Dear Bishop Willimon,
Grace and peace to you in the name and spirit of the risen Christ!
I read your article in the United Methodist Reporter: “GC 2012 and church by committee.” I appreciate that you shared your thoughts and reflections about GC 2012 with honesty and passion. However, as a United Methodist clergy and two-time delegate to General Conference, I find your article to be damaging to the foundational trust and integrity of who and how we are as United Methodists and deeply hurtful to many delegates and all others who have shared their time, passion and prayer for the work of General Conference.
I hear your frustration about GC 2012 as I believe it comes from your deep passion and love for the mission and ministry of UMC. I celebrate that our episcopal leaders have such passion and love for the church.
However, I cannot agree with your point at all that because GC 2012 failed to adopt the changes proposed by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table, no good has come out of GC 2012 and “no thoughtful restructuring, no accountability for growth and discipleship will come out of GC. Ever.”
General Conference is at the heart of our connectionalism and the global church, whether we agree or not that it is the most effective way to organize and govern our life together as United Methodists. GC has been the body where we have come together to discern the ways to be faithful to God’s call to ministry and mission. It is the body that ended many unjust discriminations within the church and courageously called United Methodists for challenging and changing the world into a more just and peaceful place.
Whether we like its discernment and decisions or not, it is the only body that speaks for the whole church. Denouncing the existence and work of GC because the desired outcome was not realized is not only irresponsible but also harmful to our life together as United Methodists. For by doing so, we undermine the most foundational trust and integrity of our being and doing as United Methodist Church.
We can disagree and debate about how we can build a house called United Methodist Church. But none of us should think that we can build a house together while denying and denouncing the very foundation of it. Whether we like it or not and no matter how frustrating and disappointing one may feel, GC 2012 did the very work it is called to do, to discern the ways to be faithful to God’s call and speak for the future of the Church.
Any United Methodist has every right to disagree with what GC has discerned and done. I, myself, do not agree with what GC has done in many areas. However, I believe no United Methodist, whether a layperson or a bishop, has a right to denounce the sacred trust that we have placed on the existence and work of GC. As a bishop and a fellow United Methodist, I think you have damaged this sacred trust, which is the foundation of who and how we are.
Secondly, I was deeply disappointed and hurt by your comment “bishops are now free to focus upon their annual conferences and those local churches and productive clergy (many of whom are too busy and too impatient to be delegates to GC) who are responsive to episcopal encouragement for risk-taking, visionary leadership.”
I can only speak for myself and my fellow delegates from New England Conference. We did not become delegates because we were idle, complacent and unproductive clergy. I opposed Plan UMC not because I wanted “to protect the church’s bureaucracy,” but because I wanted to help UMC do justice, love compassion and walk humbly with God. We became delegates to be responsive not to episcopal encouragement for risk-taking, visionary leadership but to God’s calling for risk-taking, visionary leadership for the United Methodist Church.
We read, studied, prayed, and sat hours after hours not to maintain status quo but to be authentic and faithful to a higher calling of God for us to be faithful and bold followers of Jesus Christ as United Methodists in our time and place. By your disparaging comment you have not only disrespected such sacred calling and passion that many delegates bring to the life of our beloved church but have also denied the very presence of God who called and still calls me and many other delegates for the ministry and mission of the UMC.
Dear Bishop, please know that as your heart and the hearts of mega-church pastors beat out of deep passion for UMC, so do ours. Please also know that hope for God’s people and God’s church will not only come from those big churches but also from the very presence and power of the risen Christ who also dwells in the hearts and lives of those who love God and God’s church in small, shady and forgotten places of our churches and society.
Dear Bishop, I do not doubt your heart for the love of UMC. I just want to ask you not to doubt my heart and many others’ for the love of the UMC, even though we may not agree with you. As bishops are for the whole church, you are also my bishop. I need your encouragement, prayer and exemplary leadership, not your denouncement and disrespect. I sincerely hope and pray that God will make all things, including what was done and undone by GC 2012, work together to bring the good of God for all as we are still called to love God and love all through who and how we are and do as United Methodist followers of Jesus Christ.
With deep trust in our life together as United Methodists,
We Hyun Chang
The Rev. We Hyun Chang was a delegate to General Conference 2012 from the New England Conference.