GC2016 — The Tragedy of Our Current Reality

General Conference has taken a nasty turn and an unfortunate direction, with ascribing malice and assuming negative intentions.  Civility is at a minimum, and people are now on the attack.  My sense is that we are witnessing ineptitude, incompetence and ignorance, not intentional malpractice.  We are not being led well, and there is not confidence in our presiding officer.  However, ascribing evil intent is over-reaction and unhelpful.  The tragedy of this current reality is twofold: first, there is no excuse for not being prepared for this very challenge to this very issue.  No one came to General Conference thinking human sexuality and the place of LGBTQI persons in the church would not be a “hot button” issue.  Second, our very best corporate meeting leadership should assume the chair through these volatile conversations.  We are unprepared, and we have no excuse.  All our ugliness is pouring out in frustration, confusion, lack of confidence and lack of trust.  There is no one to blame for this mess; we own this one totally and completely.

The call of our bishops to get our act together over the next four years is a reasoned and reasonable request.  It doesn’t matter that we should have done it thirty years ago.  We didn’t.  So, we either choose to do it now, or we throw in the towel.  There is no solution to this problem at this General Conference.  I repeat, there is nothing we can do to settle anything in this Conference. We didn’t prepare the soil, or lay the foundation (choose what metaphor works for you).  Anything we declare one way or the other will appease one group and alienate everyone else.  As I wrote earlier, everyone will lose — no one will win.

I just thought of a third wrinkle to the tragedy of our current reality: the world needs us to get our act together.  Globally, lots of people count on us.  Lots of people are watching us.  Lots of people want us to act our age, and to act our faith.  The fruit of the Holy Spirit is rotting on our collective vine.  We are allowing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) to shrivel and dry up.  It is not in evidence in our public display.

This does not have to be our way.  We should review the code of conduct we adopt with our conference rules, and hold one another accountable to it.  We should actually abide by our rules — under the aegis of grace.  God’s grace is being denied.  How dare we?  Who do we think we are?  This is both tragedy and travesty.  I have already spouted off how I think we should proceed.  I believe we need more time, but time to be proactive rather than passive, aggressive in our approach and process to deal with these issues head-on.  Almost four decades of avoidance and superficial engagement has come home to roost.  The time has come for us to grow up and face this.  Our passive-aggressive behavior must end.

In just an hour-and-a-half, we have polarized the room, choosing sides, drawing a line in the sand, allowing applause to deepen the divisions among us.  The bishops offered us a way forward, at the request of the General Conference, and we have undermined their response.  This afternoon is evidence that we still are not ready to address one another in civil and Christian conversation.  Let’s take the time to do this — to finally DO this — and do it well.  Let’s receive what the bishops gave us, work with it, and honor the leadership at all levels that brought us to this current reality, tragic or not.  We are all we’ve got, and we’ve got to work this out together.

7 replies

  1. How are we supposed to get our act together? I spent a couple of years monitoring ALL the voices of the UMC–even the ones I disagreed with–and what I discovered was a lack of consensus as to who God is, who we are, what God really expects from us in this life, the role of scripture in our lives as well as the role of General Conference and the Book of Discipline in the life of the church. Not to mention that I found myself taking two steps backwards from the verbiage and actions of the most vocal liberal/progressives. The tragic reality is we are a church divided and have been for a very long time because the Methodist/United Methodist Church has not been teaching anything in particular for a very long time. The only thing we have in common is a church name. I grew up in the Methodist/United Methodist Church. I was taught to respect, treasure and trust it–all this breaks my heart. But my trust was already eroded because when the going got tough several years back, it was only by distancing myself from all things church that I finally discovered a clear understanding of who God is and who I am in relation; nothing has been the same since. If I had not distanced myself from church I never would have developed this understanding of God that I never thought possible. All the random pieces of the puzzle of Christianity I have been collecting over a lifetime of being a good church-going Methodist finally have a home; Christianity has gone from feeling like rocket science to being simply unfathomable; I am FINALLY standing in the wide open space of God’s amazing grace. I wish I had been taught these things a long time ago. The only major negative in the experience was that all the teaching came from a random collection of people from the communion of saints past and present who criss-crossed denominational lines and except for John Wesley himself, none of them had any connection to the United Methodist Church. My favorite teacher was actually a Presbyterian pastor who is dead right in this assessment of mainline Protestant Christianity in America:

    “…Essentially, the Pharisees’ problem, and ours, is in understanding the difference between knowing God and knowing about God. We easily confuse the two. One implies information, while the other is a vital relationship…Typically Protestant churches are better at helping people know [some] things about God than we are at helping them know God as people who live with him. It should come as no surprise that when Christians really need their faith, if [some] knowledge is all they have, they will soon wander away in search of a God worth worshiping. The church version will no longer “do”]”–M. Craig Barnes, When God Interrupts: Finding New Life in Unwanted Change (modified)

    The sad thing about that statement from a Presbyterian is that Methodism is in existence because John Wesley did a masterful job of “helping [people] know God as people who live with him.” And as an orthodox Christian with a Wesleyan accent that would love to see the UMC regain its footing, I am sad and dismayed that our liberal Bishop leadership pulled off what has all the markings of a masterful end run that ties this church to two to four more years of the same old swampy mess we have been in.

  2. Dan, and all GC delegates: I am reading the disheartening reports from Portland with dismay that those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus have been caught up in the Trump-itis disease (my-way-or-no-way). Christ tells us that God loves every human being….ALL human beings, not just someone like me or you, but ALL human beings. That knowledge should over=ride every other decision of the GC. It is time the delegates…ALL delegates …. live up to the charge that God gives us to live in grace. To do less is to shame every person who calls himself or herself a follower of the founder of Methodism: ” Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, TO ALL THE PEOPLE YOU CAN, as long as ever you can.” Earl Thayer

  3. Dan, I am one of many who feel glad that GC delegates have received bishops’ recommendation as a way forward as well as in recognition of their leadership. Despite all the messy tragedy you experienced over the last few days at GC, you and all the 2016 GC delegates and bishops will be appreciated by the United Methodists all around the world present and future. Today, I am reminded of an African proverb, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk with others.” I am sure you took a way in which we can walk far, in the light of the Holy Spirit, being urged by the Spirit, with consideration of others who have different thoughts yet we call our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  4. It’s a mess. Why not suspend further decisions, approve the budget and go home early? It’s time to pray with one another- not prey on each other.
    Call the game early and walk away!

  5. I have been at meetings where at tense times the meeting took a brief adjournment to settle nerves and sometimes they let no one sit down until the group agreed. I have also been at events where the time was extended to “we will be here until we come to consensus”. You don’t need to agree with the entire proposal, but you have to agree you will support and live with the decision. Unfortunately there is no one clear answer to get to this point and people feel strongly justified in their position.

    I will continue to pray for GC attendees to take a deep breath, feel the Spirit and work for God’s will. It doesn’t have to be a perfect solution, but as a church, we cannot leave angry. Our membership needs more than that.

  6. Dan –
    I’m unable to follow GC in real time due to computer restrictions at work, so I have been following you constantly over the last few days, and today, the last few hours. To paraphrase the late Prince: we need to act our age, not our shoe size.

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