In the aftermath of violent deaths this week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Dallas, Texas, we speak to a nation that is overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration, and despair. These deaths have left our hearts and voices crying for justice. The preliminary evidence and the shocking video images are a convincing reminder that we have work to do. The deaths of young black males in encounters with white police officers call for the need of a bi-partisan political and legal response, beyond (but including) the statements and prayers of the church. The subsequent deaths of police officers remind us of the honorable service of the great majority of these public servants and the destructive cycle of violence and retribution. We pray for each family in their profound loss and grief.
We call upon the people of the United Methodist Church to enter into the challenge and complexity of this present moment. We affirm that every person is created in the image of God. We acknowledge our complicity in the sin of institutional racism, which denies the inherently sacred nature of every person. We confess that we have often allowed our ideological differences to become more important than our unity in the One Body. We repent of our temptation to live in fear of one another and to seek security apart from God. We claim the essential need for all Christians of privilege to listen and seek deeper understanding when our brothers and sisters cry out for justice. We commit ourselves to speak on behalf of those who are denied justice. We support the difficult work of those in law enforcement and at the same time seek ways of moving toward better community engagement. We pledge to address the problem of mass incarceration of young black males in our society. We recognize the temptation to become numb in the face of persistent mass violence, and we hear the call as disciples of Jesus to move beyond lovers of peace to become peacemakers.
Let us together pray that God will work through us to bear witness to Christ’s call to bring healing to a fractured community and a broken world. When we cannot find the strength within ourselves, may we turn to you, for we know you call us to love our neighbor. Remind us O God that love casts out all fear. Make us a people of transformational change, of reconciliation, of justice and instruments of your peace. Even now and especially now – for we offer this prayer in the face of struggle, pain, tragedy and unrest, and yet with confidence in the power of your love – our God, our Redeemer, Healer, the prince of peace! We pray in our own time for the fulfillment of the prophecy given to Zechariah on the first Advent, even as we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” and claim the promise of the gospel:
By the tender mercy of our God
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops
Issued on behalf of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church
Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Great Plains Conference issued the following statement Monday morning in response to the attack on people at a nightclub early Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida.
As many of you know, a tragedy has befallen the community of Orlando, Florida, and, indeed, our entire country.
A gunman opened fire early Sunday morning inside a nightclub frequented by people in the LGBTQ community there. According to news reports, at least 49 people were killed and at least 53 people were wounded.
We are learning more details about the shooter, who himself was killed when he tried to engage police responding to the shootings. We are still learning more details about whether he had leanings toward terrorist organizations and why he targeted this particular establishment. But these things we do know for certain: Such violence can never be condoned, and all life is precious. And in this case, it appears people were targeted because of their sexual orientation.
News reports say that the people killed ranged in age from 20 to 50. These people were sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, spouses, college students, professionals – people from all walks of life. They were gunned down in this latest example of senseless violence in our country.
As my colleague Bishop Ken Carter of Florida said, may we “announce God’s unconditional love for all people and God’s desire for nonviolence through Jesus Christ who is our peace.”
Please join me in prayer for the victims and their families. Pray for the recovery of those who were wounded both physically and emotionally. Pray for our nation that such violence would be prevented and that we never again have to face such tragedy.
This past Sunday, I told the gathered congregation that I could not provide a summary of General Conference because I was still processing it. It was good that I waited. The Council of Bishops has helpfully provided a summary for me:
To the people of The United Methodist Church:
The Council of Bishops brings you greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has called us to be servant leaders of the church. In 1812, Bishop Francis Asbury, Bishop William McKendree and General Conference Secretary Daniel Hitt sent the first letter to churches following General Conference. This letter seeks to revive that tradition. Many bishops will also be communicating individually with their own areas.
Hundreds of lay and clergy delegates from around the world gathered in Portland, Oregon, along with bishops and pastors, church members and staff, volunteers and visitors, to engage in Christian conferencing, to make decisions for our church’s future, to affirm our global connection, to worship and to celebrate God’s faithfulness.
We celebrated the success of our Imagine No Malaria initiative, which seeks to raise $75 million in the fight against malaria, a disease that takes the life of a child in Africa every two minutes. We celebrated our ecumenical partnerships as we move into full Communion with the Uniting Church in Sweden and toward full Communion with the Moravian church. We celebrated our heritage: the 250th anniversary of our oldest church, John Street United Methodist Church, the 200th anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the 150th anniversary of United Methodist women, the 25th anniversary of Africa University and others.
