Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
At the Special Session of the Desert Southwest Conference held on September 14, one of the resolutions passed was the “Theological Statement of the Desert Southwest Conference Way Forward.” It was the first piece of legislation considered at the Conference. As it stands, this theological statement is a proclamation of our identity as a body of believers who follow Jesus Christ. It declares that we are a people of faith who hold theology, or “God talk” as a high priority in how we live and worship and serve God even as we acknowledge our differences.
The theological statement begins with an accurate description of our context. It speaks not of narrow, restrictive thinking, but invites us to be in community with one another as we serve God. It reminds us that as we seek better understanding of God, we are invited to “think broadly, deeply, and creatively about how God’s grace and love working in our world to bring about transformation, discipleship, and witness.” And furthermore, we are reminded of our vision to be “A Courageous Church, loving like Jesus, acting for justice, and united in hope.”
Despite the conflict and disagreement that is the reality of The United Methodist Church today, the theological statement points to the fact that the church has always faced such challenges brought on by differing opinions and divergent experiences of life. The fact that we are in a time of great uncertainty is not a new phenomenon. We are in this time because God created us as unique individuals with differences that are meant to be accepted and appreciated as God’s own handiwork, God’s multi-hued palette which we call “humanity.”
In our current struggle, that which threatens to divide us, threatening to break our United Methodist Church into branches or shards, is not over fundamental theological foundational beliefs of our denomination. There is much that we United Methodists hold dear as essential elements of our common faith. These broad strokes of theological thinking are not what threaten to divide us. Rather, it is a narrowly focused question of how The United Methodist Church will or will not affirm inclusion of all of God’s people in the life of our churches and communities.
Our theological inquiry leads us to a place where we acknowledge that today, we live in a time of great uncertainty and great disagreement over a very important conversation about LGBTQIA+ inclusion in our church. It is a question of life and death for some among us. Our LGBTQIA+ siblings are in our churches, in our pews and in our pulpits. Some are living in isolation, rejection, and fear. Some believe there can be no resolution of our differences about this one question. With the many opportunities God gives us to bring about transformation in the name of Jesus, God responds to our plea for guidance by reminding us that we need to focus on the unity of ministry and mission we can maintain even in the context of our wide diversity.
We are living between the present moment and the future hope that we cling to as people of a living God. We are living in the gap. This sometimes feels like a very scary place to be. Leaping from today toward tomorrow, between current reality and our highest aspirations, we do not exactly yet know what tomorrow will be. But like any leap of faith, it is a leap into the gap that we take knowing that God is with us.
That’s my take on the Theological Statement that we affirmed last month. Here’s my request: if you have not already read it, please do. You can find it here. You will also find a one-page Executive Summary which is good, but not as great as the whole statement. You can use this statement in Bible Studies, Sunday School classes, youth group conversations, UMW or UMM meetings, and definitely as inspiration for a sermon series. In short, it is useable and will generate conversation and prayer.
I ask you to live into that statement of who we are, a people of God seeking wisdom and support for our time in the gap, and a people seeking to be true to our call to love all people and proclaim the Good News of Jesus to all!
Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata
Resident Bishop, Phoenix Area