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What the Bishops Should Be Telling Us–Suggested Revisions to the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter

Revisions by James A. Gibson III


To: The United Methodist people around the world
From: The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church
Meeting at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, USA

November 5, 1999

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ who alone is our salvation, our hope, and our peace. On this eve of a new millennium and the eve of the General Conference of 2000, we write this message of hope and encouragement along with a reminder about the primary mission of the church, namely "making disciples of Jesus Christ." (Par. 200 of The Book of Discipline and Matthew 28:19.) (Matthew 28:19 and Par. 200 of the Book of Discipline).

As we have gathered for a time of prayer, worship, theological reflection, Christian conversation, and sharing about our work as your bishops, we celebrate with you that the United Methodist Church is alive in God's Spirit, involved in vital ministry, and expanding its mission around the world for the sake of the Gospel. We are privileged to join in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ along with millions of United Methodist people believers around the globe. We have heard from each other many joyful stories of this mission.

We write to remind all United Methodist persons not to be distracted from our primary mission as a church by arguments over sensitive issues believers that our beloved Church is under attack by destructive forces which threaten to undermine our unity in Christ and distract us from our primary mission of making disciples. We live in a world that is filled with injustice, racism, hate crimes, hungry children, warfare, poverty, confusion over issues of sexuality, disease, and violence. hostile toward the Gospel. All around us are reminders of the fallenness of humankind. Scripture teaches us that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. But human life today is cheapened, devalued, and shamefully discarded through abortion, assisted suicide, and acts of violence in our streets, schools, and even our churches. Sexual immorality, encouraged by the widespread proliferation of pornography and other perverse media, has invaded nearly all facets of public life, including the Church. In a nation that celebrates freedom of religion, we witness daily the ridicule, persecution, and even deadly acts of hatred and violence directed toward our brothers and sisters because of their faith in Jesus Christ. We know, from our reading of Scripture, that persecution is inevitable for Christian believers. We are also instructed that the infiltration of false teachers is nothing new for the Church. Nevertheless, we are encouraged, indeed urged, "to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3). In the midst of a world so filled with sin, hatred, and violence, We we are called to bear witness to a God who so loved the world that God "he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). We are committed to keeping our primary energy focused upon the mission of Christ to this world which God loves. There is no message more uplifting, transforming, and life-affirming than the glorious message of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

As a Council of Bishops, we have experienced a new growth in our own sense of unity in Jesus Christ. We confess that we are still learning how to celebrate our diversity while also affirming that unity. We are learning that our unity is a gift of God who holds us together in the midst ofdiverse opinions, varieties of languages, and a multitude of unique experiences in Christ, and Christ alone, we find the one true foundation of our unity in the midst of the diversity of gifts which God has graciously given us through the Holy Spirit for the work of ministry. Let no one mistake the Spirit's variety of gifts in our midst for any lack of common commitment to Jesus Christ. Even though individual bishops may express their personal convictions, we are united in our desire to serve Christ, to lead the church faithfully, and to be a witness to the unity of the Spirit We regret that, in the past, some individual bishops have made statements which have been detrimental to the Church’s unity and mission. Those bishops will be appropriately disciplined by the Council in the hope that they will turn from the error of their ways and be restored to full fellowship. The Council is prepared to take appropriate action to remove any bishops who continue to speak and act individually in ways contrary to the Biblical and Apostolic witness. We continue to pray for the whole United Methodist Church to discover this same sense of unity in Christ rediscover its roots in the historic Christian faith and to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the earth with renewed zeal. Because the church is one body in Christ, your episcopal leaders are committed to leading the church to maintain unity amid all troublesome and difficult issues confess with one heart and voice its faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet we know that our beloved church is in a time of passage from one age to another, a process of growth in global witness, and a time for discerning God's leading into this new millennium. Some may sense this is a time of crisis, and some may even fear that diversity will lead to division. However, we continue to pray for the unity of the Spirit. We urge all United
Methodists to take courage in remembering that Christ has already broken down the walls that divide and that Christ is the Head of the church. This season is a time to be quiet, to be united, to listen for God's guiding voice, and to learn from one another.

To help lead this process, our council is issuing a "call to prayer, fasting, and Christian conversation" as we move into the new millennium and as we move specifically toward General Conference in May of 2000. This call is an invitation for the whole United Methodist Church to join us, your bishops, in the spiritual disciplines as we seek God's guidance for our church.

We also call the United Methodist Church to focus itself in a fresh way upon our mission and purpose cease from needless debates over issues in which Scripture provides clear guidance and instruction. Too often our church has become distracted by various issues over which we seem to lack clarity of discernment. Certainly the many issues surrounding homosexuality have vexed our church for seven General Conferences. We encourage all delegates to the 2000 General Conference to consider ways to move this issue beyond legislative solutions stand with the Biblical and Apostolic witness which teaches that homosexual practice is contrary to God’s purpose in creation. This has been, is, and always will be the teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ.

We have confidence in the General Conference process, knowing that God will work through the delegates elected to meet next spring. As a Council of Bishops, we are committed to administering the disciplinary decisions of General Conference in our ministry as bishops. In addition, we offer to guide the church in all possible settings in conferencing around such issues
as homosexuality
developing and implementing biblically based ministries of transformation for persons seeking deliverance from homosexuality.

In the midst of these discussions of the issues surrounding homosexuality, we need to remember that there are real people whose lives are being victimized when the debate becomes hateful, mean-spirited, and shows a lack of concern the clear teaching of Scripture that such behavior, like all sin, separates persons from God. In our role as shepherds of the church, we hear the anguish of are deeply distressed that many gay and lesbian persons, their parents and families, their friends, and their pastors have been led astray by false teachings which offer a compromised gospel of accommodation to the prevailing culture. We ask the whole church to respond in Christian love to those who are pained by the church's struggle with the issue of homosexuality have suffered immeasurable harm because of these destructive doctrines.

