See additional news about Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference being elected president-designate of the Council of Bishops.
BERLIN -- Last week, the Council of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on racism to the 12.8 million people of The United Methodist Church affirming the sacredness of all lives and renewing their commitment to work for an anti-racist, pro-humanity church. The action came at the end of the Council’s week-long meeting in Berlin after prayerful reflection and discussion about the topic. Earlier in the week, Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., council president, had also issued a letter calling for prayer and healing.
The council also affirmed a vision for a missional direction for the next quadrennium that includes partnering with schools to help end poverty, starting new faith communities, building a culture of call, reaching children with life-saving interventions, equipping congregations with disciple-making processes to continue making new disciples and increasing the number of vital congregations.
The new strategic direction would build on and extend the Four Areas of Focus adopted in 2008 and continue emphasis on creating vital congregations, but it is flexible enough to allow local churches and annual conferences to adapt it according to what works best in their areas. Goals would be developed by General Conference 2016 that would include measures to aid in tracking progress.
The Council of Bishops letter reads:
"Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ!
"We, the bishops of The United Methodist Church, are meeting in Berlin, Germany, 70 years after the end of World War II. As we gather, we renew our commitment to lead, as together we seek to become the beloved community of Christ.
"We are a church that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. On every continent, people called United Methodist are boldly living the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Yet, the people of our world are hurting, as injustice, violence and racism abound. Our witness to the dignity of all human life and the reign of God is needed now more than ever.
"Our hearts break and our spirits cry out, as we see reports of migrant people being attacked and burned in the streets of South Africa, note the flight of Jews from Europe, watch the plight of Mediterranean refugees and see racially charged protests and riots in cities across the United States that remind us that systems are broken and racism continues. The evidence is overwhelming that race still matters, that racism is woven into institutional life and is problematic to communal health. This reality impacts every area of life – in the church and in the world.
"Racism is prejudice plus intent to do harm or discriminate based on a belief that one is superior or has freedom to use power over another based on race. Xenophobia is an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange. Racism and xenophobia, like other sins, keep us from being whole persons capable of living up to our full potential. They deny the profound theological truth that we are made in the image of God with the handprint of love and equality divinely implanted in every soul.
"As bishops of the Church, we cast a vision for a world community where human worth and dignity defeat acts of xenophobia and racism. We acknowledge that silence in the face of systemic racism and community fears serves only to make matters worse.
"We commit to lead, model and engage in honest dialogue and respectful conversation and invite people of faith everywhere to join us. Let us repent of our own racial bias and abuse of privilege. May we love God more deeply and, through that love, build relationships that honor the desire of people everywhere to be seen, valued, heard and safe. As we proclaim and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, may we lead the way in seeking justice for all, investing in and trusting God’s transforming power to create a world without hatred and racism.
"As United Methodists, we affirm that all lives are sacred and that a world free of racism and xenophobia is not only conceivable, but worthy of our pursuit. We renew our commitment to work for a Church that is anti-racist and pro-humanity, believing that beloved community cannot be achieved by ignoring cultural, racial and ethnic differences, but by celebrating diversity and valuing all people.
“'This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.' – 1 John 4:21 (CEB)."