Our United States has emerged from one of the most contentious and divisive elections in our history; and the animosity and negativity that characterized so much of the party rhetoric still exists. The destructive energy has been felt in many areas of life, including the Church. In significant ways, the competitive spirit dividing citizens into winners and losers, superior to inferior, righteous to scurrilous, holy to hellish, infected all levels of our society. This should not be.
If this election season revealed anything of value, it shows us, in no uncertain terms, that we must find a better way to deal with our differences, and take a stand for our most deeply held values and opinions. Hateful language, defamatory claims, insults, and verbal abuse are so unnecessary; and it doesn’t lead to anything positive. Differences of opinion and widely diverse sets of values are no excuse for lowering ourselves to personal attacks and acts of aggression. As Christians, we have a golden opportunity to offer a better way.
In many ways, nothing significant has changed with the shift in the balance of our political power. The Christian faith is not a reactive faith. It is generative and creative. As Paul writes in the fourth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians, servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God engage in a co-creative act with God to build up, to improve, to dignify and to exalt. Regardless of the nature and direction of cultural leadership, the Church of Jesus Christ is called to produce the same fruit. In the face of hate and hopelessness, God produces, through us, love. Where we encounter despair, we share God’s gift of joy. When we meet those with whom we seriously disagree, we extend patience. Where others resort to violence, we embody and embrace peace. We are to be kind, generous, gentle, and to exhibit self-control. We are to care for the poor, the marginalized, and those most at risk in our communities and world. Our faithfulness is not an abstraction; it is to define who we are and how we live. We are united in our baptism; and we are one in Christ. We may differ in our politics; we may disagree on key issues; there may even be some in our churches who are not avid Packers’ fans; but in God’s grace and through the Holy Spirit, we are made one with Christ, one with each other, and one in service to all the world.
I want to invite every United Methodist in our Wisconsin Conference to make a commitment to stop focusing on our differences and disagreements, and to covenant with me to shift focus to that which we hold sacred in common. We are preparing to enter the season of Advent. We will join together to wait in expectant anticipation for the coming of the Christ child. We will all open our hearts to receive our Savior and Lord – the Prince of Peace. We will rejoice. We will lift our voices in singing beloved carols and hymns. We will reaffirm our faith in the one who has the power to transform our world from one of dissension and violence into the very realm of God. We have no time to waste arguing over who is right and who is wrong, who is righteous and who is errant, who is “doing church right”, and who is “doing it wrong.” If this year’s election taught us anything, let it be this: we need hope, faith, and love more than ever; and it is up to us to show the way.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
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).