Bishop Sally Dyck challenges the General Conference at Friday’s opening worship

Bishop Sally Dyck delivers the sermon during morning worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, OR.Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Bishop Sally Dyck delivers the sermon during morning worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, OR.

Portland, OR –It’s 8:00 am, and the plenary hall of the United Methodist General Conference is still nearly empty, with those present milling around and talking amongst one another. Calmly approaching the microphone, the worship leader speaks: “Once Jesus calls us to follow him, our lives are never the same”

With that, the Rev. Laura Bartlett, the worship director of the General Conference, moves forward and begins a litany which is reflective of what usually happens in the plenary session . . . with a slight difference.

“Microphone 3?” she says.

The person at the mic responds: “I confess that I have sinned. I am not worthy of God’s love.”

Microphone 5?

“I confess that I have sinned. I am not worthy of God’s love.”

The litany continues . . . confession upon confession.

A gentle, meditative version of Amazing Grace follows. A spirit of mercy permeates the room.

With that introduction, Bishop Sally Dyck of the Chicago Episcopal Area came forth to offer a gentle start to her sermon, “Go… Learn… Mercy….” She spoke of her admiration for Pope Francis and particularly for his declaration of this year, beginning this past Advent, as the year of mercy.

She worked from Matthew 9:9-13, the story of Jesus eating with the tax collectors — those wretched folk who extracted onerous taxes from the Jews and gave the funds to the Romans. Tax collectors were labeled as such sinners that they were declared “incompatible” with being Jews.

She spoke of the Pharisees, good people seeking to renew and extend the observance of Jewish practice. She described the Pharisees as “Jesus’ foil to the tax collectors,” clarifying for the disciples that God’s mercy is for all.

Jesus responded to them in this way: “Go, learn mercy.”

With that exegesis, Dyck moved to think about where the United Methodist Church finds itself today. “United Methodists have one category of people that we have declared “incompatible” with Christian teaching,” she said, “Just one.” She acknowledged the differences in the room over the issue of human sexuality and said she was not there to argue about it.

Dyck then she told the story of an “incompatible” person in her own family — a family member who had used a gun to killed another and then himself.

Murder, domestic violence, and gun violence were an ever-present loss, and a wake of destruction that permeated her family.

Dyck lives in Chicago,  a city with over 1200 shootings this year resulting in at least 200 deaths from gun violence. A group came together and prayed for just one weekend that year without a shooting. They finally saw their goal — Easter weekend.

However, this past Mother’s Day Chicago saw 50 shootings with eight deaths. Dyck said that a police officer spoke of dreading the sounds of summer in Chicago because of the screaming of the mothers.

Churches have organized ministries around these murders. “We want to offer places where children can be safe and not be shot on their front porch,” she said

“Murder?,” Dyck asked. “That’s not incompatible with Christian teaching?”

Dyck went on to acknowledge her own identity as a white woman and her awareness of her own place of privilege. She suggested that our own United Methodist Church is structured on racism, contending that racism is in the very air that we breathe in the way we do our work with one another.

“Why is racism not declared incompatible with Christian teaching?” she asked.

Maybe, she said, we don’t do so because that would lead to different and difficult conversations because we have different experiences and different teachings.

“Why isn’t racism incompatible?” she asked again.

Dyck insisted she doesn’t want to add anything to the list of “incompatibles.” Instead, she called the General Conference to go and live mercy,  and not declaring anything incompatible with Christian teaching.

“I want to be a part of a church that is willing to go learn mercy,” she concluded.

“What part of “Go” don’t we get?”

With a quiet “amen,” Dyck silently walked away from the podium and a moment of silence permeated the hall.


Click here to read a transcript of the sermon.

I’m a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church, the place I finally discovered grace after a lifelong search. I love writing, gardening, reading, asking questions and making connections between political and religious practices.

My husband and I jointly claim eleven children (as he says, “mostly by mergers and acquisitions!”) and twelve grandchildren. In between our own travels, we love to have them and many others come and stay with us a bit. We see so much of the heavenly grace in the offering of earthly hospitality.

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26 Comments on "Bishop Sally Dyck challenges the General Conference at Friday’s opening worship"

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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Huh? I know I am stating the obvious, but surely she has given some thought to the mere incoherence of this tactic. I do not wish to be insensitive; however this is her basis of argument. The reason homosexuality is singled out in the Discipline is because it is the only sin, among all the others, petitioned for justification, encouragement, and celebrated consumation. Did I miss the General Conference where racists demanded confirmation as Practicing Racists in ministry of the UMC? I can’t recall a murderer demanding to take oaths as a Practicing Murderer nor a self-avowed Practicing Thief demanding… Read more »
Kris Ann
You have missed the point. You are not being asked to start making a list of sins. It is simply pointing out that EVERYONE is a sinner. And ALL those who HAVE become clergy, have been given mercy for their transgressions. Of course we don’t want clergy actively committing murder. None of use are that stupid. But it is not too far fetched to expect that you might find a racist hidden in the ranks. The real conflict here is the belief that people PRACTICE biological desires for lust Vs. people celebrate their GOD GIVEN biological desires of love. I… Read more »

Bing. It’s all words anyway even from the enlightened bishopric.

