Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27
Immediately it struck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” John Wesley
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,… Deuteronomy 30:19
There are many people in our United Methodist Church today who are not experiencing the peace of Christ in their hearts, minds, and spirits. Rarely in our history has there been such division, such hurt, such disagreement, such anxiety, and such widespread discontent. This is one of the reasons that we changed our Annual Conference theme to “Wilderness.” Wilderness is not our destination, but it is an accurate appraisal of our current reality.
The hard question that challenges us at this moment in time is this: do we still believe there is a Promised Land on the other side of the wilderness? Are we still moving toward a “future with hope?” Is there ANY possibility we can make this journey together?
I understand that many people are feeling desperation and hopelessness. There are many who feel our only future is to divide, go our separate ways, and continue our journey with only the like-minded and acquiescent. To some people, the integrity of the body of Christ has been so badly compromised that they no longer choose to fight for unity.
My deepest hope and prayer through this messy and hurtful time is that God’s Holy Spirit might inspire and work through our better natures, that we might make the healthiest, most sustainable, and least damaging choices possible. Once we burn our bridges, we limit our options, perhaps to our detriment. So, a very important first step is to acknowledge that what we are doing is making choices.
One lay person in our conference wrote, “you leave me no choice but to leave The United Methodist Church.” It doesn’t matter whether this person is conservative or progressive, liberal or traditional – what matters is that she has given away her power by saying she has no choice. I want to say that no matter how upset we are, no matter how angry we may be, no matter that others make decisions we disagree with, we still have choice. We may not choose to feel frightened or angry or anxious or confused, but we still have power to decide how we will respond.
Every time I write or speak about what is happening in our denomination and our conference, some people like what I say, some vehemently dislike what I say, some have no idea what I am saying. If I say, “I will work to lead a church that welcomes ALL people,” I get a wide variety of responses. Some people praise me, some say I do not go nearly far enough, some say I go too far, but it is not as interesting to me what people say as how they say it. Some will tell me they disagree with me, some that they do not understand how I can say what I do, some say they are disappointed by what I said, but others insult and say terribly personal things. These people choose how they will disagree with me.
I am calling upon the beautiful people of the Wisconsin Conference to carefully, mindfully, kindly, compassionately, and with mercy and justice in mind, choose how you will live through this time of division and hurt and anxiety. Choose life over death; choose blessing over curse; choose hope over despair; choose grace over judgement and condemnation. Choose to preach faith and love and hope, even when you don’t feel it. Choose to be patient and gentle and generous so that you might be numbered among the peace-makers that Jesus blesses. And above all, don’t give up. Choose to fight for a church that equips all people to be gifted and used by God for the transformation of the world. Choose to look at all we can be, not where we fail and where we disagree. The good that God calls us to be is greater than any bad of human design. Choose God and let us make our way through the present wilderness to a future brimming with hope and promise.
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).