Today, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, the President of the Council of Bishops released the following statement:
To the People Called United Methodist:
Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ!
On the eve of Advent and in the post-election climate in the United States, I write as President of the Council of Bishops to call for a renewed commitment to the vision of the Beloved Community of Christ.
Isaiah prophesized that a child would be born to re-establish the beloved community – a time of endless peace, a time of justice and righteousness, a time of reconciliation and unity.
For a child has been born to us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
And he is named
Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He shall establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV
In a post-election article, Bishop Gregory Palmer eloquently stated the reality of a divided United States. “Everywhere we turn we are reminded of the profound fissures along the lines of gender, race and class, just to name a few. The truth is these fissures and divisions are not new and not directly attributable to the long campaign season just ended. For many years, there has been a growing trust deficit in public leadership and institutions. These are trying times, and the fabric of who we are and who we aspire to be has been stretched beyond anything we desire to look upon. But look upon it squarely we must.”
This state of division and discord is global, fueled by the racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric of the recent U.S. election cycle. Recently, Pope Francis warned against the “virus of polarization” and hostility in the world targeting people of different nationalities, races and beliefs. He was blunt and warned against animosity creeping into the church, as well, noting “we are not immune from this.” Pope Francis reminded us of “our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn” and cautioned somberly against those who “raise walls, build barriers and label people.”
As followers of the Christ, we are harbingers, models and guardians of the Beloved Community. As those baptized into the Body of Christ, we “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” and to renounce the spiritual forces of evil in the world, our respective nations and the church. As disciples of Jesus, we stand against all expressions of hatred, discrimination, oppression and exclusion. As those who serve Christ, we love whom Christ loves. As stewards of Jesus’ Good News, we are peacemakers, pray for our enemies and seek reconciliation with those from whom we have become estranged.
At the November 2010 meeting of the Council of Bishops in Panama, the Council issued a pastoral letter calling for United Methodists to be bearers of the beloved community across the globe. The letter is eerily contemporary and relevant to our current context. It points to the opportunity that is uniquely ours to bind up the wounds and to proclaim the Advent prophecy of a time of justice and righteousness. I include the full text as a reminder of the kingdom reality we are call to incarnate:
“We, the bishops of The United Methodist Church, feel compelled to renew our commitment to work to become the beloved community of Christ. We, as a Council, desire to deal with the crucial issues of racism and the sacredness of every human being. Therefore, as the spiritual and administrative leaders of the church, we issue an urgent call to the whole people of God, lay and clergy: to speak the truth in love in public and private discourse, to act with compassion, and to work for peace with justice in the world.
In order to transform the world, in faithfulness to Christ’s command, we must model respect and kindness and extinguish the fires of animosity. And thus, we call on all churches to engage in genuinely honest dialogue and respectful conversation, such that others who observe the action in our lives might declare, ‘See how they love each other!’
As people of faith, we are charged to build the beloved community because Christ has broken down the dividing walls and ended the hostilities between us. Yet, we continue to build walls in the church and the world which separate us and cause our hearts to grieve.
On the continent of Africa and in many parts of Asia, including the Middle East, the Philippines and India, the historical and contemporary impact of colonialism, racism, tribalism, hostility and religious persecution continue to affect human relationships. The challenge in the Philippines is to break down the barriers between mainline society and tribal peoples. Meeting this challenge will accord equal rights such as land possession and free education for all.
By nature, colonialism in Africa thrives on hostile, violent and demeaning human relationships. Racism and tribalism cut deep wounds, not in one’s flesh and blood, but also on the soul and the spirit. These gaping wounds leave permanent scars.
In Europe racism is a growing issue, with political parties openly working against minority, ethnic and religious communities. Prejudice is overly articulated in the media, in politics and even in churches.
Throughout the United States, there has been a rapid escalation of violence related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religious preference. This escalation includes personal attacks, bullying and vicious and criminal acts of violence to the mind, body and spirit of persons. These actions diminish life for victims and their families, as well as for the perpetrators and the whole community. They are the ultimate, insidious and irreverent attacks on the sacredness of God-given life.
Across the world, terrorism – as demonstrated by wanton acts of violence against innocent persons – leaves a trail of loss of life, limb, home and community. Discriminatory treatment is widely practiced against immigrants and refugees everywhere around the world. All of this creates a universal atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust and fear. Often this is the result of religious persecution of various faith communities, including Christians, which threatens the capacity or hope for reconciliation and peace. The church is called to decisively and directly counter these acts and engender and empower a ‘perfect love that casts out all fear.’ (I John 4:18, NVSV) Through intentional action we can ‘overcome evil with good.’ (Romans 12:21, NRSV)
It is incumbent upon the bearers of this vision of a beloved community to do whatever we can today to hasten the day of a just world with peace. This is our hope, our prayer and our commitment.”
