of kindness and love for all.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

“Thus, says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”

 Zechariah 7:9-10 NRSV

I want to invite us all to do something very difficult.  I want us to think about the current immigration issues from a spiritual and theological perspective rather than from a political perspective.  The media and our governmental leaders exert great influence in shaping our thinking and feelings about immigrants, both documented and undocumented.  The focus is often on concerns about strangers and fears about criminals and threats to security.  Sometimes these are valid concerns, but more often than not, they are exceptions rather than what is normal.

But set aside the political debate and the media hype.  Let us reflect on our Christian faith as people of God.  Here we find a completely different approach to immigration.  First, we must acknowledge the most famous and important immigrant of all, Jesus the Christ.  Closely following, Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Miriam, Deborah – many prominent figures from our Hebrew ancestors fit our definitions of immigrant, in many cases undocumented.

Second, we have Jesus’ teachings.  Who is our neighbor?  Who are we responsible for?  Where does our responsibility end?  For widows, orphans, the alien, the stranger, the poor – we are instructed (through the words of the prophet Micah in 6:8) “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah is speaking very clearly to an immigrant people.

Third, Paul echoes the teaching of Jesus in many places, none more powerful than his message to the church in Ephesus, that through Christ Jesus God is making one new humanity – destroying all the dividing walls and uniting all people.  (Ephesians 2:15-16)  Jesus and Paul preach diligently that the divisions of “us” and “them” are erased by faith, and that for Christians we are called to care for the least of these among us: “Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)

Fourth, our United Methodist tradition, and the shared values of our antecedent denominations, clearly favor care for the stranger, the alien, the dispossessed, and the immigrant.  The commitment to social justice, global missions, and relational evangelism make welcoming the stranger a cornerstone of our covenant community.  John Wesley sought to help Methodist leaders envision our world at the kingdom/kin-dom of God.  The realm of God and the risen Christ welcomes all who believe, regardless of class, race, culture, ethnicity, economic caste, education, or theological nuance.  In Christ, we are made one.  Through faith we are the incarnation of Christ, and we exist to offer Christ to everyone we meet.

Last, I would encourage all of us not to demonize immigrants.  The vast majority are not villains or enemies.  And even should we choose to view them as enemies, Jesus has very clear instructions for us: ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)  So, I encourage all of us to be perfected in God’s holy love, by praying for our immigrant brothers and sisters and children as we do for our family at home.

This wonderful country of the United States is a nation of immigrants.  Our diversity is our strength.  Should we hold people accountable?  Yes.  Should we encourage all to be lawful observers of our customs and codes.  Yes.  But, should we be making it possible for all to receive adequate food, lodging, safety, opportunity, shelter, and protection?  According to the prophets of old – from Zechariah and Micah and Jeremiah to Jesus and Paul – there is no room for debate. God is working through us by the Holy Spirit to make “one new humanity.” So, let us all remember, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained. Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

Philippians 3:12-17

Our Annual Conference time this year was time together in the wilderness.  The wilderness theme was reinforced as we faced temptations, challenges, threats, adversity, and we confronted some hard and dangerous truths.  In our wilderness experience, we discovered many areas for change and improvement.  We met real and honest feelings about racism, homophobia, white privilege, and distrust.  Our Bible study leader, Peter Miano, warned us of ways we misuse and abuse scripture for harmful and destructive purposes – and invited us to respect our Bible more, using it as a tool for building a relevant and inclusive church.

It would be easy to see all of these monumental issues as overwhelming and discouraging, but the Apostle Paul offers us needed inspiration – we are not going to be defined by our past and present deficiencies, but in every way possible we are “moving onto perfection” as we address these things head on.  We elected a delegation of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference members who will represent our Wisconsin Conference and the clear mandate to be inclusive, repentant of any and all discriminatory practices that are doing harm to our racial/ethnic and LGBTQIA+ members.  We are not a Conference anchored to an irrelevant past, but a Conference committed to becoming pertinent and faithful in a constantly changing world.