WD Stephens

My thoughts exactly. The text of this sermon is simplistic in its view and obviously the most flawed argument I have seen yet on this volitale issue. Jesus would have told the woman caught in adultry to “go” and be ordained? Or “go” and sin no more. I get the ministry of go- but this “bishop” doesn’t???


Bishop Dyck stated: “United Methodists have one category of people that we have declared ‘incompatible’ with Christian teaching. Just one.”
With all due respect, she is incorrect. Nowhere does our BoD declare homosexual people incompatible with Christian teaching. Paragraph 161.F does say, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the PRACTICE of homosexuality and considers this PRACTICE incompatible with Christian teaching” (emphasis added). All persons have temptations and desires that must be resisted, those with same-gender attractions and those of us whose feel attracted to those of the opposite.

The difference is your church says to heterosexuals, “You can act out on those desires if you’re married,” and it also says to those same heterosexuals, “You can get divorced and remarried as often as you like for whatever reason,” which flies in the face of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9; but to homosexuals your church says, “You can never, ever act out on those desires in your entire lifetime. You are forbidden from having a loving relationship with anyone of the same gender, period. No exceptions because it’s all sin, sin, sin.” So if you’re a straight person, you… Read more »

When I read articles outlining the General Conference and learn of bishops like this person and learn of Eucharistic denigrations by LBGT activists, I wonder why I stay in this church. The GC seems to be a carnival show, filled with activists promoting the latest fads of secular society and not like an assembly of spirit-filled people contemplating the mission of spreading the Gospel. It’s a sad display to the world. Thankfully, most secular media are ignoring the GC so far. But for those of us following it, it’s embarrassing.

Edwin Tait
I find responses like this downright strange. Conservatives seem so wedded to a narrative of decline that they can’t tell when they’re winning. All my liberal friends on Facebook are bemoaning their inevitable defeat and talking about starting a new denomination, and you’re going to leave because you want to beat your defeated adversaries out the door? The one thing you all seem to have in common is that you love division and the American way more than you love the Body of Christ. (Note: I’m saying this as an Episcopalian who is also involved in a UMC congregation; the… Read more »

I find your comment somewhat ironic as I, too, am contemplating the RCC.


What is RCC?


Roman Catholic Church


Don’t. Read Karen Armstrong’s A History of God instead or the seminal Christopher Hitchens’ work God Is Not Great. Get over the religion based thinking.


It’s so distressing. So many are deeply invested in apologetics to justify the ugliest impulses. There are industries devoted to it, so folks have ready retorts when they’re challenged to live into Christ’s grace. There *is* a spirit moving here, but it’s not holy

WD Stephens

“Ugliest impulses”, wow. How sad from someone preaching grace.


Thankfully, our GC is an assembly of spirit-filled people. Yes, there are those who attempt to turn it into a show, a parody even, for their own benefit. But most of the delegates and other participants are there for the serious work of our beloved UMC.


Jesus has commanded me to love my neighbor. Jesus loves everyone. So I am going to love everyone as Jesus commanded.

Steven H. Zinser

What a shallow bit of demagoguery by the good right rev.

“Murder is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Does this mean she’s advocating it?

Why do they allow these charlatans a chance to speak….much less a leadership position?


Wow. As I read these comments I am reminded of the history of the church, when arguments were made about why African Americans couldn’t be full participants in the church. It seems that we have a justification for all of our sins and finding a group to name as “other” so that we can declare ourselves somehow better than they is one of the biggest sins that we cling to. God has said that no one, NO ONE, is incompatible with him. Why do we think we can second guess that?

Richard F Hicks
Of course we’re not worthy!!! That’s the point of the Incarnation. We heard all about this last Christmas – or should have. “God did this and said ain’t it good!” The creation is so loved by the Creator that infinity chose to squeeze into finitude. Now that’s pain. The crucifixion was a release of the infinite from the finite. God doesn’t love us because we are good. Good loves us because God is good. Worthy, merit, earning, law keeping are sick, useless concepts. “Jesus loves me this I know . . . ” Don’t finish the phrase! Live in the… Read more »
Tom Moore
When Jesus saved the adulteress from stoning he refused to condemn her for her sin, but he also refused to condone it. He commanded her to, “Go and sin no more.” Some of us are not content to be saved through God’s grace, because it’s really a downer to regard ourselves as sinners. We feel much better about ourselves if the conduct in which we want to engage is not sinful. Hence, the tendency on the part of some to transform the Kingdom of Heaven into a democracy, hold a vote, and repeal the sin or sins that make us… Read more »
Debbie Collins
First, let me say that I am not a Biblical Scholar nor am I intimately familiar with all of the rules of the Methodist Church…so please forgive my ignorance. I am however, a Child of God and a United Methodist that believes that all human beings have worth. That said I guarantee that In 50 years, we will look back and feel shamed about how one group of human beings were treated and discriminated against , every bit as much as we are shamed today about how people were treated and discriminated against for the color of their skin 50… Read more »
Brent Olson

So much fear, so much anger, and in the midst of it all the art of practicing our Christianity seems to disappear. I am profoundly grateful to Bishop Dyck for her thoughtful, helpful words. It’s a hard world out there – a little grace wouldn’t hurt.

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