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Bishop talks pandemic and politics

Bishop Bard considers strategies for pandmic response

Bishop David Bard urges Michigan leaders and congregations to continue to be wise and loving in making decisions about pandemic safety measures.

Dear Michigan United Methodists,

I greet you in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.

Thank you for your time and for your ministry for Jesus Christ. I am proud to share that ministry with you here in Michigan. Michigan …we’ve been in the news quite a lot lately, haven’t we? And I would like to address two topics with you, the election and the coronavirus pandemic.

As of the time of this pastoral letter, the final results of the presidential election have not yet been determined, and the prospect of recounts and legal challenges remain.  
Our Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, has announced that all valid ballots and only valid ballots have been counted in our state. Even with a record number of early ballots, we can be proud of all the local clerks and volunteers who worked conscientiously and diligently to count ballots. As one who voted early, I had a stake in making sure all ballots were counted, including those cast prior to election day. No matter when or how you voted, we all have a stake in a transparent voting process where all votes count, and all voices are heard. As I noted in my pre-election statement, voting is not the only important practice that keeps a democracy healthy and vibrant, but it is a critical practice.  We share a common desire for a healthy democracy.

Though the results are not yet final, one thing evident from our election is that we remain a deeply divided country.  
Not only will the margin of victory in the presidential election be very close, but we witness that political passions run deep and the streams travel in different directions. Profound polarization characterizes our political landscape and researchers who have been watching this trend are noting that polarization is becoming intertwined with dehumanization, viewing political opponents as somehow less human, lacking essential human traits. This should concern us all, but it is of particular concern to us who follow Jesus Christ. Dehumanization is antithetical to Christian faith, where we proclaim that all persons are created in the image of God.

 

We would do well to heed John Wesley’s words.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote in his Journal of 1774 that he urged members of the Methodist Societies “to vote, without fee or reward for the person they judged most worthy, to speak no evil of the person they voted against, and to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those who voted on the other side.’’ We would do well to heed Wesley’s words, even as we also heed his concerns for social holiness, good governance, care for the poor, and racial justice. Let us with patience and perseverance continue the long work of justice, compassion, peacemaking, reconciliation, and love. Let us commit ourselves to see others with the eyes of Christ and holding them in the heart of Christ.

If politics and polarization have been in the news lately, so too, the on-going coronavirus pandemic. 
About one month ago the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Governor Whitmer exceeded her authority in issuing executive orders after the legislature did not extend her emergency authority in April. Since that time the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and many county health officials have issued new guidelines, guidelines to which you want to pay attention. In the past month, we have also witnessed significant increases in COVID cases throughout our state and nation.

The MDHHS directive offers specific guidelines for limiting gatherings in non-residential facilities and mandates the wearing of masks at all such gatherings click here
50 or fewer persons gather in a non-residential venue without fixed seating, and attendance is limited to 20 persons per 1,000 square feet in each occupied room; 500 or fewer persons gather in a non-residential venue with fixed seating, and attendance is limited to 20% of seating capacity of the venue.  As was the case with Governor Whitmer’s Executive Orders, churches are exempt from penalties under this health directive.

I want to commend you all for your on-going response to the coronavirus pandemic. 
I am profoundly grateful and deeply proud of the work you continue to do to promote public health, further the common good, and care for the well-being of others, all in the name and spirit of Jesus. Given the rapid increase in the number of new COVID cases, I am asking you all to take a serious look at your current practices and protocols to determine if a change may be needed. Certainly, when you meet together, you need to wear masks and maintain social distance. You need to wash your hands frequently and clean your facilities thoroughly. Continue to offer on-line options for people to participate in the life of your church.  

Beyond that, now is the time to be engaging in conversations about the very real possibility that the best thing you can do is return to virtual-only worship, meetings, and small groups.  
For some, the health situation in your area makes this urgent. For all of us, if the coming weeks continue to produce cases at that current rate, the move to virtual connections will be what is required to promote public health, further the common good, and care for the well-being of others. With Advent just around the corner, you need to be making plans that include the distinct possibility of on-line Advent and Christmas worship.

I understand that I am asking a lot of pastors and church leadership. None of us wants to be in this situation.  
We are tired and weary, and we want this to be over. I want this to be over! I am asking that we dig more deeply into the deep reservoirs of grace, wisdom, and love God in Jesus Christ has put within our hearts and souls. Though we may feel that these reservoirs are running dry, I assure you that our God is a God who makes “waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:6b)  Trust that.

During the Advent and Christmas seasons we will often hear the words, “do not be afraid,” and some have responded to my advice that I am simply giving in to fear, or that Christians should not fear death.
I would offer that there is a significant distinction between simple fear and prudent care. The same Jesus who invited us to not be afraid also encouraged us to be wise. We need not be dominated by fear, but we do need to be wise, to be prudent. I need not fear death, but I would rather not be the reason someone else gets sick or dies. Wisdom asks us to exercise good judgment. Love asks us to care for each other.

Thank you for being wise and loving. Continue to be wise and loving. Find the deep reservoirs of grace, wisdom, and love needed in this time of politics, polarization, and pandemic.

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