Response #2 to Bishop Willimon

By We Hyun Chang, Special Contributor …

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.

 

Join the conversation....

  1. stevegh says:

    We did not say this, but I know that he has at least as many reasons to be deeply, deeply disappointed by some of the decision of GC2012 as the Bishop does. But he has named the crux of the matter: we will be known not for our decisions or our structure, but our love for each other. What unites us is not our shared opinions or even our similar faith, but our one Lord whose children, fractious as we often are, are still members of one family gathered at one table. We are not The People Who Agree. We are the people who come to the table.

    Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes

  2. reveast says:

    First let me say that as a delegate from New England, this is why I am proud to serve on the delegation with We as our lead delegate. Thank you, We, for this thoughtful, thorough, and spot-on analysis of Bishop Willimon's letter. The lowest form of debate is to attack one's opponent. While we shouldn't even see ourselves as opponents on opposite sides, obviously this is how Bishop Willimon characterized those at GC: those who agreed with him, and then the rest of us. Nevertheless, since that characterization was made, to attack those who opposed the restructuring plans as ineffective, lazy or idle is unintelligent and disingenuous. So, without even knowing us or our ministries, if we opposed the plan we are idle? That statement is erroneous on its face. I was deeply disappointed with the UMC's failure to stop discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons; however, I am not going to castigate those who disagree with me. We simply see the issue differently. May we continue to love God with everything we have, and love our neighbor as ourselves, including our neighbors at GC. God bless and heal us all.

  3. mqueior says:

    Thank you, We…

    Rev. Meg Queior

  4. prhg1949 says:

    Amen and Amen!

    Rev. Patrice Goodwin

  5. timeral says:

    Excellent response. I was an observer and I am an ordained elder. I listened closely whenever you spoke on the plenary floor and appreciated your point of view. Your words here could not have been spoken any better or more respectfully which was something I observed very little at the conference. Someone had commented that Bishop Willimon was engaging in hyperbole to get his point across. I hope this is true because based on my personal discussions and experience of other blog entries his words are doing much harm. On the several occasions I have encountered him it seems to be his preferred form of rhetorical speech. That being said, the time has come for us to rebuild the trust that has been eroded by bullying, finger pointing and name calling. It has been at least four quadrennium of dissent to the point that some delegates are no longer using veiled threats and text messages towards each other but arrogantly intimidating, attacking and threatening each other on the plenary floor during breaks and at the microphone. Many of the students who accompanied me to this conference agree that trust has been broken. Some wonder if it is beyond repair. It is not just trust on one issue or individual trust but trust of the process, leadership and each other. Power has been used to silence on many levels. This official use of power calls into question the use of Roberts Rules for meaningful and productive Holy Conferencing. I saw how people were not recognized while others spoke an inordinate amount of times in committee and plenary. I observed how difficult it was for those who did not fully understand Robert's Rules to gain recognition. I was told about the use of translation that in some cases was purposefully distorted from the original language. Students who were bilingual overheard mistranslations and subsequent whispered threats that were made in order to stifle some delegates from speaking their own thoughts on matters in committee. I heard distrust evidenced by comments that speakers are 'always' trying to work some angle. In one case a clearly written and spelled out piece of legislation was called into question for 30 minutes because one member "knew what the legislation was REALLY about". But this person never offered to talk about his perceptions. Instead he merely attacked others in the committee that truly wanted to discuss the implications in a civil conversation. I saw many instances where assumptions were made concerning a person's country/annual conference of origin/social location/gender and skin color without checking in. Our Identities are complicated and complex beyond what we can see and hear. I saw human beings placed in front of the plenary session in unethical ways which were emotionally manipulative. If we are going to heal and seek to help each other and our denomination come to wholeness hyperbole will not get us there. It only reifies the distrust experienced at the General Conference creating an unending circle of further denigrating debate. This article makes it even more clear to me that it is time to let "our 'yes' be 'yes', and our 'no', 'no'." Exaggeration, ambiguous statements about 'those people', and blame will need to be left behind. Political tactics used for expediency are eroding our faith in each other. This conference called us to accountability for ways in which we have colonized and committed violence to the world's Native American and Indigenous peoples. We have much listening to do and trust has been broken many times over. I do not want this call to be lost in the shuffle of further colonization practices of excuses and justifications. It is time to pause and listen to our own hearts to discover the distrust we have of our system and each other so that when we do speak we might do so with veracity. It is time to recommit to listening to each other's story. What I read above was a different story about the conference. Frankly I have not read many that did not express disdain or outright anger at the delegates. It is time to stop the imperialistic colonizing circle of blame. It is time for each one of us to hear each other into life. I am just one observer who took some students to learn more about how their beloved church works. I am not always the best at looking at my own heart but we must begin somewhere. The transformation of the world is happening because God's Spirit is alive and moving. I for one heard your story. I look forward to hearing more. I thank you for these grace-filled words towards one of our Episcopal leaders, our large church pastors and as inspiration for those of us that are not in the spotlight but are faithfully seeking God's Spirit to lead us into the deeper trust you proclaim.
    Rev Suzanne Duchesne

  6. First, let me commend all the delegates who so tirelessly and doggedly endured the trials and travails of the "Trouble in Tampa." Your patience and endurance is to be applauded. Those of us who followed the GC 2012 in the Web got only a glimpse of what you endured.
    Second, however, I would like to add my voice of support for Bishop Willimon. He did something that has been rare over the past several decades of UMC life: as an episcopal leader, he expressed his honest and truthful opinion. For far, far, far too long, we have seen too many Bishops (both active and retired) who have spoken one thing yet acted antother way. We have seen too many Bishops use their authority and position to push their political and theological agendas. Bishop Willimon, however, has broken the mold and boldly spoken out.
    And I agree with much of what he had to say. We have two primary issues in the UMC: the first is indeed lack of trust which has become endemic (and established!!) throughout our entire system and the second is the de-emphasis upon the spiritual health and vitality of the local church. Local clergy do not trust bishops/cabinets; local churches do not trust bishops and general boards; conservatives do not trust liberals and vice versa; Africans do not trust Americans; and the list goes on. We are a denomination "balkanized" by our dis-trust and mis-trust of each other.
    That lack of trust has filtered down and infected our local churches,many of which have digressed from being lively, active centers for making disciples into being religious social institutions more centered on their own preservation of their own "kingdom" than building God's kingdom. In other words, we have become what John Wesley warned us not to become: more concerned about the forms of religion but empty on the inside.
    Bishop Willimon and others with the courage to speak up are saying we can't continue the way we are going. As a denomination, we are on a dead end road…..with a cliff and no guard rails to stop us. The only way to "break" the power of the general boards and institutionalized bureacracy is to revive the local church.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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