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.

22 replies

  1. Here is a link to a petition I have submitted to General Conference. As a retired pastor, I have nothing personal to gain or lose in this proposal. But I think it DOES tackle the root of our problems as a denomination–the connection between money, power, and greed. My proposal has strong support from three central conference bishops, and the head of the Nigerian delegation (with 30 votes). I met with the head of the delegation yesterday and he promises me that he will garner support from other conferences in Western Africa. I believe that our hope for renewal as a church lies in restructuring the church in light of scripture rather than by the distinctly American polity we currently use. Currently our polity is modeled after the structure of the United States government, which is also dysfunctional. Please read my proposal and add your comments on the blog post. Share it with your delegates to general conference. Thanks.

    • Keep promoting, Holly. The more we have on the table to consider, the better off we will be. It is the unilateral, one-size-fits-all, no real room for disagreement mentality that got me “het up” to write this little rant this morning. We are allowing an uncritical malaise to push us in a bad direction.

      • Thanks Dan, So far I have made some real progress in distributing my petition via social media. I have found some solid supporters who have promised to take my petition to their delegations for discussion. I met with the head of the Nigerian delegation (with 30 delegates) yesterday when he was in Tampa for a meeting. He will garner support from his own delegation and in other West African conferences. I also have some support from delegates in the US. These supporters tell me they will take this to their delegation (and in some cases jurisdictional) meetings for discussion. I hope other general conference delegates will read YOUR blog, find my petition, and decide to take it to other delegates for discussion prior to GC. (Note, this will be dealt with in the Finance/Administration committee)

    • You might want to seek an audience/ forum with the delegates from the Philippines. I believe they setup a group in Facebook but since I am not a delegate of GC, I don’t have the name of the group. I can check-out for you if you are interested.

  2. Dan, for more about the growing tide of questions and resistance to the restructure proposals, I would like to refer your readers to the latest articles and essays on United Methodist Insight,

    I attended the Pre-General Conference Briefing Jan 19-21 in Tampa, and I can assure you and your readers that many serious and critical questions about Call to Action, the ministry study, the global nature of the church and even the budget and accompanying legislation were raised. Few of the questions received substantive answers, but some leaders there, such as Rev. Forbes Matonga of Zimbabwe, were courageous enough to speak out against Call to Action.

    We can only hope that the tide of prayer sweeping around the world on behalf of General Conference delegates will serve to drop the scales from the eys of many who will decide the church’s future.

  3. Thanks, Dan, for a thoughtful posting. And I’m glad to hear from Cynthia that many questions are being raised.

    For me, guaranteed appointment means I have the freedom to preach the Gospel without fear of losing my job. I have known a few non-denominational clergy who were fired from their churches because the congregation didn’t like what she/he was saying. Sure, I can be moved…but I’ll land on my feet and still have a “job.” I wonder if anyone has addessed this missional aspect of guaranteed appointments?

  4. Dan, As I read at the end of the petition by Holly Steve Mansker’s comment on our being so acculturated and middle class, my first thought was “Well, Duh!” But then the more serious thought struck me that perhaps part of our decline is tied in with the general decline of the middle clas in America. United Methodist style–for good or bad–has tended to be most comfortable with middle class folks. Maybe part of our problem is the simple demographics of fewer middle class folks to appeal to.

  5. I attended a district training/presentation from our bishop on Call to Action last weekend. They spoke of it as if it was already church law. There was no mention of alternatives. There was no question or answer time. And in lieu of what Jeremy Smith has written on his blog about delegations already deciding in favor of the Call to Action I think the powers that be are trying very hard to push this thing through with as little opposition as possible. So keep on speaking out Dan. If it weren’t for the UM bloggers like you many of us would not be aware of what’s going on because we are not getting much information from our districts or annual conferences.

  6. I hope that the criticisms and the questions that Cynthia heard at the Pre-General Conference briefings are an indication that the delegates do not plan to drink the kool-aid. At least I can hope and pray that is the case.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I would have been more impressed if the COB had called for the UMC to go to its knees in prayer, asking for a spirit of revival to sweep though our congregations. Instead we get a poorly executed management “study” whose outcomes were carefully tailored to what the Bishops wanted to hear.

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