April 27, 2019

Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,

In these days following the resurrection of Jesus, I greet you in the name of the Risen One.

Many have been waiting and wondering in prayer as the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church has been meeting to determine the constitutionality of the legislation that was passed at General Conference 2019. We give thanks for the difficult work completed by members of the Judicial Council and for the way they faithfully engage in their work.

Yesterday, the Judicial Council announced their ruling. In their decision, they determined that some of the petitions of the Traditional Plan were constitutional while others were ruled unconstitutional, and a petition related to a plan for churches to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church was ruled constitutional. Those petitions ruled constitutional will go into effect on January 1, 2020 in the United States. In Africa, Europe, and the Philippines they take effect twelve months after the next General Conference. The petition on a gracious exit goes into effect immediately. You may review the Judicial Council’s decisions at http://bit.ly/JCR1378 and at http://bit.ly/JCR1379. An explanation of both rulings is at http://bit.ly/UMNSApr26.

This news is being received with joy by some and with deep despair by others. Clearly, we remain a deeply divided church about matters related to the inclusion of our LGBTQIA siblings in the church, the community, and the world. We are conflicted about how we hold each other accountable and how we move into the future, perhaps united and together or perhaps divided and apart. I am moved by many conversations I have had with persons of solid faith and character representing the whole theological spectrum who have shared that although we think differently, we can and should work together in unity of mission for the sake of our call by Jesus Christ. But from others I am also seeing and feeling the excitement and perhaps the inevitability of something new and exciting emerging from the rubble of The United Methodist Church.

At this moment, no one knows what our future is going to be. There are many conversations taking place in different groups and among various leaders throughout the world. There are huge differences of thought separating those who favor stricter enforcement of what they understand to be a Biblical prohibition against LGBTQIA persons and those on the opposite side of the theological spectrum who find those enforcements to be punitive and thus embrace a much wider interpretation of the Biblical mandate to love one another as Jesus loved us. And there are a great many whose thoughts about human sexuality and Biblical interpretation are somewhere in between those two poles.

As I pondered this moment when we would receive the ruling of the Judicial Council, these words from a hymn I love came to mind:

Do not be afraid, I am with you.

I have called you each by name.

Come and follow me, I will bring you home;

I love you and you are mine. (“You Are Mine,” by David Haas. TFWS #2218)

These words remind us that we are loved by God no matter who we are; and that we are called by God to follow Jesus. Each of us has heard that call and felt that call in our hearts at some time in our lives. Without it, our “faith” would be dead, nothing more than the “creaking of a rusty gate.” (1 Corinthians 113:1, The Message). But most important for us at this time is a strong and sure reminder that no matter where our journey leads us, God is with us and we are reassured not to fear the future or the changes that it brings.

At this pivotal moment in our church’s life, I am strengthened by my baptismal vows taken when I was a teenager. I recall those vows as I commit to lead our Desert Southwest Conference in this time of change.

  • I renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin.
  • I accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
  • I confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put my whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve Christ as my Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

And moreover, as I dream of a church that is fully inclusive, loving all persons, regardless of any of the roadblocks others might create:

  • I promise to continue to call us to live into our vision of being a courageous church, loving like Jesus, acting for justice, and united in hope.
  • I pledge to uphold in my leading, the reminder to us to hold to these values:  trust, compassion, relationship, authenticity, boldness and collaboration.
  • I pledge to continue to lead us in ways that reflect the vision of a One Church Plan. I believe in this because it honors the freedom that pastors have to officiate at same sex weddings as well as the freedom not to do so.
  • I will support churches that refuse to allow same sex weddings on their campuses; and I will support churches that are called to do so.
  • I will uphold the quality of our inquiry into the gifts and graces of candidates for the ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world at the district and conference levels without intrusive inquiry into a candidate’s sexual orientation.
  • I will lead in ways that encourage all to create spaces that practice open minds, open hearts and open doors.
  • I will lead in ways that honor the gift of being fully oneself as we serve as laity or clergy.
  • I will continue my strong commitment that disputes related to sexual orientation or gender orientation or about officiating at same sex weddings will not be resolved through church trials if at all possible. I will work so resolution to these matters may truly come when we live fully into relationship with one another and with God.
  • I will pray unceasingly for those whose hearts are hardened against another person because of the conflict our church is in. My prayer and hope are that we will come to a day when we can decide with love and grace to live together despite our differences or that there may be something new and fresh emerging from the ashes and rubble of our beloved United Methodist Church.

So as we travel together into an uncertain future, I pray that we will not lose hope or faith in God. We are, you will remember, a people of resurrection faith! We hold fast in our trust that in all things, God will be with us.

So, let us keep engaging our congregation and our community in mission to touch hearts and souls and transform lives.

Let us share the love of Christ with all people.

Let us love one another even when we disagree.

Let us pray for each other as we discern what our future will be.

And in the Wesleyan spirit, let us do no harm, do good, and last but not least, let us stay in love with God.

In Christ,

 

Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata

Resident Bishop, Phoenix Area

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