A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Jung
But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:7)
Daily, the news breaks my heart. A one-year-old child is killed by gunfire in Pittsburgh, sleeping supposedly safe in his crib in his home. In Atlanta, a shooting spree at three different spas leaves eight dead, primarily women of Asian descent, terrorizing residents in a year of anti-Asian violence fueled by “China virus” and “Kung flu” rhetoric and racist denunciations. The FBI reports over 3,800 acts of violence by whites against Asians and Asian-Americans, two-thirds of them against women in the past year. Over 20,000 Asian owned businesses have been vandalized or destroyed since March of 2020 in the United States. Most of these businesses have been longtime parts of their communities. I do not understand why violence is such an easy answer for so many, especially of those calling themselves Christian.
The gunman in Atlanta has been described as a devout Southern Baptist. An arsonist in California who destroyed nine Asian restaurants confessed he was acting as “a born-again Christian” opposing those he denounced with obscenities and racial slurs. This is not the witness we want to share with the world as Christian disciples.
I am personally reflecting on what our witness should be as followers of Jesus Christ. Of course, this is personal to me as an Asian-American and a leader in The United Methodist Church, but it is so much larger than my own response and the incident in Atlanta. When I think about what happened in Pittsburgh – and what continues to happen across our country and world – I am called back to a desire to be a peacemaker, working with people of all ethnicities, and cultures, and races to create a society founded upon principles of justice and mercy and equity. I believe that the people called United Methodists should be actively engaged champions of inclusion and justice for all. We should be FOR the love of Christ by standing AGAINST racism and oppression and marginalization and condemnation and violence.
Yes, first and foremost, we should be a people of prayer, but beyond our prayers we should be disciples sent forth “for the transformation of the world.” We are God’s agents and tools for transformation. God will achieve justice through us. God will show mercy through us. God will end human intolerance and violence through us. But not if we stand passively by.
The month of May is Asian Heritage Month. It is established to recognize and honor the great contributions Asian leaders and Asian cultures have made in our world. It is a time to celebrate the wonderful diversity within Asian cultures and to embrace this diversity throughout our global community. In most cases, Asian culture is deeply rooted in respectful relationships and communities of hospitality. Caring welcome, respect, and honor are core values of Asian people. I am prayerful that in Wisconsin we might find some substantial and creative ways to raise awareness, educate, and inspire our members to see the blessing of all Asian peoples.
Simply because our current pandemic began in Chinese geography does not mean it was caused by Asian people. Our entire planet has suffered COVID-19 – the pandemic should be our common enemy, not each other. We should work hard to support and encourage and strengthen all people through this global virus time, especially those most at risk and vulnerable. The pandemic has inordinately harmed the poor, the marginalized, the less educated, those considered subordinate by dominant cultures. This is the value system of the world; but it is not the value system of God’s people. All are of equal value and should be treated as such. Those of us most advantaged should share abundantly with those who have less. And under no circumstances should we do anything that adds to the pain, anxiety, suffering, or harms the well-being of any other human being.
Please join me in prayer, but also consider joining me in action, to stand with those who are oppressed and attacked, and to witness to God’s love in a broken and violent world. Let us show mercy to everyone, now and forever.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).