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.