My beautiful Wisconsin people, you are in my heart and in my prayers. I am hearing you. I am hearing your pain. I am hearing your anger. I am hearing your hurt and frustration. I am hearing your despair, and it is heartbreaking.
We are so divided over our beliefs about human sexuality and these emotional issues sometimes make us act and behave in harmful and unkind ways. We, intentionally and unintentionally, continue to do great harm to LGBTQI+ persons, and our attitudes and beliefs about the gay community cause great divisions within our fellowship. What became crystal clear at this General Conference is how deeply injured we are, and how deeply we stand in need of God’s healing grace.
We are not in a healthy place, and there is no clear way to resolve our differences. This cannot be settled by winners and losers. In almost every vote of significance we were within 7% or 40 votes of each other. We are a church of half and half – half thinking one way and half thinking the opposite.
I know many of you feeling frustrated, hurt, confused and exhausted. But my sisters and brothers, God is still God. God is working with us. God does not give up on us. Let us not give up on one another. We still face struggles but let us struggle together. We face disagreements but let us disagree in Christian love. We will still read and interpret scripture differently but let us read and share it together and seek to understand interpretation different from our own. Let us acknowledge together that we are not all the same members of the body of Christ, but that different members are still valued and important. Let us commit to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” together!
God is not finished with us yet. God has great plans for us. I strongly believe that God’s church is an inclusive church, and all are precious and beloved. Let us work hard to discern and do God’s will together whenever and wherever we can. Sisters and brothers, the greatest gift God ever gave us is God’s own Son, Jesus the Christ. But the second greatest gift God gave us is each other. Please, let us honor this gift and work as hard as we can to allow the Holy Spirit to make us “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”
Again, to those who have had enough, I am so, so sorry. You may not feel it, but you are loved. You are valued. You are blessed children of God, and I cannot emphasize enough how disappointed I am that you have been made to feel unwelcome. This is wrong.
To my clergy and those bringing the message this Lenten season I would offer the following thoughts. Invite people to:
- Breathe – do not act reactively or too hastily.
- Pray – take time to reflect deeply on your feelings, but do not let them take over. Take your feelings to God.
- Grieve – do not ignore the deep pain and terrible hurt you and other people are feeling. It truly does not matter what intentions were; people feel what they feel, and we should care for each other.
- Talk – make space to have real conversation about what has happened, what you are thinking and feeling, and what decisions you are wrestling with.
- Be proactive – if you do not like or want the church as it is, what can you/what will you do together to help make this church the church it needs to be; the church you believe God wants us to be?
My friends in Christ, where there is suffering, offer grace. Where there is anger, be kind. Where there is insult, offer compassion, and where there is frustration, be patient. We are not in a good place. Now, more than ever we need to say together, Come, Holy Spirit, and allow the fruit of God’s Spirit – love, kindness, gentleness, patience, and peace, prevail.
I am praying for you all; please pray for your 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).