They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love
A Post-General Conference Report from Bishop Ken Carter to the People of the Florida Conference
Posted: Friday, March 8, 2019
We are now ten days beyond the conclusion of the General Conference in St. Louis. I have been in churches in the Southwest, Gulf Central and East Central Districts. This Sunday I will preach in a local church in the Atlantic Central District. We offered a webinar about the special session and over 2000 registered. (Scroll to the bottom of this page to view the webinar!)
The decisions and outcomes continue to have a ripple effect in media and social media, in families and local churches, among laity and clergy.
Perhaps providentially, we have also in these days entered into the season of Lent. The imposition of ashes is a sign of our limitations and finitude. One must receive them in a posture of humility. The original temptation was to be like God (Genesis 3. 5). And the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4, Luke 4) was to exchange God’s mission for something else: power or relevance.
The United Methodist Church is in a place of struggle, as I noted in an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel. I want to suggest that the struggle is appropriate and is an attempt to be both faithful to the gospel and loving toward the people God places in our lives. I have noted that the distinction between grace and truth is a false distinction. On John 1, the distinction is between law (that came through Moses) and grace and truth (that comes in Jesus). The struggle is toward maturity or integration or perfection. As long as we live we will be in this struggle.
There are profound gifts we can receive from each other. Unity is not uniformity (1 Corinthians 12, 14). What we most need from each other we often most resist. The conversation we most want to avoid is the very one we need to have. I want to lift up, again, the POV process as a method for having these conversations. 200 of our churches have already hosted the POV. (Click here for POV information.)
There are many questions that cannot now be answered. The General Conference reaffirmed the language in the Book of Discipline in paragraph 161. Some additional language about implementation was approved. The Judicial Council, meeting next month, will act on the constitutionality of these decisions. I have written about this earlier (click here).
I wanted to write to you about my own leadership, and how I hope to serve you going forward.
1. Three years ago The United Methodist Church asked me to serve as a moderator of what would become the Commission on a Way Forward, which would bring a report to the General Conference. This has been completed. While I am committed to finding a way forward for us, I will begin to turn and return to my core calling.
2. That calling is to equip leaders in the Florida Conference. Over seven years this has included preaching and teaching in several hundred churches, the Fresh Expressions and M-Lab movements, the Marcy Preaching and Reconciliation cohorts, meetings with large church pastors, and developing coaching and mentoring systems for our cabinet. This May we are encouraging churches to host On Mission Together weekends with opportunities for missional engagement, deep conversations, and a focus on responding to the grace of God. Over 80 of our churches will participate, and our goal is to offer this in 100 congregations. To learn more, click here.
3. I will continue to administer the Book of Discipline (BOD, 403). In time of heightened interest in and anxiety about accountability, I encourage you to read the breadth of the Discipline. Our discipline is always grounded in our doctrine. The Book of Discipline and the General Rules set an expectation a disciplined life, noting that “Support without accountability promotes moral weakness; (and) accountability without support is a form of cruelty” (BOD, 102). The Discipline also speaks of ordination as a sacred trust, repairing harm to people and communities, real accountability, healing, fair process, valuing of cultural, racial, ethnic and gender contexts through understandings of fairness, justice and restoration, reconciliation and covenant (BOD 362, 2701, 2702).
4. I want to describe some of my own experiences in Florida over the past seven years. I have appointed evangelicals to positions of leadership at every level. I have invited faculty from Asbury, Emory and Duke to speak at our annual conference and to lead retreats with our cabinet. I have met with those aligned with the WCA and with LGBTQ persons and their allies. I have given great latitude to local churches as they have adapted to their contexts and formed their clergy teams. I have appointed women and ethnic persons to pastoral leadership in our largest churches. In July we will have a district superintendent team that is 50% women and 50% men. I have led efforts to reduce financial debt for our clergy. I have led efforts to streamline the size of our conference staff and the number of districts. We now have over two hundred Fresh Expressions of Church. I have used restorative justice principles in response to complaints. I have been a traditional voice for the full acceptance of all people in our churches. I have found resources to train ethnic clergy in leadership, clergy women as preachers, and pastors as leaders in the work of reconciliation.
5. My focus going forward will be developing innovative leaders and solutions to our challenges, investing in relationships with pastors related to their purpose as spiritual leaders in a complex season, and supporting the cabinet to resource fruitfulness and unity in Jesus Christ. Underneath this will be the convictions that the gospel will guide us, and that the gospel is good news for all. I will not be distracted by or reactive to the forces that seek to divide or dismantle the church. I ask for your prayers, but also your help as I seek to do this work.
This is the time to hear again the call to follow Jesus, in these forty days. None of us is God. We do not fully know the mind of God (1 Corinthians 13). We struggle. Yet, as we follow Jesus, we will discover once again that he loves us. We will discover, once again, that disciples of Jesus love one another (John 13). And real people with hurts and hopes will see a new church being born. And they will know we are Christians by our love.
The peace of the Lord,
Resident Bishop, Florida Conference
President, Council of Bishops
United Methodist Church