United Methodist Bishop Robert Hoshibata (Photo credit: United Methodist News Service)
At the January meeting of the Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Robert Hoshibata sat down with me to answer some questions. Bishop Hoshibata was elected to the United Methodist episcopacy by the Western Jurisdiction in 2004 and last fall became the leader of the Desert-Southwest Conference (Arizona, southern Nevada, and a small slice of southeastern California). He currently serves as the president of the denomination’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), and is therefore a member of the Connectional Table.
(This interview had been edited for clarity)
There’s been a lot of talk about a widespread lack of trust in our denomination. A big point of opposition to the IOT plan was the widespread agreement that it would greatly increase episcopal power. One of your colleagues, now retired Bishop Will Willimon, colorfully described the 2012 General Conference as “episcophobic.” This last General Conference saw the Renewal and Reform Coalition, General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) chief Jim Winkler, and a majority of delegates ultimately support some form of term limits for US bishops.
Why do you think there is this apparent mistrust of US bishops? And what do you think should be done about it?
My experience in my first eight years as a bishop is that the Council of Bishops is reforming itself, making changes in how we relate to one another. We are moving from the previous style of Council life that was less relational, and now finding new ways to work with each other and build relationships.
Much of the previous lack of a relational culture on the Council happened in part because the bishops are so busy.
I am a part of a new group called Council Life Together, chaired by Bishop Deborah Kiesey of Michigan, that promotes relationship-building among members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
What would you say to those who say that the lack of trust in bishops stems from our bishops’ not consistently ensuring that the Discipline is upheld in our denomination, not adequately defending and teaching orthodox Wesleyan theology, and not being seen as graciously and courageously defending Christian values and truth even when they conflict with some parts of secular liberal American culture?
I believe that much of the disconnect between the Council of Bishops and the people in the pews and pulpits happens because I don’t think that the Council has always been as clear and concise in our communication as we could or should be.
So every time a bishop, a [regional] College of Bishops, or the entire Council of Bishops makes a statement, people often misunderstand. And we don’t always fully communicate what is meant by that statement.
Sometimes individual United Methodists hears one bishop say something, and think this bishop is representing the views of the whole Council of Bishops, or the whole denomination.
Somebody told me that they wanted to leave the United Methodist Church because of what “the Council of Bishops decided” on marriage equality. But it turned out that this person was reacting to one statement of an individual bishop.
So I explained to this person that we United Methodist bishops have a range of differences in our individual theological views, but we will uphold our consecration vows.
Your vows to uphold the Discipline?
All of our consecration vows. I don’t think you’ll find a United Methodist bishop who does not think that those are sacred.
Rev. Gil Rendle shared one perspective at this Connectional Table meeting. But what role do you think that the theology which pastors and laity in congregations adopt has in the reported lack of congregational vitality? And what role do you think that theology can and should play in revitalizing congregations?
My experience in the local church is that the folk in the pews often depend on the pastor to be their primary teacher of theology. But I’ve always advocated we all have to keep learning, beyond just what we learned in Sunday school. We’ve got to learn about God language and read some of the latest theologies, and not just what we read in Sunday school. We need a deep understanding of God’s presence in our lives, God’s call in our lives, and God’s sending us out into the world.
Many United Methodists are too silent about sharing their faith. So I have encouraged people to think about what difference Jesus has made in their lives and then share that with people. That is what “evangelism” is about. Evangelism is not a bad word. Evangelism needs to come out of one’s own experience with God, own theology, and own spiritual growth.
Follow United Methodist Director John Lomperis on Twitter: @JohnLomperis