During this Advent season and in the post-election climate in the United States, I write as President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops to call for a renewed commitment to the vision of the Beloved Community of Christ. Isaiah prophesied that a child would be born to re-establish the beloved community — a time of endless peace, a time of justice and righteousness, a time of reconciliation and unity.
For a child has been born to us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
And he is named
Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He shall establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:6-7 (NRSV)
Our current state of division and discord is global, fueled by the racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric of the recent U.S. election cycle. Recently, Pope Francis warned against the "virus of polarization" and hostility in the world targeting people of different nationalities, races, and beliefs. He was blunt and warned against animosity creeping into the church as well, noting "we are not immune from this." Pope Francis reminded us of "our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose, and condemn" and cautioned somberly against those who "raise walls, build barriers, and label people." As followers of the Christ, we are harbingers, models and guardians of the Beloved Community. As those baptized into the body of Christ, we "accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves" and to renounce the spiritual forces of evil in the world, our respective nations, and the church. As disciples of Jesus, we stand against all expressions of hatred, discrimination, oppression, and exclusion. As those who serve Christ, we love whom Christ loves. As stewards of Jesus' good news, we are peacemakers, pray for our enemies, and seek reconciliation with those from whom we have become estranged. At a November 2010 meeting in Panama, the Council of Bishops issued a pastoral letter calling for United Methodists to be bearers of the beloved community across the globe. The letter is eerily contemporary and relevant to our current context. It points to the opportunity that is uniquely ours to bind up the wounds and to proclaim the Advent prophecy of a time of justice and righteousness.
Friends, people's lives, livelihoods, security and well-being are at stake. Immigrants are scrambling for the shadows. Indigenous peoples are disrespected and forgotten. Children of color are being bullied and threatened. Muslims are being labeled and listed. Women are ridiculed and objectified. The LGBTQ community is filled with fear. Racism is being legitimized. Hundreds of millions remain impoverished without access to educational opportunities, economic resources, or equal justice. We must stand against the meanness and hatred that is upon us. We must stand for what is best in us as people of God. We must not address the anger, fear, confusion and insecurity of the prevailing culture with more blame, attack, and criticism.
As Richard Rohr recently noted, "The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better." We must stand against bigotry, hate, and discrimination in all forms and settings. We must proclaim from our pulpits the good news that overcomes hatred and fear. We must be quick to confess our own sin and places of complicity and vigilant against all that diminishes the worth of any individual. So, I urge all who follow the Christ to remember who we are in this time. We are the people of God called to proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are the people of God called to create the Beloved Community of Christ. We are people of God commanded to love as Jesus loved. We are people of God created to be the kingdom of God envisioned in the advent prophecy and fulfilled by Jesus. This is our vision, our hope, our prayer, our opportunity, our commitment. May it be so!
Bruce R. Ough
Bruce R. Ough resident Bishop, Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church.