Last Day. The End of Times. Don’t count on Jesus coming back any time soon. If he is anything like most of the delegates to this year’s General Conference, it may take him a few days to recover. There has been so much attention (I’m as guilty as anyone) on what hasn’t worked well, but what have we accomplished? As glacially as we have moved, we HAVE accomplished some things. If our bishops take their charge seriously, we are going to move as a faithful communion to actually draw parameters and arrive at determinative conclusions as to what aspects of human sexuality define who we are. We will bring focused attention to our Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions to clarify what we mean and intend to LGBTQI people AND those who stand in opposition to them. We will quit waiting for this “to work itself out,” and we will honor and respect one another to stop treating is as an “issue” and we will struggle and strive together to say who we are, what we believe, and why we believe it. Sounds so simple stated this way, yet this is one of the most crucial engagements we will ever make, and we have skirted it for decades, leaving people hurting and unclear as to what the church truly believes and live by.
Our young people spoke clearly and powerfully — we want to stay united. From a statement made by Anne Jacob, “We urge everyone to seek solutions that promote our global unity as the United Methodist Church, rather than focus only on the issues that divide us, so that we may faithfully live out our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It is heartening to see the newer generation of leaders embrace a vision of unity and global witness.
We affirmed that our mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”. Some misguided discussion proposed the removal of “for the transformation of the world,” from our mission, but the heart and soul of Methodism (evangelism, missions, and social justice) prevailed. It took us a while, but we finally took ten minutes to talk about our identity and purpose.
Our leadership emerges from this General Conference much more global and inter-culturally robust. Our Judicial Council and our University Senate are planetary, rather than provincial, bodies. There is much to celebrate.
Our Judicial Council pointed out all the core ways the $20 million dollar such fund proposal was unconstitutional. The cadre of older, white, male traditionalists will have to go back to their dark room and try again. It is comical at this point. These long-time United Methodist leaders seem to have no idea how our church actually works. But it good that we have a system that protects the denomination from the machinations of the few. At the very least, Donald Trump tactics don’t work here. This is one way we are NOT like our dominant culture.
I spent time in prayer yesterday trying to be more open and understanding of different motives. Why are different groups acting as they do? Some are transparently political and they mirror our U.S. political landscape. The winners-and-losers mentality is certainly evident. We’re using it in the ways we speak to/at each other. But I do believe, even beyond my ability to understand, that the majority of people here have good, and noble, and well-intentioned. In my experience, no one passionately defends a position or perspective they believe to be untrue, stupid or wrong. We stand up for the things we “know” to be true. The problem is, when competing truths contradict and are mutually exclusive, we get very defensive and untrusting. We become belligerent and abrasive. We turn opponents into enemies, and disagreements into fights, and honest engagement into hypocritical tolerance. We let our worst prevail. We turn from faith to fear, and from grace to judgment and condemnation. We lose our way as we lose our cool, lose our minds, and lose our faith.
Sometimes cooler heads prevail. Not always, but generally. I have been impressed that many of the challenges to our very identity, essence and spirit have gone down in flames. People are not even open to consider that our work, life and faith is not about participating in God’s wondrous transformation of the world. A few narrow-minded individuals who think God/Jesus is all about them try to impose this small, petty vision on the body, and the body will have none of it. Thanks be to God. But those who propose it are not bad people. They are not stupid. They are immature and ignorant, and it is up to the church to be patient and loving with such people to nurture them to a God-sized vision with the best Christian values, powered by God’s Holy Spirit. It is good to be reminded that our church embraces a broad, wide, huge spectra of theologies, worldviews, interpretations, and points of maturing in the Christian faith.
What we will do today is a mystery. Tomorrow, not so much. We will adjourn and we will be done for awhile. It will not be easy to sift the gains from the losses, the assets from the liabilities, and the triumphs from the failings. But what we will know is that we go with God, that God will bless our church, and that despite our efforts, God’s will is going to prevail. We are a deeply flawed, openly broken, joyfully dysfunctional church. We are who and what we are, and we are loved. Thanks be to God.