Anyone in any kind of planning process knows that a normal and natural progression is from “what we want” to “what we need” to “what we absolutely can’t live without” to “what we can live with.” We arrived today at the final exit — and what we can live with is not so different from what we already have in many ways. It certainly isn’t streamlined or simplified. It will be most interesting to see how power, authority and influence are shifted. I will go on record as saying I don’t think we will save any money in this structural change. If anything, it will cost more than what we already spend — and it won’t result in savings down the line, either. As a voting body, we moved first to reduce the number of people, then to add more bodies back into the downsized structure so that it really isn’t a whole lot smaller at all. We must be very careful not to spend more to accomplish less.
Personally, I found the power politics to be most fascinating. “Equal representation” became the poor cousin of “proportional representation.” Making sure that the best and brightest from the whole church is actively involved is of lesser importance than making sure that the biggest conferences get the biggest slice of the pie. The prevailing argument? Fair is fair, and the Bible does say that to those who have, more will be given. And of course, we can count on (trust) the leaders from other jurisdictions and the central conferences being as sensitive to our needs as we would be…
We actually made some significant strides in sharing power and influence with our central conference leaders, particularly in Africa. We are learning what it means to be a global church — as fractured and fragmented as we are theologically, morally, and ethically — and that being one church does not mean we are of one heart or mind. There is no way to set a theological base, social principles, and a governing polity that will favor and honor both the northern and southern hemispheres.
I still have some deep concerns about disenfranchising our young people and the ways we are dealing with leadership effectiveness and accountability. This whole General Conference has been remedial and managerial rather than visionary and creative. We aren’t producing anything new, just mitigating the damage and decline of the current reality. We are rearranging, not innovating. We are focused on the short-term at the peril of the long-term (and I use the word “peril” intentionally. I don’t think we made a mistake today, but I don’t feel we spent enough time examining implications and I fear many key issues may fall through the cracks). We are not laying a foundation at this General Conference upon which to build a future, merely seeking ways to do the least damage to the here and now.
I want to make one observation and point about where things are at this General Conference. A few less-than-kind or not-overly-observant souls dismiss the decisions made today as being based in fear. I don’t believe people are afraid of change. I think people don’t see the benefit and value of change and they are working hard to preserve that which makes sense to them. In many conversations I am having with different delegate groups, a number of them confess that they are not sure exactly what would happen if they voted the other way. When I ask them how they decided to vote, the standard answer is “we agreed as a delegation to vote this way.” I think there is a clear intentionality about what we will change, what we will preserve, what we will defend, who we will invite and who we will deny. I believe delegates are not afraid, but I do believe they are focused on today rather than tomorrow. Long-term implications are rarely part of any of the discussions. Most of what we are discussing and doing has limited potential to bring about any lasting change. We are managing rather than visioning; tinkering rather than futuring; and maintaining rather than creating.
The challenge then is how to make what we have actually work. There are many things we will not see happen. We will not see new young people come to our denomination. We will not see a deepening loyalty and commitment to the church as the church degrades its loyalty and commitment to its clergy. We will lose some significantly gifted leadership from the gay community. We will not see a redemption of our credibility or relevancy. For many, adopting a plan for the church was an end in itself and not a means to an end. But what we do gain is an opportunity to put everything on the table and envision possible new futures. We have the opportunity to change our conversations and challenge one another to focus on outcomes rather than outputs. We have the chance to see things from a different perspective, if we will organize around priorities. We have committed to a new path, now we’ll see if we can travel it in a new way.