We continued in our acts of repentance with a presentation from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes about the Methodist involvement in the 1864 Sand Creek massacre. We shared in the consecration of deaconesses and home missioners and the commissioning of missionaries. We moved toward a global Book of Discipline and global Social Principles. We voted to add five new bishops in Africa after 2020, and approved a churchwide study on our ecclesiology.
The Episcopal address set the tone for the event, focusing on humility and lifting up our accomplishments. We heard from our laity an invitation to members to be more involved in making disciples and getting involved in ministries to bring the love of Christ to others. We heard our young people say they “are engaged in Christ’s journey with energy and love.” We also heard them say clearly that they do not want a divided church and urged us to “be in unity even if we do not have unanimity.” They give us hope for our future.
The body had difficult and challenging work before it as we acknowledged our differences over human sexuality. Amidst those differences, the delegates affirmed they want their bishops to lead and we found ourselves with an opportunity for a holy moment. We spoke candidly about what divides us and what our church might look like in the future if we dared to consider new possibilities. We offered a way forward, postponing decisions about sexuality matters and committing to having a different kind of global conversation that allows all voices to be heard.
Our differences do not keep us from being the body of Christ. They do not keep us from doing good in the world. They do not keep us from making a difference – and so we set forth bold new goals: to make a million new disciples of Jesus Christ; to engage 3 million new people to make a difference in the world; to transform 400 communities for vital abundant living; to reach a million children with lifesaving health interventions; and to double the number of vital congregations.
Most importantly, we affirmed our commitment to stay united. We proved that we are more than debates and divisions, more than rules and resolutions. We stood together as the body of Christ. As we reflect on our time in Portland, our prayer is for unity in the church for the advancement of our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As John Wesley reminded us, “Best of all, God is with us.”
Signed on behalf of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the Council
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church reached an impasse over the church’s stance on homosexuality. The conference requested leadership from the Council of Bishops (the bishops are the executive branch, General Conference is the legislative branch, and thus they waited for the request rather than take action on their own). The bishops offered leadership, which was originally rejected but later adapted. In short all debate on LGBT+ issues was postponed and a study committee will be appointed to bring recommendations to the next General Conference in 2020 or to a special, called General Conference in 2018 or 2019.
Here’s the statement from the Council of Bishops: http://bit.ly/1W900fX
Here’s an article that details the process by which it was adopted: http://bit.ly/1OGbwYA
I really don’t have anything to add at the moment; I’m still sorting things out.
This morning, Jenny forwarded an article by Wil Cantrell to me. He provides a persuasive witness and makes a powerful argument for United Methodist unity in the face of our differences. I wanted to share it with you.
I’ve long appreciated the insights of Rev. Dan Dick. He has a heart-breaking and heart-warming account of day six of General Conference. He ends with the following two sentences:
There is a wisdom in group process — therefore, there is a wisdom in “church.” When we gather as baptized community and are open to the Holy Spirit, some pretty amazing things happen. — Dan Dick.
The above insight is true not only of what can happen at General Conference, but of what can happen in local churches. I’ve seen it before here in Abilene First UMC and, by the grace of God, I trust I will see it again.
A friend and clergy colleague, Rev. Heather Hensarling, posted the following statement on her Facebook page yesterday (as General Conference began). I’m sharing it with her permission. If I substitute “Council Grove” for “Forest Hill” and “Great Plains” for “Mississippi,” it speaks for me.
Today, and in the days ahead, let us all be in prayer for our dear, United Methodist Church. This church has helped to shape and form the person I have become and am becoming. For better or worse, she has held me in her arms and has imbued in me the greatest knowledge of all…”Jesus loves me. This I know for the Bible tells me so.” I may not be the best Christian in the world, but I am a follower of Jesus because of those first little lessons I learned at Forest Hill Methodist Church. Church, I have no desire to be proud of you, but I do not want to be embarrassed by you either. GC2016: Be faithful. Be kind. See the good in one another and love one another just as Christ has loved you. Stand on the promises and not on the differences. And to my own Mississippi Delegation, remember to pause and pray before you speak. Pause and pray before you vote. Seek the face of Christ in every face represented. And know that we are praying for each and every one of you. May you be grounded in peace and love from the inside out. God bless us everyone.
General Conference (the worldwide, decision-making body of the United Methodist Church) opens today in Portland, Oregon and will run for the next ten days. You can follow along at gc2016.umc.org or on Twitter with the hashtag #UMCGC. The 864 delegates have a lot on their plate. Please pray for them and the church.