GC2016 — Day Ten, Thursday

Early on last week, I wrote that I was appalled by the behaviors I was seeing displayed by my United Methodist brothers and sisters.  Some wrote back to say they didn’t know what I was talking about — that no one was behaving badly.  Since then, Gere Reist, Secretary of General Conference, has had to admonish the delegates not to threaten people physically, not to name call or use racial slurs, not to cheat voting multiple times with multiple voting devices, and to coerce or “buy” votes from other delegates (pay for meals then expect delegates to vote a certain way, specifically).  This is good behavior?  There has not been one day go by where I have not seen people engage in improper behavior (if the Apostle Paul knew what he was talking about, anyway) and to speak unkindly or insultingly to others.  I have now been in situations where my southern brothers have used racial epithets I have not heard since childhood.  Somehow, a segment of our denomination missed the news about civil rights and desegregation…

And it is getting worse instead of better.  We are watching battle lines being drawn.  My wife and I noted that during the heated debate yesterday around referring to our bishops a proposal to directly address our divisions over sexuality, about seven tables were completely empty of delegates.  Where they were, what they were doing, and what they were talking about is anybody’s guess.  The truly weird thing is that when votes were taken, the overall counts were not lower, even with 35+ people absent.  I am sure whatever was being concocted yesterday will make its appearance today.

Watching the room — and we are in a marvelous place for watching: the very back row in the back corner, just inside the bar — we can see an ocean of people.  As a handful of people rise to attack the presiding bishop, spout anger, challenge decisions, derail process, and embed the conversation in tangents and misdirection, it is telling to watch the faces and body language of the delegates.  At the end of yesterday’s plenary, the word I would use to describe the body is “defeated.”. People look beaten down and beaten up.  Some members of some delegations are apologizing for/about other members of my delegation.  Someone I have known for years stopped me with tears in her eyes and said, “please don’t think we’re all like her.  I just want to hide under a table every time she goes to the microphone!”

I am wondering what real good we can still accomplish this General Conference.  A minority of delegates have managed to make our life together a personal and private vendetta, all about getting their way.  And the body does not have a good process in place to deal with it as it happens.  The bad behavior is prevailing because we don’t have a way to say “no, we won’t tolerate this.”. My sympathy goes to our presiding bishops, but with the exception of just a couple, they have done a poor job leading the business in plenary.  Our parliamentarians are worse.  We are held hostage by poor performance on the part of the leaders, and on highly skilled destructive behavior on the part of a handful of voices dead set on having their own way.  And a silent majority sits in disgust.

We look back on earlier fights and scratch our heads and wonder what our problem was — what was the big deal?  Lending practices almost destroyed the Methodist Church of the early 19th century.  We wouldn’t blink an eye at the arguments of that time today.  Then slavery.  Then divorce.  Then women in leadership.  Then war.  Then civil rights.  Then Viet Nam.  Then a blip of racism/sexism, again.  Now human sexuality.  Not only am I curious as to why we are letting this issue loom so large, but I can’t wait to see what we will come up with next.  If this General Conference is proof of anything it is this: we are not happy unless we can make others unhappy.  We cannot be church without something around which to draw sides and disagree.

I say again, sounding like the proverbial broken record, we are choosing to be like this.  And, no, it is not just one side making things hard for everyone.  In an open system, dysfunction is an act of collusion and abdication.  If we want things to be better, they will be better.  If we want harmony, we will create harmony.  If we want unity, we will create unity.  The majority truly can rule.  But what we have is what we have created for ourselves, what we sustain for ourselves, what we fuel for ourselves, and it is the outward and visible sign of who we really are and where our values truly lie.  Indeed, “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our __________” but what fills in the blank is anything BUT love.

13 replies

  1. Br. Dan,
    No METHODEVIATION Comments on the Council of Bishops Proposal?

    Thanks Be To God as The Holy Spirit has revealed itself in this monumental action taken by our Council Of Bishops.
    The “Both — And”. Middle Way appears to be prevailing.
    Fr. John would be proud of us.

