"If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…" (Philippians 2:1-5a)
All of life is about drawing circles – who is inside and who is outside? We draw circles around our children and spouses and brothers and sisters, and we enjoy the safety and security of family circles. We expand circles to include friends and neighbors. We move from circle to circle, from home to school to friends to church. As we grow and mature, we continually include new people into our circles of family, friends, work and play. We often include those in our circles who are most like we are; and we exclude those who are different. Our Judeo-Christian scriptures witness a history of circle-drawing – who are the Chosen and who are the Lost; who are the Jews and who are the Gentiles; who are the believers and who are the non-believers?
In our Church today, we still spend much of our time drawing circles and from those circles we put up walls and we erect barriers. Even though our Lord and Savior came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility, and to offer salvation to all people, we in the Church struggle to include.
In our country today, we talk about building a wall to keep out “undocumented aliens”. We are drawing lines and building walls to say that some belong and others do not. Is this heavenly thinking? Do we believe that we are following a Savior and worshiping a God of barriers and fences? Will building a wall keep us safe, make us secure, or is it merely a symbol that we are ruled by fear more than faith? I do not agree with our President’s Executive Order to restrict and deny access to our country. I feel it is motivated more by fear than faith, and by anxiety rather than hope. I pray that our President can lead us to recover the dream of the United States as a place of opportunity and security for everyone. I hope and pray we can cast a beautiful vision of a Promised Land – truly with liberty and justice for all.
Who belongs? Who has “the right” to be in our United States? Our Wisconsin Conference is a rich and diverse community of immigrants, pilgrims, wayfarers, and strangers. The only way we draw the circle large enough to include all God’s children is to erase the limiting boundaries and seek new and creative ways to expand the circle to welcome everyone.
There is a famous painting of John Wesley stepping out of a boat with the Bible in his hand, called “Offer Them Christ.” The Wesleyan charge was to spread scriptural holiness across the land. There were few borders and boundaries to stall the spread of the gospel message.
Do we ignore standards and rules that govern society, or do we allow everyone to enter in and do and say whatever they want to? Certainly not! We are talking about building community and that requires accountability and behavioral boundaries. But when we create a situation where we can’t even meet new people and get to know them, we make sharing the good news of Jesus Christ all but impossible.
We all come from somewhere. When we welcome the stranger, no matter where they are from, we make it possible to become one, large, human family that honors and celebrates all people the way they are created by God. Love unites. Fear divides. Grace heals. Rejection harms. The Holy Spirit of God connects, while our human walls divide. Let us be a people who tear down walls, whether they be physical, emotional, spiritual or simply a creation of our own minds. I invite you to pray with me for all people anywhere who live in fear of oppression, especially for those who have no place to lay their heads and call home. Let us be a people who are ready to receive all God’s children with open arms.
Grace and Peace,
Hee-Soo Jung, Bishop
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).