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Commentary


Heralds of (Re)Hash: Bishops Offer Same Tired Answers To Vastly Different Questions

by James Gibson


Serious times call for serious leaders. In times of adversity, even the most worldly-minded of souls will seek the comfort that can only come from the spiritual-minded. The events of September 11, 2001 and the ensuing international conflict place upon the spiritual leaders of the world a heavy responsibility. For all intents and purposes, September 11 was the end of the world, for no one will ever view the world in the same way again. . . unless one is a member of the United Methodist Council of Bishops. How embarrassing it is for members of the nationís second largest Protestant body to know that those in whom is entrusted the stewardship of our episcopacy are, for the most part, men and women of such spiritual and theological shallowness. In offering their "words of hope and peace to United Methodist people" in their latest attempt at a pastoral letter, these heralds of (re)hash exhibit once again why the denomination over which they preside is slowly but surely going the way of the Edsel.

To a world now asking vastly different questions, the bishops offer the same tired answers. Lofty (and naive) utopian ideals such as "peace with justice," "alleviating the root causes of poverty" and "solidarity with victimized peoples throughout the world" are laced throughout their missive. It reads like a generic form letter, utilizing a template unrevised since the Vietnam conflict.

But it is not what the letter does say that makes it disappointing. Rather, it is what it does not say. The bishops address their readers as "Sisters and Brothers in Christ" and extend their greeting "in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ." But, in the entire body of the letter, the name of Christ is invoked only once, and even then in a conceptual, rather than a personal, context.

As people of the resurrection, we believe that peace has been achieved in Christ; however, this peace is yet to be fully realized in human relationships. The message of the resurrection is that love is stronger than the forces of evil. Furthermore, it is only sacrificial love, not war, which can reconcile people to God and to each other. We call upon the church, leaders, nations and individuals around the world to make room for love so that patterns of our common life might reveal Godís justice. (Paragraph 5, A Pastoral Letter to the Whole Church)

Exactly what type of "peace" the bishops believe "has been achieved in Christ" is unclear. Whatever it is, they do not believe it has likewise been "fully realized in human relationships." But it is abundantly clear that these who are supposed to be spiritual leaders among the "people of the resurrection" grossly underrate the power of that defining element of our faith. "The message of the resurrection" is not merely "love" triumphing over "evil," but life triumphing over death. The resurrection is no mere concept. In Christ, it is the reality that defines the lives we live, at peace with God and at peace with one another. Only in Christ is there the power to transform "human relationships" to the perfect order God intended from before the foundation of the world. It is not a naive utopian ideal. It is the outcome toward which all of history, in Christ, is moving.

In the midst of the present conflict, this is the reality which ought to be embraced and incarnated in the life of every disciple of Jesus Christ. Yet, the bishops can only speak of the vague concept of "mak[ing] room for love so that the patterns of our common life might reveal Godís justice." This amounts to little more than an attempt to say nothing in so sophisticated a manner as to appear, on the surface, to say something.

Perhaps that is an apt description of the letter as a whole.

by James Gibson
Marshallville United Methodist Church

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