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Bishops called to 'scriptural imagination'

These days, United Methodist bishops have good reason to cry out to God.

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Bishop Kenneth H. Carter Jr. opened his first address as Council of Bishops president with the words of Psalm 130: "Out of the deep have I called unto you, O Lord."

Carter, who also leads the Florida Conference, likened the experience to being stuck in a dark, chaotic church basement, as they work to address shrinking churches and profound needs around the globe.

"In the depths, in the chaos, in the overwhelming, we discover who we are," he preached. "And, theologically, biblically, we discover who we are in relation to God. Perhaps we are in this place of discovery as a church."

In this place of discovery, Carter urged his episcopal colleagues to trust God and use "scriptural imagination."

He said that means seeing "the world through the lens given us by Scripture."

Among other topics at this meeting, the bishops discussed the denomination's ecumenical work and its approach to racism, immigration and peacemaking.

Carter acknowledged that it's easy to feel like a failure during this challenging time.

"There seems to be some sort of cottage industry based on the idea that the church has failed, sort of a cottage industry that we as bishops have failed," Carter said in his address. "I am no stranger to the internet."

The writer of Psalm 130, he added, has something to say about human failure. "If you should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?"

The good news, Carter said, is God brings forgiveness. Scriptural imagination, he said, points to not only human sins but also God's saving action.

"There is a firm foundation. It's grace," he said. "But grace is always God's unfinished agenda in every one of us. I own that for myself."

After his address, Carter invited his fellow bishops to engage in small-group discussions about where they see God — and scriptural imagination — calling them.

Carter concluded his address by pointing toward the most profound lesson Christians take from the Bible.

"There is good news," he said. "Jesus goes to the cross for you and me. He is the lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world, who cries to God on our behalf. It is, in the end, his church and not ours, his body and not ours."

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS

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