Dear Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ!
Last week, members of the Appointive Cabinet: your District Superintendents, the Director of New Faith and Vital Faith Development met with me for one of our regular meetings. As is our practice, we shared some of the concerns and joys that were in our heart.
In our sharing, we all agreed that as we connect with persons in our congregations, both lay, and clergy, there is anxiety and fear. As you lead your church, we are aware of the immense weight you bear upon your shoulders. We lifted up these concerns in our time of sharing and in prayer together before we attended to any other “business” on our agenda. It is with humble and full hearts that we share our faith with you in this pastoral letter.
As a nation, and as a church, we are in “uncharted territory.” Many of our experiences are unprecedented, and so we might feel as if we are wandering in a desert wilderness. It is by faith that I believe we can find a way through this uncertain and anxious time.
The anxiety and fear we encounter as we meet and pray with you are caused by negative behaviors that are erupting with increasing frequency. Violence and incivility are now daily occurrences. Threats to one’s safety are real, harm is being done, persons are being targeted unjustly. Individuals who perpetrate the violence and hurt are doing so with bold malice and intentionality. It is as if something has happened to give people license to reject civility and open a floodgate of cruelty to others. A secular disregard is replacing Christ-like love and grace for all persons for everyone but oneself. As a result:
- Immigrant families and their children fear separation from loved ones because of threatened deportations without regard to safety or the unity of families.
- Women are subjected to demeaning treatment. There is fear of sexual assault and the loss of safety.
- LGBTQ persons are subjected to harassment, bullying, violence, and death because of their sexual orientation.
- Religious tolerance, the profound respect for one another’s religious beliefs, is compromised by a selfish attitude that excludes and marginalizes those who are not Christian.
- Respect and appreciation for others who come from the rich variety of ethnic and racial groups of our global community are disintegrating into a racist, xenophobic attitude that leads to marginalization and hate. In particular, the Black American community is targeted with continuing racism and violence.
We speak this word of encouragement to the Desert Southwest Conference to remind us of our call to be faithful witnesses of Christ! Jesus asked us to fully engage with the people in our world who are hurting the most. We invoke the lesson Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which demonstrated that God expects us to offer mercy toward those who are neglected and marginalized.
Let us not neglect the words in James 2:15-17:
“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
So we, your sisters and brothers in Christ, call us all to continue our ministry to make our world a place where fear does not bind us to the narrow-mindedness of the past but opens us to be agents of transformation; where love for all vanquishes fear of others; where our caring and compassion assuages suffering; and where hatred and violent behavior toward others is eclipsed by the passing of the peace in the name of Christ.
We call upon all of the congregations of our United Methodist connection in the Desert Southwest Conference to join hearts and hands to boldly reach out, speak out, venture out in mission to the community and neighborhoods where you live, work, and worship.
We pledge to do so also, and we are committed to working alongside you as we engage in bold acts of love and kindness. The weight you bear is considerable, but you do not carry it alone. We hold you in prayer and ask that you pray for us. In addition to our prayers for each other, let’s get to work in courageous ways to conquer fear and to be the church that God wants us to be.
This is our witness in Christ’s shalom,
Robert T. Hoshibata, Resident Bishop
Dottie Escobedo-Frank, South District Superintendent
Neil Leftwich, West District Superintendent
Dan Morley, North District Superintendent
Susan Brims, East District Superintendent
David McPherson, Director of New Faith and Vital Faith Development