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.