Our Task Force on the Wisconsin Way Forward will continue to fine tune and improve our Wisconsin Option – an option of renewed healthy connectionalism that rejects schism and calls us to stay joined as one body in Christ.  It is my commitment, and the commitment of our cabinet and staff, to work hard to rebuild trust, to heal relationships between congregations and conference ministries, and to build lasting bridges while tearing down dividing walls.  Conference leadership will not “do this for” the Conference, but in large and small ways we will do this together.

We will continue to work on living the General Rules – doing no harm, doing good, and attending to the guiding Spirit of God.  We will not tolerate bullying, hurtful speech, mean-spirited gossip, and injurious attacks.  We will strive to speak the truth to each other, but to speak the truth in love.

I cannot help but be excited about our future.  Yes, healing must happen, but we have such great opportunity to become the church God needs us to be.  We are partnering with our Minnesota Annual Conference neighbors to cross borders and create new models of effective and transformative ministry. We have the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (MCCI)and the Impact program to strengthen our existing ministries.  We have the Institute for Congregational Development (ICD) and the Spanish language equivalent (IDC) for church planters and new ministry launches.  We have vital health and welfare ministries, camping ministries, campus ministries, and missionally focused projects within and beyond the Wisconsin Conference, including some amazing disaster response efforts.

It would be so easy to get stuck in all the things we are NOT.  But Wisconsin Conference is not failing.  We are not losing ground.  We are not going to let the divisions and hurts destroy us.  For we are a people of great faith, redeemed by God’s amazing grace.  Together, we are going to dream God-sized dreams for our future.  In many ways we may not see eye to eye; we may deeply and seriously disagree.  But in the most essential ways, we seek together “the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” We proved at this Annual Conference that we can struggle together to seek and do God’s will.  I believe we are turning a corner and heading toward better days.  We reclaim our mission and purpose to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!  Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.”’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning, you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”’

Exodus 16:9-12

My blessed brothers, sisters, and siblings in Christ Jesus, I give you my thanks and appreciation.  I am honored and proud to be the bishop of this great Wisconsin Conference.  Together this past weekend we spent time wandering in our wilderness of confusion, disagreement, discernment, and desire to be a faithful church.  It was not an easy time.  There were ups and downs, times to celebrate and times to repent.  We struggled in our work to be civil and respectful, and I was reminded to say clearly what behaviors would be acceptable – respectful disagreement and civil confrontation – and the unacceptable – bullying, disrespecting, and injuring.  But we came through it all together, and we saw the glory of the Lord in the cloud.  Everything may not be clear, but we see God in our midst!

I am still processing all that happened, but I rejoice again in our worship celebrations, the excellent and challenging Bible study provided by our brother, Peter Miano, the energy and faithful spirit of our young people, and the obvious, widespread desire to do justly and rightly to all people.

Our Annual Conference indicated in clear terms its dissatisfaction with the actions of General Conference to pass the Traditional Plan.  Together we strategized ways to be faithful with our apportionment giving, to witness to our desire for full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ peoples, to bring the language of our Book of Discipline in line with our lived reality, and to move forward into a more loving and grace-filled church.  It is clear that we have a long way to go, that we must make amends and apologize for hurtful actions, but that there is deep commitment to work together for a better, more loving church.

This is true not only of the LGBTQIA+ people who question whether The United Methodist Church really cares about and for them but is equally true for many of our racial and ethnic people who deal daily with destructive acts and attitudes of racism.  In some of our Christian communities, hurtful and hateful words and actions communicate to both clergy and laity leadership that they are not welcome, not respected, and not supported.  This is not true everywhere and of a majority of people, but racism in any form, in any place, and at any time is not an acceptable expression of Christians.  Part of our wilderness is particular and institutional racism, and it is a priority for Wisconsin Conference to work to eliminate racism in all its forms.

We elected a slate of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegates that reflect our desire to change and move forward.  We elected a diverse and future-focused delegation of thoughtful, faithful, and dynamic clergy and laity.  Pray for your delegation as they prepare for General Conference 2020.  We have an amazing bunch of people to represent us.

We are committed to work on a Wisconsin option – a Wisconsin way forward to be a faithful and loving church, with great vision for mercy and justice ministries, for reaching new people in new places, and to strengthen our existing ministries, we reaffirmed our desire to be good stewards of all we possess.  Our Launch Out! campaign is still very much a priority, but we voted to “pause,” to give time for local churches to address their response to our general church decisions.

