It is my joy to invite Dan Schwerin, facilitator of our Task Force on the Wisconsin Option for the future, to share his thoughts and reflections in this week’s Soul Food. — Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Thank you for your thinking in the last Soul Food message and your commitment to a ‘do no harm’ unity that engenders radical inclusion. I wonder if I can offer a response that is not meant to be a last or better word, only a word from a fellow hand in the field.
Some of us experience unity as being partnered in an abusive relationship with the Church. This partner abuses power and seeks silent assent. This partner lacks insight into its own behavior. The vessel of covenant becomes an instrument of abuse. That said our entire human condition is in a state of mutual incomprehension that requires covenant community for discernment. More than that, the corruption we share—whether it be human nature, or self-interest, or the inherent limits of having eyes on one side of our heads--means we must welcome God's wholeness for us to taste a healing wholeness. Your article reminds me we need a God whose nature is One, especially now.
With each passing day each of us moves toward surrender into the Wholeness of a Shalom that already is, the Wholeness that is our death and resurrection. At any moment an accident or angina could reveal the whole that is always present but easily forgotten. The healing nature of Wholeness is lost among us when unity is a bully stick. Unity is part of the sacred flow of righteousness that is the good of our life together. We enjoin the good and enlarge it, and reveal the kin-dom of God when we can dismantle structures of racism and sexism and abuse that we might make the stream of wholeness larger and undivided.
Whatever measure of unity that remains after 2020, a harvest is ready now in Wisconsin. We cannot have some siblings live in fear of trials or reprisal. I feel urgency to make progress with the Wisconsin Way Forward and to choose a preferred future rather than have a lesser one dumped in our laps.
For those who may not have heard about the Bishop’s Task Force and the Wisconsin Way Forward, a new task force has been assembled with an inclusive composition in order to:
- Increase among us just resolution practices rather than resort to trials.
- Work with GCORR (the General Commission on Religion and Race) and the Connectional Table to dismantle racism/exclusion in our systems.
- Deepen conversation about human sexuality and action a do no harm culture than can reach each of our people.
- Engender a radical inclusion lived in our structures and the moral documents of our budgets.
- Free our systems of Egypt that we can be led by love and serve those God is giving us to love.
This will take time and prayer—and call forth a healing unity—which is frightening to us now.
I have heard disappointment that persons who identify as LGBTQIA will be marginalized if we work on racism, and I have heard that if we work on LGBTQIA issues, our Persons of Color will be marginalized. I believe in our efforts to get Egypt out of our bones, we are most free when we are led by love, not fear. Bishop, I pray that we discover unity alive among us by means of love that dismantles the unjust systems before us.
As you know, I have tried often to withdraw from service in our life together. I tire of the attacks of Christians. I think you, too, must tire of the attacks. That said, I am tired, too, of seeing others hurt—and the hurt we share. Too much is at stake. Your letter reminded me we cannot withdraw from the body that gives us life. The unity we enjoy in the life of God is a gift and our healing. Thank you for your leadership in making disciples loving enough to transform the world.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dan Schwerin
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 Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
The author of United Methodism’s most popular long-term Bible study, the four-part Disciple Bible Study series, has issued a plea to the church “to heal and not divide” over the issue of homosexuality.