Friends in Christ, this is not an invitation to naiveté. People’s lives, livelihoods, security and well-being are at stake. Immigrants are scrambling for the shadows. Indigenous peoples are disrespected and forgotten. Children of color are being bullied and threatened. Muslims are being labeled and listed. Women are ridiculed and objectified. The LGBTQ community is filled with fear. Racism is being legitimized. Hundreds of millions remain impoverished without access to educational opportunities, economic resources, or equal justice.
We must stand against the meanness and hatred that is upon us. We must stand for what is best in us as People of God. We must not address the anger, fear, confusion and insecurity of the prevailing culture with more blame, attack and criticism. As Richard Rohr recently noted, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” We must stand against bigotry, hate and discrimination in all forms and settings. We must proclaim from our pulpits the Good News that overcomes hatred and fear. We must be quick to confess our own sin and places of complicity and vigilant against all that diminishes the worth of any individual.
So, I urge all who follow the Christ to remember who we are in this time. We are the People of God called to proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are the People of God called to create the Beloved Community of Christ. We are People of God commanded to love as Jesus loved. We are People of God created to be the kingdom of God envisioned in the Advent prophecy and fulfilled by Jesus. This is our vision, our hope, our prayer, our opportunity, our commitment. May it be so!
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church
Well, I must say, this is a start. And yet, I too, am reminded of the words of the Old Testament, those of Jeremiah (Chap. 23: 1-6):
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.
As a Latinx and a person of color with deep Native American roots, I must speak to the President of the Council of Bishops’ statement. Missing from Bishop Ough’s statement are some extremely important words and concepts I hope to see in future statements.
In his statement earlier this week, Bishop Mike McKee of North Texas called racism a sin. By committing that phrase to writing, Bishop McKee did something no other Bishop has done during this time period, he forced us to recognize we have a race problem, not only in society but also in our pews. Unlike the statement by Bishop Ward of North Carolina, he did not turn the victim into a participant. He spoke a truth; one that is hard to hear but one that can no longer be ignored. How can we address a problem if we only talk about it behind closed doors?
For the last quadrennium, we, as a denomination, have been participating in an Act of Repentance for sins and atrocities against our Nations First People. Additionally, we have voted for a resolution in the past that repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery. And yet, we stand by with mere words and photo ops while human rights and sacred lands are trodden down by oil companies and militarized police. We wring our hands and use such words as “best public interest” and do not make a stand again eminent domain or stand by our Nation’s treaties. True repentance requires accountability of words and accountability of actions. To truly repent is to seek to not commit the sins we claim to detest. We can no longer turn a blind eye to a newer versions of the same sins.
We must seek restoration of damaged relationships. This cannot be done my talking about bridge-building. Nor can this be done by preaching about unity. Restoring relationships requires being in relationship. As important as cultural competency training might be, the lessons learned must be put into practice. 50 church leaders were participating in this type of training in the North Carolina Conference two months PRIOR to the incident at the youth camp there in which Latinx youth were confronted with blatant racist actions Were was that trained leadership then? And then, when a Latinx youth counselor (who had been asked to preach before the racist actions arose) addressed the youth, parents, camp participants, many left. Even more, including some of the leadership, pointed fingers at the Latinx seminarian for bringing “politics” to a church camp. Well, what about the kids wearing the Trump campaign hats? Was that okay? This is akin to saying a sexual assault victim deserves rape because she was dressed, in a provocative manner.
And finally, reparation. Reparation is not something our denomination can use to create equality. And it is not solely about money. Rather, it is a means to true equity. Frankly speaking, my community is tired of hollow words with little follow-up. How do you think it looks to have had resolutions on the books that strongly recommended not holding church meetings in cities that have sports teams that use pejorative and demeaning mascots and names, only to have the renewal of that resolution watered down? And, to add insult to injury, move one of our largest General Agencies to Atlanta, a city that does that very thing. One can’t hid behind phrases like “the team plans to move to Smyrna.” True reparation demands staying true to our words, both as a denomination and as part of the Church Universal. It requires equitable funding for churches serving constituents of our Ethnic Caucuses. It means supporting our small, urban and inter-city churches suffering from an economy that has hit those communities with a force that has torn many of those communities apart, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Being the Church is not about mottos and taglines. Being the Church is not about acronyms and clever sayings. Being the Church Universal is not asking “What Would Jesus Do” but rather “What Would Jesus Have Me Do.” I think we know what that is. Let us all feel empowered to speak the truth and act courageously upon that truth.