We affirmed our desire to stay in Sun Prairie and to own our Conference Center.  In the midst of massive and disruptive change, we still hold our Conference Center.  By God’s grace, we will find new and better ways to address our administrative needs.  We still face severe budgetary challenges.  We still have less than we need to fully fund all our key ministries.  We are in different places in our desire to financially support the denomination and connection.  But we are in all these things together, and are working together on a Wisconsin way forward.

We are in a time of turbulence and change.  This is wilderness at its wildest.  Tempest and storm, intense heat, high winds – together we acknowledged that we cannot get through without God’s help and guidance.  But God makes us strong.  God keeps us strong.  What looks so overwhelming at the moment will seem less intimidating as time goes by.  We have dynamic young leaders.  We have powerful cross-cultural leaders.  We have clergy and laity leaders committed to the faithful ministry and witness of the Wisconsin Conference.  Is everyone happy with where we are?  No.  Many are unhappy.  But we are still faithful.  This is a measure of faith – following Jesus, serving God, loving neighbor whether we are happy or not.

Wilderness time is not fun time, but it is rich time.  Wilderness time is not comfortable time, but it is valuable time.  Wilderness time is not stable time, but it is essential time.  Our deepest desire is not just to survive the wilderness, but to thrive. We come through wilderness stronger, wiser, better prepared and more confident.  I am encouraged by our time together.  As a Conference, we have spoken.  As a Conference, we have witnessed to inclusiveness, justice, and a place for all at God’s table.  Do we still disagree?  Yes.  Is there still pain? Yes.  But do we believe – truly know – that God is with us?  Undeniably YES.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Grace and Peace, 

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!

Matthew 18:1-7

There is an ancient Jewish proverb that advises, “When faced with two options, choose the third.”  There is profound wisdom in this challenge to simplistic, either/or thinking.  We are products of a binary culture, where we often limit ourselves to this or that, right or wrong, inclusive or exclusive thinking.  Our entire denomination is currently engaged in multiple levels of either/or thinking – traditional or progressive, unity or schism, stay or go debates across the global church.  The Jewish proverb invites us to ask, are there other options to consider?

Conservative and traditionalist United Methodists are exploring an option for separating from the established denomination, while liberal-progressive United Methodists are discussing their own faith communion.  In many cases, these two groups are tired of talking to, at, and about each other.  They seek a solution that will allow them to be in ministry with those who are like-minded, theologically aligned, and who share a similar belief system.  But there is still a place for rich theological diversity, sound Biblical interpretation, and a broad perspective on what it means to live a faithful life.  This is heart and soul of the movement John and Charles Wesley launched and that we know as United Methodism today.  Beyond the traditional option, beyond the progressive option, I believe there is a Wisconsin option.

Wisconsinites are known for individualism, freedom of opinion, and a strong attitude that no one can tell them what to think or do.  There is also a stream of cultural belief that aligns well with John Wesley’s General Rules – no do harm, do good, and attend to the ordinances of God (or at least the Green Bay Packers).  I would like to envision a Wisconsin Option grounded in Wesley’s Rules.

Doing no harm is not truly an option or a choice for Christians.  Doing harm to any child of God is fraught with danger.  What could happen if we were all to covenant to do no harm?  What if judgement, condemnation, insult, injury, and attack were taken off the table?  I can assure you that our Wisconsin cabinet strives to live by this rule.  We try to match good leadership with congregational need.  We commit never to act punitively to any pastor based on their theological position or beliefs.  We seek in every way to hold leaders accountable to the highest standards of quality leadership, but we see this as a way to improve, not punish.  We do not support church trials, but seek just resolution instead.  We are committed to living in the “grace margin,” a space defined by forgiveness, inclusion, and respect – for God, for the scriptures, for creation, and for all God’s gifted people.

