GC2016 — Day Five

It is amazing to watch various individuals and coalitions try to manipulate our processes, especially when things go against their opinion or will.  I am not singling anyone out — many people engage in this conniving behavior for a wide variety of reasons, and I am confident that all of them would justify their actions with good, just, and noble rationale.  But the underlying, and sometimes underhanded, reality is that we are operating by a “the ends justify the means” rubric. It may be just me, but I am not sure this is an appropriate code of conduct for people calling themselves Christian…

Winning at any cost is indeed a cultural norm in the United States.  Look at our election process for president of the United States.  Look at sports.  Look at reality TV.  Look at business.  Look at university education.  Look at the church.  We are all about getting our own way, any way we can.  It does not foster cooperation, collaboration or mutual respect.  I am in awe (positively and negatively) when I look at one or two individuals who are using money and influence to sway whole cadres of our conference delegates.  One of my colleagues in another legislative section says that an entire voting block of a people wait and ask one individual how he wants them to vote on each piece of legislation.  It may well be this is intended to help bridge the language gaps, and it could be done in a healthy, productive way.  Sadly, it could also be used to push an agenda and steer results.  Surprisingly to me, when challenged or confronted, a couple of these influencers freely and openly admit they are doing it, and simply challenge the complainant to do the same.  One blustery, friendly mover and shaker, when challenged about his influence on one delegation laughed and said, “Hey, this is a game anyone can play.”. Winning at any cost.  Competition.  Worldly values guiding church politics.

I also am learning that this doesn’t bother other people as much as it does me.  I dislike all the political gamesmanship in the church anyway, and am probably overly sensitive to it.  Most people seem to shrug it off as a non-issue.  They don’t like the results, but they have no interest in changing the paradigm.  This is what we have become, and you can get with the program or drop out.  If you don’t like it, lump it.  General Conference is not for the faint of heart.

I marvel at the compartmentalization of so many people of their spiritual faith and values from their behaviors.  One of the delegates regularly talks about the “bleeding heart pig-gressives,” then snorts and says he’s “only kidding.”. In four days I have heard him do this no less than seven times.  He finds it hilarious.  I find it unnecessary and insensitive.

I have deep stewardship concerns — waste of time, waste of paper, waste of food, lots of trash and recycling – clutter, clutter, clutter, noise, poorly used technology that cost an arm and a leg.  It feels like we are ill-prepared to be the legislative body of The United Methodist Church.  We are lacking system’s thinking, critical thinking, technical knowledge, and emotional intelligence.  I think we need to start “General Conference Boot Camp” — a week long intensive crash course in process, facilitation, group dynamics, Robert’s Rules, and critical thinking.  This should be mandatory for every GC delegate, clergy or laity.  Our time is much too precious and scarce to stumble through so much of the first few days.  There is great anxiety that we are wasting time and resources that we cannot get back.

This brings to mind a common misconception we hold in the church.  Just because someone is a volunteer doesn’t mean they need to perform like an amateur.  We lack a professionalism and a commitment to quality in what we have done so far.  I believe we need to raise the bar and increase our expectations for people who volunteer to lead at General Conference.  And we need to hold them to the highest standards — accountability, but with GRACE.  I am not asking people to be experts, but to prepare for the work they accept.  We have many experienced leaders from all walks of life who weren’t even given a chance to offer their gifts because less qualified people manipulated the process to get elected.  For that political leveraging, we all pay the price.  It is a bit embarrassing.

We are being tested.  People’s nerves are frayed.  People are getting frustrated.  People are tired and cranky.  It will probably get worse before it gets better.  May God grant us wisdom with patience.  Passion with compassion.  Conviction with kindness.  And engagement with grace.


8 replies

  1. Talk less, judge less, listen with the intent of trying to understand all sides of an issue.

  2. “This brings to mind a common misconception we hold in the church. Just because someone is a volunteer doesn’t mean they need to perform like an amateur.” Yes. This. I have said this for years, mostly speaking in a wilderness. I also am getting really tired of the arguing, wrangling and acting anything but Christian I am reading about for this General Conference. What a waste of time and resources.

