Bishop Saenz puts eye on future in episcopal address
Capped by a rousing standing ovation, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. asked the South Central Jurisdiction to look beyond the turmoil of the present and ahead to the church of the future.
“For too long, but particularly the past six years, we have been consumed with the present as a denomination,” the leader of the Great Plains and North Texas conferences said during the episcopal address. “In fairness, we have had difficulty focusing on anything else, given all the successive shocking events we’ve been through as a denomination, nation, and global community.”
Download a printable copy of Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.'s episcopal address to the 2022 South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Houston.
The country and the denomination, he said, have faced “one catastrophe after another with no respite,” including the COVID pandemic, populism including white supremacy and racism, a torn nation, and immigration.
United Methodists specifically have become splintered over human sexuality issues, causing some people on both sides to leave the denomination.
“This impetuous and reckless splintering over the presenting issue is symptomatic of deeper divisions regarding scriptural authority, theology, justice, doctrine, polity, appointments, apportionments, property ownership versus holding all things in common trust, autonomy versus connectionalism,” he said. “In our church, this must stop.”
Bishop Saenz, elected to the episcopacy in 2016, previewed a future, according to the Pew Research Center, where the U.S. population rises from the current 332 million to 438 million, with 80% of the increase coming from immigrants or their descendants.
The study predicted the population would be 47% white, 29% Hispanic, 13% Black, 9% Asian and 2% Native American and others.
“By 2050 the U.S. will be a majority non-white population,” he said.
The current Millennial and Gen Z and Alpha generations will be followed by the yet-to-be-born Gamma and Beta generations, he said, and they will be increasingly tolerant of other religious beliefs but considering themselves “spiritual but not religious.”
The upcoming generations will believe in changing communities for the better and benefit others unlike themselves.
“We need to understand who they are, what they value and care about the things they care about,” Bishop Saenz said.
“Only a far-sighted vision of the emerging reign of God on earth as it is in heaven will enable us to stay focused on our mission moving forward as the Church amid a disruptive present, a rapidly changing world and emergent future,” Bishop Saenz said. “We already know that the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, Christian community, worshipful celebration, teaching and learning, service to others; especially the poor, and the prophetic role and witness of the church will be more – not less – important in the future.”
Bishop Saenz encouraged the delegates.
“We must move forward together in Christ, rooted in God’s love, looking to the horizon, beyond the next general conferences, to a future not our own,” he said. “We must work for a church that holds, not ours, but the next generation’s best interest at the center of all we do — a church that is alive for Christ, welcoming, celebratory, generous, compassionate, and engaged in the issues that concern humanity.”
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