Our actions speak louder than our words

10/2/2018

The special “Called Session” of General Conference is rapidly approaching.  It will be a major event in the life of The United Methodist Church. The decisions that will be made by this legislative body could have an effect that will impact our denomination for years to come. 
 
Issues of human sexuality have been near the forefront of our denomination for more than 40 years. The last 24 years, we have been so focused on matters pertaining to human sexuality that we have had little time or energy to devote our attention to other more crucial matters. A survey, conducted by the United Methodist News Service, just prior to the 2016 General Conference, did not even list issues of human sexuality among the top five concerns of delegates attending the 2016 General Conference. 
 
Yet, few folks could tell you any significant legislative items that were addressed at this Conference.  Most delegates left the conference pointing toward the formation of a specific Commission that was authorized to study and address issues of human sexuality and to bring recommendation to a special called session in 2019. Now it seems that the entire denomination is anxiously waiting to see what will happen.
 
As an episcopal leader and as resident Bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference I have tried to maintain a “non-anxious presence.”  One of the ways that I have done this is to point out the fact that regardless of the decisions that will be made at the Called Session, we still are charged with the task of making disciples for Jesus Christ. Our current track record among all three groups; progressives, centrists, and traditionalist is not one of success.  We are not reaching folks with the Good News of the gospel, and we are dying on the vine.
 
Delegates will be coming from all over the globe to deal with the church’s position on homosexuality and to determine our ministry policies toward the LGBTQ community.  Many are saying that “The world will be watching us.”  I do believe some attention will be paid to this event by a select few, but much of the “world” will continue with business as usual, having little to no concern regarding anything that will be decided. Many of those watching will only do so looking for the sensational or the bizarre to blast across the airwaves or inundate the avenues of social media in an attempt to discredit Christianity as beings less than relevant.
 
Christians are always called to represent and reflect Jesus Christ in the best way possible.  How we act with and toward one another in St. Louis is far more important, in my opinion, than any decision or outcome. I do not fear the demise of the CHURCH because the CHURCH (not any particular denomination) is of God and will endure until the end of time.  I do not fear the end of The United Methodist church. We have faced schism, division, and separation throughout our history. We will weather this current crisis.
 
My fear is that we will cause harm to one another and to our corporate witness for Jesus by acting other than Christian toward each other.  I am not alone in this concern.  At a recent gathering of delegates from across our jurisdictional region, similar concerns regarding our positive witness were raised.  I join those delegates, in an attempt to live out Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4: 2-6, to affirm my desire for “hearts of peace” to anchor the following values that we will operate under at this Called Session.
 
In affirmation of the values expressed in this passage:
 

  • We will have a heart of peace toward one another and will avoid objectifying or demonizing those with whom we disagree.
  • We will come to General Conference in a spirit of discernment, trusting that if we allow the Holy Spirit to move, God will show us the way.
  • We will be good stewards of our time and resist delaying our discernment process by excessive focus on the rules. We will honor the work of the Commission on the General Conference and the design of the called special session by working within the existing rules.
  • We will work for the betterment of The United Methodist Church and the realization of its mission, especially as that mission is expressed in the ministries of local churches and of other connectional structures.
  • We will honor the work of the COWF because we believe that the years of relationship building, and discernment given to the Commission was a gift that we cannot replicate in the four days of the called session.
  • And, we will honor the leadership and discernment of our Council of Bishops in the recognition that the delegates of General Conference 2016 specifically asked our bishops to lead.
 
Each delegate will have the freedom to vote according to their own convictions. My hope is that how we live with each other in the midst of our differences and preferences will reflect the love of Jesus present among us as we offer grace and space in the unity of the Spirit with hearts geared towards peace.
 
God Bless,
Bishop Frank J. Beard