Greeting me this morning at my assembly table was a slick, polished piece of propaganda for A Call to Action. Signed by 80 pastors of our largest churches — note no endorsements from laity or congregations, just senior pastors of big number churches — it regurgitates the rhetoric of why this is a good thing, but with a few added treats. Now, if you question the Call to Action, your motivation is fear. If you are proposing changes, it is because you don’t understand the wisdom of the Call. And as long as we define the key considerations in terms of clergy leadership — the church being about a narrow segment of “us” — we will turn our decline around! Yikes!
Reframing the legitimate concerns of thoughtful United Methodists as a lack of courage is perfidious and unfair, but transparently political. The assumption that people who are calling for collaboration and partnership in creating alternatives that lack the egregious flaws of A Call to Action are afraid of change is silly. But when truth is spoken to authority, authority rarely enjoys or respects it. And so we are challenged to settle for less — by those who should know better…
Oh, the generic language is the right language — vitality, health, accountability, effectiveness — but the problem is that there is little or no connection between what is being proposed and the outcomes we agree upon. The clearest unanswered question is simply this: “how will the proposed changes produce the necessary changes?” There is no real evidence that slashing, cutting, and redirecting power and authority into the hands of the few will leave us any better off.
Bishop Peter Weaver is speaking as I write this. His call is wonderful — to unity and shared purpose, to love one another and trust that God can bring resurrection to The United Methodist Church (implying that we are already dead…?). His is a positive message, and there is nothing to disagree with — but no one disagrees abstractly with unity and love — it is only at the practical level we run screaming and flailing the opposite direction. What is needed is not more inspirational rhetoric. What is needed is will and intentionality to work together to make something great.
It is very hard to figure out what it is we really want. We talk discipleship, then we get the endorsements of large membership church pastors. We talk ministry, then we ignore a vision for laity by preferencing clergy leadership at every level. We talk mission, but then all our justifications are framed in terms of money. There is a word for this: hypocrisy. We don’t need a call to hypocrisy — there is enough of that already. We need a call to integrity.
Can we become the church God wants us to be or will we settle for a church that some of our “successful” pastors think we should be? Will we explore the outcomes we discern as God’s will or shall we pursue the outcomes we want that allow us to be the church we want to be? These are hard questions. These are important questions. These are the questions we must address at General Conference, and it doesn’t help when people who are asking them are dismissed as faithless or afraid.
Categories: General Conference, Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church
By the way, this came in large part in conversation with our more ‘conservative’ sisters and brothers from Africa.
I appreciate your insight, but labeling and dismissing is what we do so well. I would offer this is what BOTH sides do. Sometimes on this blog, and yes even on my blog. We want our side to be right, and for all of us that means the other side has to be wrong. It comes from the Call to Action Steering Committee and IOT, BUT it ALSO comes from Plan B and Methodists for Social Action. It comes from the RIGHT but it ALSO comes from the LEFT. This is the world we live in today politically and religiously. Conservatives want rules and regulations. Liberals want freedom and change.
I have often pondered why we don’t trust anyone anymore. Talking about “Large Church Pastors” seems to insinuate that they want to harm the United Methodist Church. I have also seen others talking this way about the Plan B people or the Methodists for Social Action. Can we not view proposals as just pieces of a flawed puzzle? I am not quite sure anyone has “it” perfected. My best guess is that they are feeble attempts to do church different than we have been.
Most of us are still just trying to be made perfect in love…
The large church pastors are the only signators on the expensive glossy handout that arrived at our tables overnight. This is the piece that says the choice is between faith or fear. It is the only piece I received and am referring to.
It seems to me that the problem is language….we don’t share the same dictionary…accountability for the Call to Action is to do away with guaranteed appointments…accountability for the Council of Bishops is to continue in a lifetime appointment, so they can be ‘prophetic voices’…accountability for the local church comes down to “what are they doing with our money”…I won’t even try to define words like trust using the above examples…When we gave up the ability to define our theology, our mission, and our purpose in biblical terms, clearly agree upon…we lost our ability to understand and trust what ‘others’ are saying….and we have/or are in the process of losing any language that can be understandable across the general church without the common ground of scripture.
I am SO ready for a revival. The problem with clergy led change is that it puts an awful amount or pressure on the clergy and no responsibility on the laity. As previously stated – it needs to be a collaboration BETWEEN clergy and laity as equals.
Dan, I believe I heard Margaret Marcuson saying (just a few days ago) that we need to be present with the people we are with in the current moment. Blogging while listening and reading? Perhaps our real call to action is to focus on what is in front of us — no matter where we are. And to abide with God in each moment — whether we are in Wisconsin or Tampa! Blessings to you and the rest of the delegation.
Overfunction much? I will assume (though I could be wrong) that you have never been through the long, tedious set-up of General Conference… but thanks, anyway, for letting me know what I ought to be doing instead of what I am doing! As things truly get going, I will have less and less blog time — which is why I am packing it all up front.
Thanks, Dan, for continuing to bring your intelligence and uncommon sense to the denomination’s conversation.
Thank you for sharing this, Dick. I agree with you, and find elements of the “Call to Action” questionable or onerous. I’m appreciative that others have worked to suggest alternatives, and am praying that the embryonic system of GC2012 will develop to allow for conversation, discernment, and viable means of reclaiming the power of Methodism’s movement. Please do what you can to speak up, and blessings to you at GC.