The following letter from Bishop Beard appeared in the February 2019 issue of The Current.
Time for Gracious Grace
GRACE. We talk about it, sing about it, teach about it, preach about it, but do we really put grace into action?
My hope is that the Christian understanding of grace goes far deeper than the secular understanding of grace. Our secular society understands grace as a type of respectful decorum filled with politeness and civility. It is an elegance based on refinement and poise that is evident through one’s presence.
Grace, from a Christian point of view, is simply, God’s unmerited favor offered to us with no strings attached. We cannot buy it, earn it, steal it, and we most certainly do not deserve it. The literal root word for grace means “gift.” Grace from God is a free gift! God’s free gift is demonstrated to us in the life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of Jesus Christ.
In just a few short days representatives from around the globe will gather in St. Louis, Mo., to participate in our denomination’s General Conference. The General Conference is the official legislative body that determines the rules and policies that govern our denomination. It is the only official voice of our global community of believers. Delegates, observers, media personnel, concerned laity and clergy have all been eagerly awaiting this much publicized and highly anticipated gathering.
The purpose of this special called session is to look at the denomination’s policies and practices in regard to issues around human sexuality. Some fear that our varied theological positions, and personal preferences, on these issues, are so incompatible that we can no longer remain “united” as Methodist.
As you can imagine, each position, believes that their viewpoint is the correct stance and that the delegates to the General Conference should adopt legislation that supports their opinion. The rhetoric from each camp has become so intense that many are afraid that the denomination will fracture and splinter. Many are waiting for this conference to help answer the question, “what will happen to our denomination?”
One of the prayers that I am praying is that no matter what decisions are proposed and are finally voted upon, is that each person is determined to be a conduit of God’s grace. As brothers and sisters and corecipients of God’s grace, I believe the Lord requires and expects us to model and extend grace to one another. After all, we are bound together in Christ and we are held together because of his love for each of us.
Gracious grace is filled with civility anchored in the understanding of God’s amazing unmerited favor lavished on each of us, even though we do not deserve it. Gracious grace is the ability to disagree while agreeing to not be disagreeable, dismissive, or divisive in an attempt to be demonizing so that we might get “our way.” Gracious grace recognizes that we are held together because of Jesus Christ, God’s gift freely offered to each of us. Gracious grace is a conviction that I will serve as a conduit for God’s love and mercy no matter what. Gracious grace understands that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We dare not cut ourselves off from family members because we have a variety of differing opinions. When we intentionally sever ties with each other we run the risk of cutting ourselves off from the one that binds us together in grace filled love. Jesus is God’s best example of gracious grace.
Pray for our delegates to exhibit gracious grace towards each other as they enter into this time of holy conferencing. Pray for our denomination that we will display evidence of Jesus’ presence within and among us. Let us be quick to offer gracious grace and space as together we find our way forward.