As I am reflecting on General Conference and preparing for Annual Conference, I find some uneasiness in my soul. General Conference was a great experience, and many dedicated women and men gave good and faithful service to strengthen and support The United Methodist Church. But there were numerous times when, quite frankly, we were not very kind and loving with each other. Harsh words were spoken, insults and injuries occurred, feelings were hurt, damage was done – and worst of all, we did not model Christian grace and respect to the observing world. We can be so much better than this.
Our North American culture is anchored to a competitive spirit that sometimes confuses justice with revenge, mercy with weakness, and accountability with punishment. We want to pay back every insult in kind. We tend to ascribe malicious or hostile intent to those with whom we disagree. And we fight against anything that we feel is unfair to us individually. We must be especially careful not to bring these cultural values and practices into our churches.
Instead, I dream of our churches creating a grace margin – a space where people are safe to engage in difficult conversations and disagreements. This would be such a powerful alternative to the way the world settles its problems. I know that for our Wisconsin Annual Conference, I will lead from the grace margin. When we transgress or disagree, I will call us to offer grace instead of recrimination, forgiveness instead of punishment. I will call us to remember our baptism and the shared sacred covenant of our clergy life together.
Our Church must never merely reflect the culture in which it exists, but the Church must lead. And the way we lead is as important as where we lead. The fruit of God’s Holy Spirit must fuel and drive all that we say and do. Principled Christian leadership models love and joy. We are to be a peace-making, peace-loving people of patience, kindness, and generosity. Our faithfulness is measured in our gentleness and self-control. As we Imagine Wisconsin Anew together, let us make space for the grace margin, where together we will engage in the very best Christian behavior and practice our Church has ever known.
Grace and Peace,
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
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).