We become what we believe. We are shaped by our experiences. If our ideas of God come from our early experiences of relational authority, we know some of us have learned from dominant and domineering images of God. These images coincide with the pyramid, power from above to the ones below. The word dominant derives from the Latin verb, ‘dominare,’ which means to master or rule.
The word, ‘master’ has a very problematic history on American soil.
Nondominant images of God remind us that while God’s love influences, humans have freedom. The love of God is an uncontrolling love. Note in Luke 15 Jesus tells a parable of a woman who sweeps and lights a lamp in a relentless search for the lost coin. In Luke 13 Jesus says he has wanted to act as a hen gathering a brood as he laments unruly Jerusalem. In Exodus 13, a pillar of cloud never left the Hebrew people as they crossed the sea. What difference might it make to our discipleship if we drew from scriptural images of God that are non-dominant?
The incarnation helps us.
“Many women were also there…they had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him” (Matthew 27:55).
The Word chose to become flesh and dwell among us. To balance the images of relational influence, God gave us not only Jesus, but people, in all their diverse forms. This month we celebrate and reflect on Women’s History Month.
Each year Women’s History Month has a theme and the theme for 2022 is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” According to the National Women’s History Alliance, the theme is meant to be a tribute to the work of caregivers and frontline workers during the pandemic. We are truly thankful that God has given us health care workers and caregivers for the fear and disorientation of the pandemic.
I write today to offer my deep bow to women, to encourage us to advocate for healing, and promote hope in our life-together.
The body of Christ is enriched by the gifts of women and their wholistic vision and presence among us. While we have not arrived at gender equality in society and The United Methodist Church, we can celebrate the countless beautiful contributions that have been made through the women of The United Methodist Church—and take an inventory of hope.
The Wisconsin Conference has experienced the blessings of female leadership in many ways. We give thanks for the faithful and excellent lay and clergy leadership in all aspect of our ministry and community of faith.
Wisconsin was assigned the first female Bishop elected in The United Methodist Church, and through her we were able to experience a fresh new spirit of openness and prophetic witness.
Many still recall the historic boldness when Bishop Marjorie Swank Matthews was elected (1980) as the first female bishop and came to Wisconsin. Her presence deepened our sense of the ‘any-ness’ and ‘all-ness’ of embodying spiritual leadership in our particular ‘givenness.’
We know that this achievement was the result of countless hidden sacrifices. She was the first woman bishop for any Protestant church and the first in Christendom since at least the twelfth century. From that perspective, the election of the first female bishop was a prophetic witness for the entire United Methodist Church, and it became a mirror for future episcopal elections in the North Central Jurisdiction. Bishop Matthews cracked the door to a more inclusive and representative church. Consider for a moment the number of lives who reconsidered the possibilities of God because of her witness.
I thank God for those who opened possibilities for inclusion and equity in the faith community, and the reminder that we must continue to strive for the achievement of gender equality and justice.
Let us not neglect the precious history of Bishop Sharon Rader (1992-2004) and Bishop Linda Lee (2004-2012), an ebony female Bishop. These women led from their intuitive centers and established leadership norms that reset gender expectations. I thank God for them.
Returning to our theme of: “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” our prayerful devotion must increase hope for the countless human beings in the world who are suffering from systems that continue inequality and injustice. Too many children are growing up with lead in their water pipes, food deserts, environmental contamination, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), often referred to as “forever chemicals,” that do not easily break down in the environment. These “forever chemicals” are detected in fetuses in Wisconsin, and have been linked to diabetes, cancers, and obesity (https://dnr.wisconsin.gov).
I am profoundly grateful to serve as the first Korean-American bishop in the beautiful and sacred flow of Wisconsin Conference history. I am proud to be the husband of my wife, who is a clergy woman. I am moved by the committed leadership of countless female clergy, who are serving in a time of pandemic. These days I hold Sydney Grace and think of the world we are called to leave her. May we be good stewards. Know that I am praying for you.
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
Bishop, Wisconsin Conference
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).