Creating a grace margin where everyone can be together even when they disagree and dispute each other’s opinions and beliefs is our vision.  We view every person as a good person, justified by God’s grace and gifted to lead in God’s church.  As I think about our Wisconsin Conference, I am struck by our camp and retreat ministries.  Nick Coenen and Collin Grooms and our camp staffs don’t discriminate based on age, gender, race, sexual orientation, beliefs, or cultural values.  All are welcome at camp, and everyone receives the same warm reception and service.  Our camps are realized grace margins – space where everyone belongs, where no one is turned away.  Many of our mission ministries model the same inclusion.  We serve those in need.  We set aside differences to unite in Christian service.  We form community that is richly diverse in order to bring the love and grace of Christ to those in need.  This is the Wisconsin option – to adopt a mutual acceptance of the good God calls us to despite our differences.

The Wisconsin option cannot happen by accident.  We must work together to design a sustainable future for United Methodism in Wisconsin.  Some will want to leave, regardless of the harm it will do.  But most will want to stay, work together, and rally around the potential of being a bright and shining light in the darkness.  The Wisconsin option is to proclaim to the world that there is a place at the table for everyone, and together we are stronger than we will ever be split apart.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Luke 10:38-42

At the heart of the Mary and Martha story is an object lesson in passing judgement and expecting everyone to think and act the same way.  Mary focuses on Jesus, while Martha is fixated on Mary and the fact that Mary isn’t helping her.  A wonderful parable for our day.  The more we focus on ourselves, and the more we focus on “those people” who don’t think, believe, and act as we do, the less time we have to focus on God, Jesus, and the mission to which we are called.

I keep thinking about a Wisconsin Option, one that does not divide, but unites; one that does not destroy, but builds; and, one that does not judge, but celebrates.  Like Mary, I want Wisconsin to choose “the better part,” to enter the grace margin extended by Jesus Christ that allows the entire family of God to work, and live, and minister together.  In God’s grand a glorious family we experience the full diversity of God’s creation, and with God we see the goodness. 

In John Wesley’s General Rules, the first stage is to do no harm.  The Wisconsin Option builds on this foundation.  We stop engaging in conversations and actions that intentionally and unintentionally do harm to others.  We drop the defensiveness, we let go of the judgement, and we recall Wesley’s own words of instruction to do no harm by “fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother (sic), returning evil for evil, or railing for railing, uncharitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.”

But the Wisconsin Option builds on this foundation by incorporating the second rule, to do all the good we can of every possible sort.  This means that we do everything we can for the glory of God.  This means we honor and accept all God’s children; exclusion is a human trait, not God’s will.  I am often asked why I envision a church that fully includes and honors the gifts of the LGBTQIA+ people, and my reply is simple: as a leader in God’s church, I can see no other future. 

Wisconsin Conference has always led in significant ways.  When Japanese sentiment in the United States was still negative, Wisconsin Conference supported Perry Saito.  Perry helped found the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  We celebrate his spirit and commitment.  It is part of the Wisconsin Option.  Wisconsin received the very first woman bishop, at a time when many conferences we opposed to her episcopacy.  Wisconsin opened itself to her wonderful leadership.  This spirit of inclusiveness and openness is part of the Wisconsin Option.  University UMC went against Methodist doctrine and polity in 1984 when it became the first reconciling congregation in the state.  Many have followed their example.  This was transformative for University UMC, for the conference, and especially for me.  I was overwhelmed by the vision of a church for all people.  I understood the concept of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors” in a real and tangible way sixteen years before it became our denominational motto.

Wisconsin has worked hard and faithfully to do all the good it can for all the people it can.  I want this to continue to be true.  Conservatives do good.  Liberals do good.  Progressives do good.  Traditionalists do good.  Centrists do good.  All the labels, all the categories, all the diverse theologies and biblical interpretations do good.  But only when we first do no harm.

I am calling Wisconsin to a radical future.  Radical means “root”.  I want us to remember who we are, who we have been, and to discern together who God calls us to be.  I want us to choose the Wisconsin Option that challenges us to make Wesley’s General Rules REAL.  Like Mary, we need to choose the better part – stop being “distracted by many things” – and listen to what Jesus has to say to us today.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.  John 14:27

Immediately it struck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”    John Wesley

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,…    Deuteronomy 30:19

There are many people in our United Methodist Church today who are not experiencing the peace of Christ in their hearts, minds, and spirits.  Rarely in our history has there been such division, such hurt, such disagreement, such anxiety, and such widespread discontent.  This is one of the reasons that we changed our Annual Conference theme to “Wilderness.”  Wilderness is not our destination, but it is an accurate appraisal of our current reality.

