June 15, 2018
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
If it seems I have been silent recently, it’s for a very good reason; I returned last night from a trip to Cuba that included the great honor of preaching at The Cuba Methodist Church Annual Conference.
My time with Bishop Pereira and the church was much more a spiritual pilgrimage than a visit to another country. Indeed, I experienced a powerful movement of God in worship and conversations with pastors (who earn $30.00/month) that renewed my spirit in deep and unexpected ways. Their love of Jesus is amazing, as is their passion, hope and joy.
In contrast, the climate in The Arkansas Conference is very different, in large part because of our division about matters of human sexuality. Quite frankly, the tension is high and the anxiety is palpable. Sadly, unlike my experience in Cuba, there seems to be little hope and even less joy.
I have been consistently clear that I expect the pastors and congregations of the Arkansas Annual Conference to abide by The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church in matters regarding human sexuality. This expectation, however, is not limited to prohibitions against ordination and marriage of homosexuals. It also includes how individuals and congregations relate to the LGBTQ community:
“We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” (The Book of Discipline, ¶ 161)
We live in polarized times. This is a fact of life that we have little power to change. Those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ, however, can choose to deal with our differences in ways that clearly demonstrate we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Attitude and tone matter. Love matters. And, as your bishop, I expect all of us to model the love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, especially in difficult and challenging moments. It’s not always easy. But it’s always the way Jesus calls us to live.
Grace and Peace,
Gary E. Mueller