We call upon every congregation to fulfill the biblical and disciplinary mandate of hospitality for all persons, including gays and lesbians offering the Gospel of grace and forgiveness to gays and lesbians seeking deliverance through Jesus Christ. We urge every pastor to reach out and actively seek to minister to and with all persons, within the bounds of our Book of Discipline, as we move toward being a more inclusive Scriptural church.

It would be tragic for the United Methodist Church to allow any discussion of any issue to distract us false and destructive doctrines to undermine our unity in Christ and hinder us from our mission of proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples for Christ, and spreading scriptural holiness throughout the earth.

We ask that you join us in praying the prayer on page 564 of our United Methodist Hymnal:

Help each of us, gracious God,
To live in such magnanimity and restraint,
That the Head of the church may never have cause
To say to any one of us,
"This is my body, broken by you." Amen

Christ, who willingly gave his body and blood for us, calls us to be the unified Body of Christ in the world today. May it be so, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ show us the way. Amen.

ORIGINAL TEXT OF THE PASTORAL LETTER

Pastoral Letter

To: The United Methodist people around the world
From: The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church
Meeting at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, USA

November 5, 1999

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ who alone is our salvation, our hope, and our peace. On this eve of a new millennium and the eve of the General Conference of 2000, we write this message of hope and encouragement along with a reminder about the primary mission of the church, namely "making disciples of Jesus Christ." (Par. 200 of The Book of Discipline and Matthew 28:19.)

As we have gathered for a time of prayer, worship, theological reflection, Christian conversation, and sharing about our work as your bishops, we celebrate with you that the United Methodist Church is alive in God's Spirit, involved in vital ministry, and expanding its mission around the world for the sake of the Gospel. We are privileged to join in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ along with millions of United Methodist people around the globe. We have heard from each other many joyful stories of this mission.

We write to remind all United Methodist persons not to be distracted from our primary mission as a church by arguments over sensitive issues. We live in a world that is filled with injustice, racism, hate crimes, hungry children, warfare, poverty, confusion over issues of sexuality, disease, and violence. We are called to bear witness to a God who so loved the world that God "gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). We are committed to keeping our primary energy focused upon the mission of Christ to this world which God loves.

As a Council of Bishops, we have experienced a new growth in our own sense of unity in Jesus Christ. We confess that we are still learning how to celebrate our diversity while also affirming that unity. We are learning that our unity is a gift of God who holds us together in the midst of diverse opinions, varieties of languages, and a multitude of unique experiences. Let no one mistake the Spirit's variety of gifts in our midst for any lack of common commitment to Jesus Christ. Even though individual bishops may express their personal convictions, we are united in our desire to serve Christ, to lead the church faithfully, and to be a witness to the unity of the Spirit. We continue to pray for the whole United Methodist Church to discover this same sense of unity in Christ. Because the church is one body in Christ, your episcopal leaders are committed to leading the church to maintain unity amid all troublesome and difficult issues.

Yet we know that our beloved church is in a time of passage from one age to another, a process of growth in global witness, and a time for discerning God's leading into this new millennium. Some may sense this is a time of crisis, and some may even fear that diversity will lead to division. However, we continue to pray for the unity of the Spirit. We urge all United Methodists to take courage in remembering that Christ has already broken down the walls that divide and that Christ is the Head of the church. This season is a time to be quiet, to be united, to listen for God's guiding voice, and to learn from one another.

To help lead this process, our council is issuing a "call to prayer, fasting, and Christian conversation" as we move into the new millennium and as we move specifically toward General Conference in May of 2000. This call is an invitation for the whole United Methodist Church to join us, your bishops, in the spiritual disciplines as we seek God's guidance for our church.

We also call the United Methodist Church to focus itself in a fresh way upon our mission and purpose. Too often our church has become distracted by various issues over which we seem to lack clarity of discernment. Certainly the many issues surrounding homosexuality have vexed our church for seven General Conferences. We encourage all delegates to the 2000 General Conference to consider ways to move this issue beyond legislative solutions.

We have confidence in the General Conference process, knowing that God will work through the delegates elected to meet next spring. As a Council of Bishops, we are committed to administering the disciplinary decisions of General Conference in our ministry as bishops. In addition, we offer to guide the church in all possible settings in conferencing around such issues as homosexuality.

In the midst of these discussions of the issues surrounding homosexuality, we need to remember that there are real people whose lives are being victimized when the debate becomes hateful, mean-spirited, and shows a lack of concern. In our role as shepherds of the church, we hear the anguish of many gay and lesbian persons, their parents and families, their friends, and their pastors. We ask the whole church to respond in Christian love to those who are pained by the church's struggle with the issue of homosexuality.

We call upon every congregation to fulfill the biblical and disciplinary mandate of hospitality for all persons, including gays and lesbians. We urge every pastor to reach out and actively seek to minister to and with all persons, within the bounds of our Book of Discipline, as we move toward being a more inclusive church.

It would be tragic for the United Methodist Church to allow any discussion of any issue to distract us from our mission of proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples for Christ, and spreading scriptural holiness throughout the earth.

We ask that you join us in praying the prayer on page 564 of our United Methodist Hymnal:

Help each of us, gracious God,

To live in such magnanimity and restraint,

That the Head of the church may never have cause

To say to any one of us,

"This is my body, broken by you." Amen

Christ, who willingly gave his body and blood for us, calls us to be the unified Body of Christ in the world today. May it be so, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ show us the way. Amen.

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