    There is hope for the/a future UNITED Methodist Church!

    • I read your comments and I guess I didn’t observe anything that is out of the ordinary with how the Local or Greater Church has operated for the last 20 years. There has been a slow disintegration into this for years. Too much of the non denominational swagger and vitriole and lack of ethics has found its way into our communion. In addition, it appears that the various political polities of the participating countries have finally worked its way to GC and if this is truly a microcasm of the world we are in a need for Jesus to come back and soon.

      • I have witnessed the change over 45 years of full time service. In the early days there were a number of heated debates at the local church and the Conference. Yes, there was some bickering but the level of bitterness and personal animosity but now we appear to have reached a new high. Also, back then, come Sunday morning the folks in the heat of those battles were worshipping together. Then over the years I began to see folks leaving on the basis of a disagreement with the church over just one issue. Of course there have always been “Church Shoppers” but the numbers went up. Also, I began to see more and more folks who simply gave up on “organized religion” all together. Now we have “the spiritual but not religious” and a lot more who claim no religious affiliation (23% among all adults and about 1/3 of young adults). Add to this radical individualism empowered by social media and this kind of polarization should be expected. Still, I was praying our denomination would somehow rise above these forces and celebrate its diversity and welcome all to the Table of God’s Grace and Love where all are equal before God and where differences do not divide. Still as Yogi Berra once said “It’s not over till the fat lady sings. In my dreams I hear a great choir singing in perfect harmony and they are singing the Doxology. God’s Kingdom will come. The UM Church will have to decide whether it is in or out

  2. I experience this polarization in the local church ( although in my area most of the truly progressives have left) and at every level of social and political involvement. Most positions on issues are driven by political agendas wrapped in unconvincing religious rhetoric. One can have very strong beliefs without a strong faith in God. (See “A History of God,” Karen Armstrong or better yet read her book “The Battle For God” to understand what’s happening here. Older works but very helpfu). We shape God to support our agendas. We make the Bible into a paper pope. We search for religious communities that refect what we already believe rather than seek to find a community that would deepen our understanding of the mysteries of life. Thus, counting independent churches as denominations we now have 7000+ denominations in the US. If we base our unity on the empty hope of reaching agreement on every issue, then unity is impossible. A deeper more sacred process of finding consensus must invade our hearts. From the General Conference news and commentary I have read this is not happening now. Still, I continue to pray that God’s Spirit will break thru our “beliefs’ and grant us true faith in God and give us a new vision of who we are as the Body of Christ in this world. If we cannot agree upon our Vision, we have outlived our right to exist.

  3. Dr. Dick :

    I believe you are right on target with your observations of destructive and now destructive Behavior. But I think you forgot one other major divisional point in our Collective denominational history, which was abortion and debates and divisions around women’s right to choice abd the sanctity of life continues to be a big division amongst. On May 19, 2016 10:11 AM, “United Methodeviations” wrote:

    > Dan R. Dick posted: “Early on last week, I wrote that I was appalled by > the behaviors I was seeing displayed by my United Methodist brothers and > sisters. Some wrote back to say they didn’t know what I was talking about > — that no one was behaving badly. Since then, Gere Rei” >

  4. Dan, your perspective and comments are appreciated. Prayers with you this day!

    You know I am biased but we must stop using Robert’s Rules as we do. They are not helping!

  5. Dan, I affirm your observations. The bad behavior I’ve observed here in Portland have convinced me that this is the meanest General Conference in my 28 years of attending such events. Picking up for UM Insight.

    • Thanks, Cynthia. When I first attended General Conference in 1980, it felt like everyone was working to CREATE something, or to make sure good things were done. I don’t have that sense at all this year. The creative energy feels absent. More effort is being given to keeping things from happening than to making things happen. We are painfully stuck, and there is no focused guidance to move us to a better place. I am appalled at the state of affairs on our plenary floor.

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