I was speaking with one of our retired bishops recently, who framed the current recommendations this way, “Well, it’s better than no plan at all.” There are so many things wrong with this statement, and each one is more depressing than the last. If the plans are poor plans, then, no, it is not better to follow them than to not. If they are inadequate plans, then it is not better to have them. If they are racist, it is definitely not better. But, see, part of the problem is that we are being sold a bill of goods, and there isn’t really any place for open discussion. Criticisms are merely deflected, and opposing views aren’t even allowed in many places. Counter-proposals are no better than those they seek to improve, and we have whole delegations doing the “drink-the-kool-aid” mindless fall-in-line. The deeper questions of identity and purpose are ignored for questions of structure — but all based in miscommunication and rhetoric.
I know what it is like to work hard on a no-win situation and have outsiders criticize and condemn. I am usually on the other side. But when a growing number of voices question our list to the dark side, isn’t that the time to step back and consider that something bigger might be going on here? Treating huge issues like guaranteed appointments, structure, global relationships as one-dimensional is outrageous. The implications of each are far-reaching and potentially cataclysmic. Take away guaranteed appointments as a leverage against poor credentialing processes and lack of accountability? Fine, but how many gifted pastors have come into UM ministry because of the perk of guaranteed appointment? With every other negative weighing against ordained ministry — pay, hours, stress, esteem — you want to remove a positive as you recreate a “culture of call?” And for those whom guaranteed appointment has been an incentive to work hard? Oh, well, they’ll get over it. And let’s downsize to grow without clarifying the missional goals and objectives that a new structure might achieve. Who needs a Promised Land? We’ll figure out where we can go after we gut the structure. Just as long as we get the power out of the hands of the many and place it in the hands of the few. And instead of casting a vision for a global church witnessing to solidarity and unity, lets fragment as quickly as possible so that we don’t lose power. Our theological differences and the 800 pound human sexuality gorilla? Ah, we don’t have time to address those, we have agencies to close. Now, let’s cherry pick which agencies to exempt. We certainly don’t want our pet agency lumped in with “those” agencies. Everyone quickly scramble around and waste exorbitant amounts of money trying to justify your continued existence!
These are huge issues, and I am not trying to denigrate the work anyone has done — it has all been hard work. But has it been the work to bring us where we need to be heading into General Conference? And are we doing ourselves any favors by voting support for half-baked, non-critically thought through decisions? It is great to vote our confidence in the intentions of those elected to serve the church. But great effort does not equal great job. Voices around the world are raising serious and valid questions about our various and sundry reports and recommendations. All our websites and newsletters and press releases that celebrate the party line don’t make it true. Preventing alternative voices from being heard may get you your own way, but it will not serve the best interests of The United Methodist Church. Perhaps the Emperor is not completely unclothed, but he seems to be wearing rags when he could be more finely adorned. I hope and pray our discussions cut through the rhetoric and the rah-rah and that enough annual conferences declare that they will not merely settle for a poor plan, but will come together to forge something much, much better.