Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
At the heart of the Mary and Martha story is an object lesson in passing judgement and expecting everyone to think and act the same way. Mary focuses on Jesus, while Martha is fixated on Mary and the fact that Mary isn’t helping her. A wonderful parable for our day. The more we focus on ourselves, and the more we focus on “those people” who don’t think, believe, and act as we do, the less time we have to focus on God, Jesus, and the mission to which we are called.
I keep thinking about a Wisconsin Option, one that does not divide, but unites; one that does not destroy, but builds; and, one that does not judge, but celebrates. Like Mary, I want Wisconsin to choose “the better part,” to enter the grace margin extended by Jesus Christ that allows the entire family of God to work, and live, and minister together. In God’s grand a glorious family we experience the full diversity of God’s creation, and with God we see the goodness.
In John Wesley’s General Rules, the first stage is to do no harm. The Wisconsin Option builds on this foundation. We stop engaging in conversations and actions that intentionally and unintentionally do harm to others. We drop the defensiveness, we let go of the judgement, and we recall Wesley’s own words of instruction to do no harm by “fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother (sic), returning evil for evil, or railing for railing, uncharitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.”
But the Wisconsin Option builds on this foundation by incorporating the second rule, to do all the good we can of every possible sort. This means that we do everything we can for the glory of God. This means we honor and accept all God’s children; exclusion is a human trait, not God’s will. I am often asked why I envision a church that fully includes and honors the gifts of the LGBTQIA+ people, and my reply is simple: as a leader in God’s church, I can see no other future.
Wisconsin Conference has always led in significant ways. When Japanese sentiment in the United States was still negative, Wisconsin Conference supported Perry Saito. Perry helped found the Fellowship of Reconciliation. We celebrate his spirit and commitment. It is part of the Wisconsin Option. Wisconsin received the very first woman bishop, at a time when many conferences we opposed to her episcopacy. Wisconsin opened itself to her wonderful leadership. This spirit of inclusiveness and openness is part of the Wisconsin Option. University UMC went against Methodist doctrine and polity in 1984 when it became the first reconciling congregation in the state. Many have followed their example. This was transformative for University UMC, for the conference, and especially for me. I was overwhelmed by the vision of a church for all people. I understood the concept of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors” in a real and tangible way sixteen years before it became our denominational motto.
Wisconsin has worked hard and faithfully to do all the good it can for all the people it can. I want this to continue to be true. Conservatives do good. Liberals do good. Progressives do good. Traditionalists do good. Centrists do good. All the labels, all the categories, all the diverse theologies and biblical interpretations do good. But only when we first do no harm.
I am calling Wisconsin to a radical future. Radical means “root”. I want us to remember who we are, who we have been, and to discern together who God calls us to be. I want us to choose the Wisconsin Option that challenges us to make Wesley’s General Rules REAL. Like Mary, we need to choose the better part – stop being “distracted by many things” – and listen to what Jesus has to say to us today.
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).