The hard question that challenges us at this moment in time is this: do we still believe there is a Promised Land on the other side of the wilderness?  Are we still moving toward a “future with hope?”  Is there ANY possibility we can make this journey together?

I understand that many people are feeling desperation and hopelessness.  There are many who feel our only future is to divide, go our separate ways, and continue our journey with only the like-minded and acquiescent.  To some people, the integrity of the body of Christ has been so badly compromised that they no longer choose to fight for unity.

My deepest hope and prayer through this messy and hurtful time is that God’s Holy Spirit might inspire and work through our better natures, that we might make the healthiest, most sustainable, and least damaging choices possible.  Once we burn our bridges, we limit our options, perhaps to our detriment.  So, a very important first step is to acknowledge that what we are doing is making choices.

One lay person in our conference wrote, “you leave me no choice but to leave The United Methodist Church.”  It doesn’t matter whether this person is conservative or progressive, liberal or traditional – what matters is that she has given away her power by saying she has no choice.  I want to say that no matter how upset we are, no matter how angry we may be, no matter that others make decisions we disagree with, we still have choice.  We may not choose to feel frightened or angry or anxious or confused, but we still have power to decide how we will respond.

Every time I write or speak about what is happening in our denomination and our conference, some people like what I say, some vehemently dislike what I say, some have no idea what I am saying.  If I say, “I will work to lead a church that welcomes ALL people,” I get a wide variety of responses.  Some people praise me, some say I do not go nearly far enough, some say I go too far, but it is not as interesting to me what people say as how they say it.  Some will tell me they disagree with me, some that they do not understand how I can say what I do, some say they are disappointed by what I said, but others insult and say terribly personal things.  These people choose how they will disagree with me.

I am calling upon the beautiful people of the Wisconsin Conference to carefully, mindfully, kindly, compassionately, and with mercy and justice in mind, choose how you will live through this time of division and hurt and anxiety.  Choose life over death; choose blessing over curse; choose hope over despair; choose grace over judgement and condemnation.  Choose to preach faith and love and hope, even when you don’t feel it.  Choose to be patient and gentle and generous so that you might be numbered among the peace-makers that Jesus blesses.  And above all, don’t give up.  Choose to fight for a church that equips all people to be gifted and used by God for the transformation of the world.  Choose to look at all we can be, not where we fail and where we disagree.  The good that God calls us to be is greater than any bad of human design.  Choose God and let us make our way through the present wilderness to a future brimming with hope and promise.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.   But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ*for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement*by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:20-26

There are many United Methodists who are questioning whether we actually believe in the grace of God freely given.  The recent session of General Conference redefined the foundation of our faith to create winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, and to differentiate the acceptable from the unacceptable.  Theologically, we adopted a legalism that defies our Easter reality of grace freely given as atonement for the sins of the world.  At the same time, there are some United Methodists who feel we have strengthened our moral center.  This is a hard time in the life of our church where beliefs are leading to destructive behaviors.  We are doing harm while failing to do good, and it is impacting our ability to stay in love with God and with each other.

But if our faith story teaches us anything, it is that God never allows us to stay stuck in the mire of bad behavior and evil intentions.  God truly does work all things together for good with those who love God.  In our history we have violated human rights and the common good in the name of Christianity, but we have always learned to be better and grown beyond our short-term limitations.  This is what we need to do now.  And I believe God is working with us, creating for us a grace margin where we can treat one another with patience and lovingkindness.

Our United Methodist Church is still processing the votes taken at the recent special session of our General Conference.  This past week, the Judicial Council of our denomination met to determine the constitutionality of the component parts of the Traditional Plan (passed 438 to 384) and a “gracious exit” proposal for disaffiliation.  Many parts of the Traditional Plan are still ruled unconstitutional, yet a number of aspects have been approved in decision 1378. 

In decision 1379, the Judicial Council approved an exit strategy for local churches wanting to leave the denomination that meet three criteria.  First, disaffiliation requires a two-thirds majority of voting members present at a local church conference.  Second, there must be clearly defined conditions of disaffiliation created by the conference Board of Trustees for the local church to follow.  Third, approval of disaffiliation must be affirmed by simple majority vote of the Annual Conference. 

