Opening session of General Conference 2016, GCORR General Secretary Erin Hawkins invites the body into authentic relationships through intercultural competency.
Here we are…together…leaders from the global connection representing a diversity of cultures, identities and perspectives. We are here to celebrate who we are as a church, to discern what is right and good and to decide important matters regarding our future. And there is much to celebrate as we deliberate about our life together and our ministry to make disciples and transform the world.
The people of The United Methodist Church do so much good through our mission and relief work, ecumenical bridge building, social justice advocacy, and by providing educational opportunities. My friends, there is no better time for doing good than right now when there is so much pain and division in the world.
We are bombarded daily with headlines about conflict, hatred and oppression that span all languages, races and tribes. In the midst of the hope and the pain we, a people of faith are continually asked, “What does the Lord require of you… of us?” Here we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to do justice, show mercy and walk humbly with God.
The General Conference theme to ‘Therefore Go’ fits us well – our history has always prioritized going and spreading the gospel. Sadly, there have also been times when we have gone and done great harm – like our participation in the Sand Creek Massacre, and the perpetuation of harmful colonial legacies in Africa. But there have also been times when we have gone and made a powerful and positive difference – starting schools, hospitals and community centers in places of great need, and raising millions of dollars for Imagine No Malaria.
While we have often obeyed the commandment of Christ to go, there are times when we as a church have not been obedient and resist going, especially when the places where Christ is bidding us go are uncomfortable and even confrontational.
In our going and in our doing, we have the capacity to do harm or to do good. I believe that our time here together is no exception. Christ is still commanding us to “go into all the world” even while we are here in Portland. We will spend significant time in Christian Conferencing over the next 10 days, discerning how we as a denomination will go out into the physical world and serve. After all, going and doing, is one of our strengths as a church. But perhaps the greater challenge before us is not going and doing “out there,” but going and doing “in here” (gestures around the room) and “in here” (gestures toward the heart). Going to our brothers and sisters in this world we know as General Conference. Going especially to those whom we don’t know and who don’t speak our language – culturally or theologically. Going inward to survey the worlds of our hearts, the place of spiritual perception and witnessing one another from that place, rather than from our own opinions, bias and judgments.
There are vast differences in this room – differences in language, tribe, identity, race, age, gender, ability and theology. What might happen if for the next 10 days of Christian Conferencing, we committed to honor one another’s humanity as Children of God and see our diversity as a strength? Can you imagine the powerful transformation that would occur if we modeled to a hurting and divided world what is possible with love, understanding and honoring the goodness of God in each person?
As we conduct our business, I challenge you to find someone you haven’t met before. Someone from another part of the world – whether the geographical, theological, or cultural world. Introduce yourself. Talk to each other. Don’t be afraid to stumble through your differences. Don’t worry about getting it right, simply stay open to learn from the experiences and perspectives of other United Methodists.
I am not asking you to convince one another of anything, or to change your beliefs or your votes. I am asking you to hold your neighbors’ stories and experiences as equally important and relevant as your own. I’m also asking you to consider the way you communicate, and interact with others – speaking, listening and engaging in ways that help to bring greater understanding, clarity and community to our diverse, multilingual gathering. At the General Commission on Religion and Race, we call that being more interculturally competent.
I am here today to extend an invitation – This is not an invitation to adhere to a specific set of social rules, but rather an invitation to let the rule of love govern your speech and actions. This is not invitation to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, making your experience the norm to which all else should conform. No, this is an invitation to treat others as they would like to be treated which requires humility, listening and learning even when you cannot fulfill another’s expectations for treatment. This is not an invitation to political correctness, nor is it an invitation to excuse hurtful and harmful language and behavior. This is an invitation to live as if we believe what we preach, God’s grace is sufficient for all, God’s love is available to all, and when we turn ourselves over to the power of the Holy Spirit, anything is possible.
Our future is right now. It will be defined in part by our actions here Portland. We can only be relevant to the extent that we can be real. We can therefore, go from this moment and do good or do harm. Christ is commanding and I am inviting us to go – but in a new way:
If you are ready to heed to words of Christ and go bearing his light into every encounter – even if it’s uncomfortable – seeking to understand rather than control, then say I will.
May it be so here and now. Therefore go…