Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and the peace of Christ be with you in the new year!
Since the conclusion of General Conference 2019, the date of January 1, 2020 has loomed as a feared time of escalation of restrictive prohibitions against LGBTQIA+ siblings and pastors who officiate at same gender weddings. Now that January 1 is upon us, I would like to share some of my thoughts related to these new restrictions.
First and foremost, I repeat a message that I have shared in numerous settings over the two quadrennia that I have been your bishop. I was raised in a United Methodist Church that taught me through scripture, tradition, experience, and reason, that God loves everyone without exception. I was also taught that it was contrary to the Wesleyan tradition to harm another person through word or action. I take seriously the vows that I took at my baptism when I was a teenager, that I would:
- Renounce the spiritual powers of wickedness, reject the evils powers of this world, and repent of my sin;
- Accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and,
- Confess Jesus Christ as my Savior, put my whole trust in his grace, and promised to serve him as my Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.
Because of those vows, I have come to a place in my journey toward maturity as a Christ follower, and as a spiritual leader of the Desert Southwest Conference, that I can not participate in the evil, injustice, and oppression of persons who persecute other Christ followers on the basis of sexual orientation or on the basis of ministry in good faith to our LGBTQIA+ siblings.
Recently, you have read or heard of the Western Jurisdiction Safe Harbor Declaration. I am a signer of that Declaration, as it speaks of my faith-based commitment not to participate in the efforts of some who seek to promulgate the restrictive, punitive provisions of the actions of General Conference 2019. I join with my colleague bishops of the Western Jurisdiction and state that I will set aside complaints against clergy accused of being gay or performing LGBTQ+ weddings. And I give thanks for the Appointive Cabinet of our Conference for their support.
These words from all 5 active bishops of the Western Jurisdiction speak loudly of my convictions:
“As of January 1, 2020, when many of the actions of the 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church will take effect, we intend to provide safe harbor for clergy under our care who may be at risk under the new provisions, prohibitions, and punishments. We intend to exercise our authority as bishops of The United Methodist Church to encourage and protect the full participation of LGBTQ+ persons as beloved children of God, embraced in God’s reign of grace. To do so is essential to the integrity of the Body of Christ, and the unity of the Church. We are unwilling and unable to exercise the office of bishop in ways that harm, isolate, silence or exclude LGBTQ+ persons as they seek to be seen, understood, welcomed and fully included in the community of the Church. We do not intend to withhold or challenge ordination based solely on a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. We are unwilling to punish clergy who celebrate the marriage of two adults of any gender or sexual orientation seeking the blessing of God and the Church for their covenanted life together. At the same time, we recognize and will uphold the requirement that LGBTQ+ clergy, with all clergy, ‘maintain the highest standards of holy living’ in their personal and professional relationships.”
In addition to these words from the Safe Harbor Declaration, in the service of consecration of bishops, I recall the weight of the last word to me when I was consecrated a bishop of the church. I was told that I must :
Be to the flock of Christ, a shepherd; support the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, restore the outcast, seek the lost, relieve the oppressed. Faithfully administer discipline, but do not forget mercy, that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear you may receive the never-fading crown of glory.
Today, we are challenged more than ever before to keep our sights and our energy and resources keenly focused on the mission and ministry of our Church. We must be serious about our call by Christ to be doing more to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give hospitality to the stranger, clothe the naked, care for those battling illness, visit those in prison. Our energy and attention as Christ followers must be used for the life-giving work of discipleship and transformation of the world. To that end, I am compelled by my faith, to live into the provisions of the Safe Harbor Declaration and will honor Christ and his love for all persons as I do so.
A couple years ago, I was given a banner made by the late Rev. Cynthia Langston-Kirk. It was a gift of love from you that incorporates significant words that have been a hallmark for my ministry: All Means All. I take that to mean that God expects us to proclaim God’s love of all persons. And that is what I will continue to live in my personal life and in my ministry as your bishop.