As United Methodist Christians we have so very much to celebrate. We are known globally for our good works and life-giving, life-saving ministries. I am so proud to serve as president of our General Board of Global Ministries and to see the impact UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) continues to make. My heart swells to see the dedicated women and men serving in so many ways to bring mercy, justice, healing, and restoration to the world. It is an important mission that we have – to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who can work together by God’s grace and guidance to transform our world into the very image of heaven on earth.
But as the Council of Bishops met earlier this month, we engaged in a humbling, troubling, and urgent conversation about racism in our country and world. In many ways, in many places, and with many people we have made great strides in healthy race relations. At the same time, we live in an “us-them” culture that too often focuses more on differences and divisions than on commonalities and connections. We see a rise in hate crimes that are racially, ethnically, theologically, or culturally motivated and cannot help but question why we cannot do better. What role may the church play in “breaking down the dividing walls” and eliminating the “hostility” that leads to destruction, violence, and prejudice? What is our witness?
We are a people bookended by the Tower of Babel where our “language was confused” (Genesis 11) and we could no longer maintain a unity of understanding and mutuality, and a Pentecost where by the power of the Holy Spirit language difference was conquered and we became a people of a common faith, hope, and love all empowered by that same Spirit (Acts 2).
What is it in the human psyche that looks for ways to judge and suspect and fear “the other?” Why is “different” bad? In almost every human endeavor – from agriculture to biology, from meteorology to chemistry, from art to literature to music to culinary arts – we understand that diversity, complementarity, contrast, and harmony are positive and healthy and good. Why does this same essential wisdom not translate to the whole, broad, diverse, and eclectic reality that is the human race?
Skin color, language, dress, worldview, culture – none of these things in and of themselves is good or bad, better or worse, superior or inferior. Yes, they are different, but who are we to say “ours is better than theirs?” Jesus teaches, and Paul confirms, that we are one – no longer Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female (this or that, either/or) – we have been drawn together in love and grace and kindness and holy generosity to be forgiven our failings and flaws and to be made one in Christ.
Our Bishops are engaged in continuing work through a Dismantling Racism Task Force. In our own Annual Conference, our Connectional Table has made the elimination of institutional racism a core priority of its work. It is critically important that we open our eyes to the reality in our culture and be honest about violent acts motivated by race, and do all we can to oppose them. Let us pray together that we might view all people as sisters and brothers, let us celebrate what we share in common as well as what we each uniquely bring to the community, and let us stand together in opposition to any act of prejudice, bigotry, bias, and racism. By God’s grace, Jesus’ kind compassion, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, may we witness to the goodness of ALL of God’s people.
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).