For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ*for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement*by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
There are many United Methodists who are questioning whether we actually believe in the grace of God freely given. The recent session of General Conference redefined the foundation of our faith to create winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, and to differentiate the acceptable from the unacceptable. Theologically, we adopted a legalism that defies our Easter reality of grace freely given as atonement for the sins of the world. At the same time, there are some United Methodists who feel we have strengthened our moral center. This is a hard time in the life of our church where beliefs are leading to destructive behaviors. We are doing harm while failing to do good, and it is impacting our ability to stay in love with God and with each other.
But if our faith story teaches us anything, it is that God never allows us to stay stuck in the mire of bad behavior and evil intentions. God truly does work all things together for good with those who love God. In our history we have violated human rights and the common good in the name of Christianity, but we have always learned to be better and grown beyond our short-term limitations. This is what we need to do now. And I believe God is working with us, creating for us a grace margin where we can treat one another with patience and lovingkindness.
Our United Methodist Church is still processing the votes taken at the recent special session of our General Conference. This past week, the Judicial Council of our denomination met to determine the constitutionality of the component parts of the Traditional Plan (passed 438 to 384) and a “gracious exit” proposal for disaffiliation. Many parts of the Traditional Plan are still ruled unconstitutional, yet a number of aspects have been approved in decision 1378.
In decision 1379, the Judicial Council approved an exit strategy for local churches wanting to leave the denomination that meet three criteria. First, disaffiliation requires a two-thirds majority of voting members present at a local church conference. Second, there must be clearly defined conditions of disaffiliation created by the conference Board of Trustees for the local church to follow. Third, approval of disaffiliation must be affirmed by simple majority vote of the Annual Conference.
The recent rulings of our Judicial Council (decisions 1378 & 1379) determine the constitutionality of our General Conference actions; they do not validate or refute the intentions behind them. Much of the Traditional Plan is still unconstitutional and at its core it promotes unity for some, but not for all. The Disaffiliation plan is antithetical to unity, though it complies with the will of the 2019 voting delegates to General Conference – a vote of 402 in favor, 400 against. Those who claim that the General Conference was of a single mind, heart, and spirit simply were not paying attention. At this moment in time, United Methodism is a house divided.
As bishop, I am firmly committed to living in the grace margin, using my influence and positional power to work for an inclusive, life-giving, gift-affirming church that serves and welcomes all of God’s children. In this time of division and debate, it is easy to become discouraged.
This, however, is not the end, nor is it the whole story. Too many kind, loving, generous, and welcoming women and men are fighting for our church and our denomination. Too many people favor love over judgement, grace over law, and inclusion over exclusion. We are realizing that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to our Christian faith does not honor cultural, racial, ethnic, and genetic diversity. We are also awakening to the dead-end caused by labeling “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “traditional,” etc. There are no simple answers to complex life issues. Love is not simple. Love is demanding. Love requires sacrifice. We believe in the atoning love of God in Jesus Christ, acknowledging both the brokenness of all as well as the giftedness and blessedness of all. We, all of us together, are challenged to live our faith, to confess “yes, we believe,” and to live grace-filled and loving lives that witness to God’s atoning gift freely given for all.
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).