    • Sue, worked as a volunteer coordinator back in the late ’80s. And later was the Board Chair of a battered woman’s shelter. One of the lessons I learned is that there are times you have to fire a volunteer.
      The director of a YMCA I used to know had all volunteers signs a contract specifying what they were to do AND that they could and would be removed from their position if they did not fulfill their part of the contract. When it was time to fire someone, she would invite them in, talk about how things were going, show them the contract, and ask if they thought they were living up to it.
      As often as not, they knew they weren’t and wanted out of the situation as much as she wanted them out. So, everyone was happy the contract was there to use in such cases.
      Sadly, while they are volunteers, GC delegates have no such explicit expectations to live up to. Let alone anyone who can and will hold them accountable.
      So, we are presented with the situation Dan describes : people doing things that, as Bill Easum often said, would get them put in jail almost anywhere else. But since its the Church, we tolerate their behavior.
      Perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift in both how we do church AND how we conference.
      Sadly, the best hope of that appears to have been Rule 44. While not perfect, it provided a mechanism through which to hear and deal with the real issues holding us back.

  3. The thing that irritates me is even if the vote does not go their way they do what they want without suffering any discipline for disobeying the disciplines they agreed to up hold.

  4. Creed, what if the majority is wrong?
    What if – just IF, mind you, as a growing body of scientific research suggests – sexual identity is hardwired into our DNA?
    Where would that leave those who are so passionately against inclusiveness?
    Would it not leave them calling “bad” what God has created as good?
    History is chock full of individuals who decided that one group or another was bad, was so evil they had to first be ostracized, then cast out, and finally eradicated lest they infect the entire community.
    They were, of course, totally wrong. But they were in the majority. And so they could pursue a “divinely” inspired course of action designed to protect the community. But which ultimately destroyed it.
    In historical terms, one such case of majority rule run amok is Nazi Germany. Hitler rose to power by appealing to the prejudices of the majority. By assuring them they were right. And urging them to purify the nation and make it great.
    Sadly, we have a Hitler Wanna Be running for president right now. He is using the same tactics Hitler used. And getting much the same result. Hopefully, the rest of the nation will listen to Bernie Sanders, who is attempting to lead the country back to what it once was, and still could and should be.
    Granted, Hitler and Trump are extreme examples from the political world. Thank God we do not have their ilk in the Church!
    We don’t?
    Do we?
    Sadly, if you remove the theological references you will have EXACTLY the same kind of rhetoric used by exclusion-ist of all stripes throughout history.
    Assuming that is correct, and it may not be, but assuming it is, is it not the job of the leader to help the majority see just how God awful wrong they are? And to try to move them in the direction of compassion, acceptance, and inclusion?
    Just wondering.
    Since its the Church, surely I must be wrong.
    I mean, it is not like the Church has ever engaged in Inquisitions and witch burnings because the majority thought it was the right thing to do, now is it?

  5. GRACE has to start from the leaders. Regrettably, grace and wisdom from them has been in terribly short supply. For instance, you probably feel that Bishop Dyck’s message was prophetic while many others felt it was bitter partisanship. Where was the GRACE for those (a majority of General Conference by the way) who feel that changing our ordination standards and chargeable offenses is not wise (likely still a strong majority of the laity in the pews who actually pay the bills)? Bishops like Dyck, Carcano and Talbert have an agenda. It is not an agenda shared by a majority of the denomination, but they have been empowered to pursue it at the expense of the denomination and to the detriment of the Kingdom.

    The Commission on the General Conference has consistently made decisions to attempt to facilitate changes to our ordination standards while ignoring the basic requirements for a productive General Conference. So, we create first world problems of an over-reliance on technology while the Wi-Fi in the Convention Center seems to be sub-par. Then, we hear that the iPad system will not work if individuals are using their own hotspots! Of course, this ignores the basic fact that many delegates are not “super-users” of technology particularly many of our African brothers and sisters. The idea that the lighting is not sufficient to see to the back of the hall is appalling. Why are the lights set so low? etc., etc.

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