Ah, here we go again. Yesterday, in the selection of legislative committee leadership, our true colors came out. A fair, open system for selecting the best leaders or a contrived process where various special interest groups manipulate the process to get “their” candidate elected? Guess. So far, manipulation, is the most accurate word to describe our machinations. And I am not necessarily saying this is all bad. This is a clear indication of the deep passion and intense concern people have at this General Conference. It remains to be seen whether these people will rise to be good leaders or mere tools of a limited agenda. We hope and pray for the best, for at the very least, this is a republican process (note the lower case, similar to democratic — which this is not). In the republic, the rights of the individuals always trump the common good. There is very little about this conference so far — apart from the preaching in worship — that is focusing on either the common good or the will of God. There are simply too many “positions” vying for supremacy.
An interesting response to my post on rules. Some people are reading my position as “we don’t need rules.” I never meant to give that impression. What I do believe is that our rules come from our heart and thinking, not from God. At the very best, the rules we receive from God still get processed through our filters and interpretations. Our church is the way it is today through an ongoing and healthy process of making, breaking, revising and reestablishing rules. Almost every rule limiting human rights has been finally changed to widen the circle and be more, not less, inclusive.
A fascinating encounter with a delegate from Mozambique. I made the comment “we are a people still being guided by the Holy Spirit.” The delegate responded, “you mean the Scripture.” I said, “no, I believe that God did not stop speaking when humans closed the canon of scripture. I believe the Spirit is still working in us.” Undeterred, she said, “You mean scripture.” I asked her to help me understand where we were not communicating. She said, “Scripture is sufficient for our faith. God speaks through the Scriptures, and the Spirit interprets Scripture for us. There is nothing else. The Spirit guides us by revealing God’s Will to us through Scripture. We cannot add one word to the Holy Word. So, when you say Spirit, you mean Scripture.” I still disagree with this position, but it is a helpful way to see faith from what I called a second level worldview and value set — having a very clearly defined set of guidance and rules that define who belongs and who remains yet to reach and include. The people of God are the people of the Book. Sola scriptura. Ambiguity is reduced by an absolute authority. A definite and specific definition of the living Word.
I still hold the we are the living Word, the scripture that is being constantly written by God. The Spirit of God is the author-ity, and we are in a constant process of working out our shared and collective salvation, hopefully with fear and trembling. In watching behaviors, I am not so sure. I have been dismayed by the “entitlement” mentality that stand is stark contrast to the humility we were invited to yesterday. I am watching my brothers and sisters speak angrily and horribly to wait-staff, hotel-staff, convention center staff, and even to one another. At a restaurant, a “gentleman” reduced his server to tears and at the top of his voice screamed, “No way you get a tip!” Today, a booth scheduled to open at 7:30 had the audacity to not open until 7:38. People took their annoyance out on the poor volunteers working the booth. On person spat, “I am much too important to be made waiting this long.” And another muttered abut the “stupid assholes” who couldn’t tell time. I wish these were the only two incidents I could name, but they are examples of multiple encounters I have seen in the past two days. What a witness to the world about United Methodists…
Well, today we launch our legislative committees. May we remember that we are about ministry and not the business of winning and losing. (Note: I just typo-ed “sinning and losing.” Freudian?)
Categories: Christian witness, General Conference, The United Methodist Church
I am suprised to learn that I (many of my clergy colleagues and a vast majority of laity that I know from over two decades of ministry in the UMC) have a “second level world view and value set” as you put it. The delegate from Mozambique holds (what appears from what you’ve shared) a more traditional/historic view, and you label it as less–“second level”? Makes a person wonder about the factors & perspectives that affect the experiences people have….
In my experience, every church possesses all four value sets and worldviews, though one tends to predominate. While we speak of United Methodism as a “connectional system”, we are congregational in many ways. The second worldview/value set tends to want their pastor to take care of them first and foremost, and they sometimes resent community or conference commitments “imposed” on them. Apportionment are viewed as an obligation or a “tax”, also imposed from on high. These congregations say they want new members, but only as long as new people don’t bring change. Church is where we attend and have membership, it is not “who we are.”. Level two members are very likely to leave their congregation or their denomination if they find something significant over which to disagree. These are some of the challenges. But no other level does fellowship better, and no other group tends to take such good care of their pastor and property. While not always true, level two loves “their” church. My assessment of United Methodism as a whole breaks down approximately: 5% Level One, 55% Level Two, 35% Level Three, and 5% Level Four. Level One is not larger because the value sets break down and the churches tend to close. They are often characterized by power plays and conflict. Generally, not healthy. Level Three are heavily program-/staff-based. They offer lots of pathways for individual growth and development. Level Four is simply too demanding for most people in our culture. It becomes exclusive by its laser focus and high expectations. We need all four levels to feed a healthy system, but no one level can stay healthy if it simply remains where it is. Many of our African contexts are Level Two for no other reason than that was the value set and worldview offered as normative. But even with that, there are level one, two, three, and four worldviews at work on the African continent in The United Methodist Church.
Fearing things like this, I have gone out of my way to talk with every person who is in some way working the conference and thank them for their work. I hope it will help.
Are we at the same conference? I haven’t witnessed any of this rude behavior from delegates. Each line I’ve stood in has been marked by patience and almost every interaction is paved with grace. The online interactions on Twitter are far more rude than what we see here in person. Maybe give people another chance – there is a lot of kindness here.
I am very pleased this is your experience. It seems to be a minority report however. Since this post went up I have been stopped by at least fifteen people wanting to share stories they have seen. The quote of one woman attending her fifth GC is, “I have never seen anything like this. When did we become so spoiled, demanding and petty?”. So, be glad you are having the experience you are. Not everyone is so lucky.
How can we call our selves Christian in light of the servant nature of following Christ and then tell others we are too important to wait.
Civility has certainly “left the building.” But haven’t we (collective) allowed it? When we’ve opted to try and offend no one, we’ve allowed “bad” behaviors to continue. If we hear someone belittling another, do we step in to stop it, or do we walk away – after all, it’s not “my” problem. God, I believe, is crying as those of us who claim the name of Christ continue to devolve into such behavior. Jesus told those who follow him that others would know us “by your love.” Maybe it’s time for us to admit we’ve fallen terribly short – even when we try not to offend – and repent. May God’s love overwhelm us in the very near future so that we, in turn, may love each other.
your post today makes me really excited to host the general conference in 2020 here in MN
After reading this, I am reminded of a line from The Catcher in Rye: “I said old Jesus probably would’ve puked if He could see it….”