May 25, 2019
Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ!
The invitation to attend the UMCNext conversation in Kansas City could not be ignored. Still perplexed by the actions of the General Conference to adopt punitive measures tightening the restrictions against inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ siblings, I appreciated the opportunity to participate in the 3-day event hosted by the Church of the Resurrection.
Like many who attended the event, I was not quite sure what to expect. I had concerns about whether there would be diversity in the leadership of the gathering, and whether it was going to be a safe space for honest conversations, whether there was going to be adequate time to develop trust among us. Some feared that there would be a pre-determined pathway for the future of the church. And yet, like others, I went with an expectation that God was calling us together to try to discern what the next step might be for the Methodist movement.
We were a group of about 600 persons from all US annual conferences who did not know each other, and had reasons to distrust each other’s motives and hopes. Yet, I experienced a time of prayerful reflection, inspiring witness that reminded us of the importance of our efforts to create something new for those who longed for a church that truly believed and practiced Christ-like love for all of God’s children. Clearly there was energy in the room that signaled commitment to work toward that future.
We were held together by 4 common beliefs. I share them with you here because they form a firm foundation for a great many of us. The fuller version of a report from the UMCNext event, please check out: https://dscumc.org/dsc-next/. The 4 common beliefs are:
- We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
- We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.
- We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.
- We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
I strongly affirm these 4 common beliefs. I participated in the UMCNext conversations, prayed fervently for the Spirit to be present with us as we met to create and give life to something new that will proclaim and practice God’s love for all persons. I was convinced that the Desert Southwest Conference, already a welcoming conference, has been and is seeking to be just that. As I packed to return home, I felt that there was a hope-filled future for the global Methodist movement. It may be through efforts to renew our denomination, or it may be through our determination that something entirely new might need to emerge. Time will tell.
That hope will be critical to our future. At the UMCNext gathering, those of us from the Desert Southwest met and discussed what next steps would be for us. There was unanimity about our commitment to continue in conversation with the UMCNext movement but to also be in dialogue with other groups that are engaging in similar conversations. We agreed that we will begin working to engage with you to move into our future, guided by God’s Holy Spirit, breathing new hope and bringing new life to our churches and communities.
Plans are being developed that will invite your input and participation in creating a response to the actions of the General Conference. Your conference leadership will keep you apprised of ways you can assist. Our plans for our Annual Conference in a few weeks will include opportunities that will help us know better where we stand in regard to the different options for our future. Additionally we are creating a Desert Southwest Forward process with a commitment to receive and utilize your input and to involve you in shaping our future.
For this moment, I ask you to be patient in a time of discovery about our options for the future. I believe it will be essential to be in conversation with one another to best determine what that will look like. You and I must continue to listen intently to one another, honoring our differences and our diversity. That means being caring of those who are theologically differently aligned than you are. It means opening our hearts to care with Christ’s love when we encounter someone who is on the opposite end of the theological spectrum about LGBTQIA+ inclusion and other matters that divide us. I expect us to live together in creative dialogue and discovery about one another, even if our beliefs about scripture, marriage, inclusion are in tension.
Even in our differences, we are bound together as sisters and brothers united in Christ’s generous love for us. Despite the conflict raging in the church today, we are still called to reach into the communities around us to proclaim that love in acts of kindness, generosity, and mercy. That deep and expansive love defines who we are called to be as Christ followers in the world today. I invite you to journey with me in these challenging moments that we will never forsake our mission as we follow Jesus Christ.
In Christ’s shalom,
Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata
Resident Bishop, Phoenix Area