The recent rulings of our Judicial Council (decisions 1378 & 1379) determine the constitutionality of our General Conference actions; they do not validate or refute the intentions behind them.  Much of the Traditional Plan is still unconstitutional and at its core it promotes unity for some, but not for all.  The Disaffiliation plan is antithetical to unity, though it complies with the will of the 2019 voting delegates to General Conference – a vote of 402 in favor, 400 against.  Those who claim that the General Conference was of a single mind, heart, and spirit simply were not paying attention.  At this moment in time, United Methodism is a house divided.

As bishop, I am firmly committed to living in the grace margin, using my influence and positional power to work for an inclusive, life-giving, gift-affirming church that serves and welcomes all of God’s children.  In this time of division and debate, it is easy to become discouraged.

This, however, is not the end, nor is it the whole story.  Too many kind, loving, generous, and welcoming women and men are fighting for our church and our denomination.  Too many people favor love over judgement, grace over law, and inclusion over exclusion.  We are realizing that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to our Christian faith does not honor cultural, racial, ethnic, and genetic diversity.  We are also awakening to the dead-end caused by labeling “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “traditional,” etc.  There are no simple answers to complex life issues.  Love is not simple.  Love is demanding.  Love requires sacrifice.  We believe in the atoning love of God in Jesus Christ, acknowledging both the brokenness of all as well as the giftedness and blessedness of all.  We, all of us together, are challenged to live our faith, to confess “yes, we believe,” and to live grace-filled and loving lives that witness to God’s atoning gift freely given for all.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

Acts 1:4-5

With all that is happening in our denomination and in our Wisconsin Conference, we truly needed Easter to come this year to remind us of the great and glorious power God has for transformation and redemption.  We stand in need of new life – new possibilities, new purpose, new hearts, and new minds.  Easter brings us hope following despair, light following darkness, and promise following failure.

It is simple to celebrate the resurrection and feel all is well.  Death is defeated.  Sin is cleansed. A new reality has been ushered in.  But what next?  Where do we go from Easter?  What’s on the other side?

One might be tempted to think it all gets easier after Easter.  One might feel like the Christ has taken care of all the problems of the world, and now all we need to do is wait.  One would be wrong; it doesn’t get easier, it just gets more interesting.  Following the physical Jesus is one thing.  We call it discipleship – Jesus leads, we follow.  But what about the risen and ascended Christ?  What do we do when the man is no longer with us to follow?  What happens when what we have is memory and teachings?

This is the amazing aftermath of Easter leading us to Pentecost.  John baptized with water; Jesus promises the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The twelve followers of Jesus are referred to as “disciples” up until the Pentecost event, then they are never referred to as “disciples” again.  Something happens.  There is a radical and fundamental transformation in the Spirit.  Followers become leaders.  Students become teachers.  Disciples become disciplers, and stewards, and apostles.  And collectively, through the gifting and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the church becomes the incarnate body of Christ.

Paul speaks of an affective union – a oneness of essence and spirit as believers live “in Christ,” and we recognize “Christ in us.”  The fellowship of baptized believers is transformed, made new, given a new identity and purpose.  What Christ came to teach us, we now teach others.  The witness Christ offered to challenge the powers and principalities becomes our witness.  Judgmentalism and factionalism drops away; we are lifted above all the hostilities, the prejudices, and debates that created “dividing walls” among us.  The old life passes away; the new life emerges.

Is this not the message our United Methodist Church needs most to hear?  Are we not standing on the threshold of an amazing spiritual paradigm shift where we quit focusing on the negatives and begin building upon the positives?  Is it not time to stop harping on what we have been saved from and begin zeroing in on what we have been saved for?

God offers us this new life, freely, generously, unconditionally, and completely.  All we need do is accept it, but accept it with our eyes, hearts, and minds wide open.  We are not off the hook.  No, instead we hold even more responsibility, more opportunity, more demands and obligations than ever.  But we have also been given the authority to become a new people; a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We are freed to act mercifully, justly, with compassion, humility and true care.  We become a people of deep civility, infinite respect, unbounded forgiveness, and amazing grace.  We are living on the other side of Easter.  By God’s grace, let us live it wisely and well.