I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6
The word that leaps out of this passage of scripture is “one.” Bear with one another. One body. One Spirit. One hope. One Lord. One faith. One baptism. One God. I shake my head when I hear people question and challenge the concept of unity in our scriptures – “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” My blessed siblings in Christ, this is why we are here. This is why we exist. We are the one body of Jesus Christ, incarnate and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to participate in God’s holy work of the transformation of the world. We do this together. In the spirit and teaching of John Wesley -- Solitary religion is not to be found there. “Holy Solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than Holy Adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection. (Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739)– where he explains that we cannot be truly Christian in isolation from a faith community, we need each other. The trend toward personal and individual holiness so prevalent and popular in recent times is completely foreign to the understanding of ancient Hebrew culture, early Christian culture, and our Wesleyan heritage. We are Christian together.
In recent months, unity in the church has become not only a topic for discussion, not only the battleground for debate, but the focal point of a real effort to divide the church. Again, John Wesley offers clear and precise opinion on the matter: “Itis evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christians with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren.” (On Schism, 1786) There is no goodness or grace in separation, only an admission that we lack the love that can unite us together.
United Methodism proudly offers an open communion table. We do not deny the grace and acceptance of God to anyone who wishes to partake of this holy meal. And in our standard liturgy, we proclaim and request together that “through the power of your (God’s) Holy Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.” This is who we are.
But I am concerned about how different our actions are from our words and our core values and beliefs. Do our racial and ethnic minority people feel they are one with us? Do many women feel they are truly one, with equal voice and power and respect as many of their male counterparts? Do our gay and lesbian siblings feel they are one with us? And even because of our theological and political differences, I question how many of our same culture, same background, same gender baptized children of God feel they are one with each other? In a Christian fellowship where God works constantly to forgive, redeem, unite, and reconcile people, we choose instead to focus on our differences. In a denomination defined by prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace, many choose instead to focus on sins, and faults, and failings.
My distress over these realities led me to create a Bishop’s Task Force on a Wisconsin way forward – leadership dedicated to discerning a Wisconsin Option as alternative to schism and split. We cannot solve all the challenges and problems facing our church today, but we can work together to create a space for prayer, discernment, humility, and hope – a grace margin – that allows us to slow down, not be overly reactive, and to engage with one another in mutual respect and regard, to hold each other accountable to the highest standards of civility and dignity, and to put our Christian faith and values into action. We want to be a people who do not attack, do not insult or assault, and who “do no harm” in the ways they treat one another. We are making a commitment to “do all the good we can,” embracing a Golden Rule code of conduct, and seeking to think the best of one another instead of the worst.
Make no mistake, the Task Force is not doing this for the conference. They will be leading the conference – all of us together; clergy and laity, younger and older, of every status of education, economics, ethnicity and heritage – to make a fundamental paradigm shift. The Wisconsin Option is a choice of unconditional love and forgiveness. We will live faithfully into the Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace for all who confess Jesus as Christ and Lord. We will hold our disagreements as a sacred trust – to love those with whom we disagree and formerly judged as beloved children of God.
Let us pray for God’s presence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we truly, deeply, and honestly seek healing, wholeness, and oneness as the body of Christ. Let us spend time in contemplative reading of our scriptures and the teachings of John Wesley. Let us enter into true and faithful Christian conference and conversation – both with those with whom we agree as well as those with whom we don’t. By God’s grace, God’s will is done in us, and together we can witness to God’s miraculous work of grace. Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peacce,
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).