Thursday, September 19, 2013

letter 79

September 19, 2013

Dear Bishop Webb,

Of the many questions asked of the those coming for ordination, two of them are: “Will you, in the exercise of your ministry lead the people of God to faith in Jesus Christ, to participate in the life and work of the community, and to seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people?;” and, “Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?”

As an elder, I take both of these vows seriously. In certain cases, however, the question for an ordained elder becomes, “What happens when seeking peace, justice and freedom for all people puts one in conflict with the discipline of the United Methodist Church?” Steve Heiss is one of those who has faced that dilemma. Steve is also one who has made the choice to follow the Biblical call to seek justice and mercy, even when that call puts us at odds with the rules of our denomination. When our vows seem in conflict, shouldn’t the call of Scripture be primary?

Bishop, I have people who sit in the pews of my congregation each week, who tithe, who are engaged in mission, who will not become members of the United Methodist Church because we exclude beloved children of God from full participation in the life and ministry of the church. My own son, Samuel, wrestled deeply this past year with whether he wanted to become a member of an organization which does not fully welcome his Godfather, his aunt, or his cousins.

Ultimately, Sam made the choice to join and work for justice from within. I honor his commitment, and that of so many others who sacrifice and pray, struggle and serve. In each quest for justice, there are moments when committed people of faith must stand and say, “no more” – no more dehumanization, no more oppression, no more suffering. I believe, Bishop, that you are a person of empathy, compassion, and grace. Are you a person who hears the call to justice, as well?

In the most recent Advocate, you asked us to consider the question, “What is the Spirit up to,” and challenged us to be willing to step into the places where the Spirit of God is at work, even when those places are uncomfortable and hold great risk. That willingness, you said, “ where obedience is lived out and where we experience fruitfulness and effectiveness as disciples of Jesus Christ.” Steve Heiss has obediently followed the Spirit of God into a place of uncomfortable risk. Are we willing to follow the Spirit of God with such profound faith, or will we fall back into safely obeying the rules?

In peace,

Rev. Steven M. Smith 

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