As the denomination faces an uncertain future, bishops urge their fellow United Methodists to address their differences with respectful conversations.
"We are hearing of and observing angry words now escalating to actions that are resulting in fear, anxiety, loss of security and even physical harm," said the bishops in a letter signed by Bishop Bruce R. Ough, Council of
Bishops president. "These actions are repugnant to us as your bishops."
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Instead, the bishops call on church members to heed the advice of Ephesians 4:1-3: "Live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together."
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, who leads the West Ohio Conference, told fellow episcopal leaders that the letter responds to growing animosity and acrimony they are witnessing both in civil and church life.
Recent U.S. polls have shown continuing political polarization around immigration, sexuality and race. Other nations with a strong United Methodist presence, including Liberia and the Philippines, are contending with their own charged political debates. Countries around the globe are also dealing with record-level migration as people flee violence, poverty and environmental degradation in their home countries.
United Methodist leaders are trying to speak to all these challenges and welcome new neighbors, even as they cope with differing views within the denomination.
Palmer said he has heard that in a few cases, people even have disrupted worship services to expound on what direction they believe The United Methodist Church should take on homosexuality and immigration. "And they are not even members of those congregations," he added.
The bishops' letter said the episcopal leaders renew their commitment "to do no harm, do good and stay in love with God."
"We renew this covenant within the Council of Bishops to engage in holy conversation and Christ-like behavior especially when we do not agree with one another," the letter said. "We call upon all United Methodists, even in the midst of disagreement and uncertainty about our future as a church, to do the same, and to love each other as Christ loved us."
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter for UMNS.
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