GC2016 — Day Eleven, Friday

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.


11 replies

  1. I don’t understand the statement that “they are not stupid—-they are immature and ignorant” ?
    It does not help unification to Bring Trump tactics into the discussion. Trump tactics were used by Adams and Jefferson and to others since. There are persons who suppoort Trump in spite of his tactics I have followed your blogs and appreciated them a lot. Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom and your thoughts.. I don’t like putting people into groups by race, creed, religion or sexual preference. I like to think of them as people with many common aspirations with differnet means of acheiving them.

    • Using generally accepted definitions of immaturity and ignorance, less mature people demand attention and their own way, they do not share as easily, nor do they listen to opinions/thoughts other than their own. Selfishness and self-interest are dominant and they speak in declarative and absolute terms. They think in concrete, “either/or” terms and have difficulty entertaining abstract concepts. They are rule bound and defensive. “Us/them” thinking is normative and often harsh. Ignorance has to do with a lack of awareness of alternative options, codes of conduct, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, prejudices, blind-spots and simplistic thinking. Hope that helps.

  2. Lets be clear – the Africans are not driving this ship, pushing the folks you call conservative further than they are even comfortable – soon the old white guys will be the raving liberals in this denomination. So this general conference managed to put a stop to all the calls out to re-decorators and real estate agents ready to measure the curtain and drapes at all the long occupied bastions of liberalism, but its just a matter of time before a glut of real estate shows up on the Nashville market, the proceeds of which are transferred to be used in true mission and ministry efforts. Its may be 2016, but 2020 is coming. And with it overwhelming African majorities. It may be 2016 but 2020 is coming, and with it 2/3 supermajorities. It may be 2016 but 2020 is coming and with it a return to the shouting methodists of yesteryear. It may be 2016, but 2020 is coming… come Lord Jesus, you have answered that question we have so long asked – how long must we sing this song of lament, how long must we sing this song of brokenness, how long must we sing this song – now O lord you have given us an answer. 4 years longer, your deliverer is drawing nigh! It may be 2016, But 2020 is coming. Amen.

    • And it has been amazing to see our African brothers and sisters level the playing field and take ownership of their authority along with their responsibility. It has been wonderful to see more and more stand up to say they won’t be manipulated any more, and that they have their own plan and vision. While this conference had its own challenges, it have been the most global, worldwide engaging conference to date. And you name the most exciting part of the growth of global United Methodism — the Northern hegemony is over as of this General Conference. Thanks for this uplifting and exciting reminder.

    • The African Delegates are not as monolithic or as one dimensional as is sometimes portrayed. Yes, they tend to the traditionalist on matters of theology. On social issues, they often cause distress to the traditionalists. By the way, I don’t think the numbers suggest an African “supermajority” in 2020 or even 2024. But change is coming, that is for certain.

  3. I have read everything that you have written. Thank you! But I am sitting here being quiet as my granddaughter naps. She, in her short life, loves everyone and has as “aunties am doing uncles” that are not included in the church. I fear that with her independent and vocal tendencies, she will not be a part of the United Methodist Church. But I also had to laugh, as an “old white woman,” old white men really need a swift kick!

  4. What disturbs me and disturbed me when I was a representative to Annual Conference, is the lack of communication. There would be trials at communication, but between conferences there was no effort to teach or practice how to communicate. It seems this is not just in the US but perhaps throughout the world. This has been something I have been very passionate about for the last 10 years or so. I think it is a big part of the polarization of our government and our religious communities. I have no specific solution, but until we make this a priority – to learn and PRACTICE, I don’t see how divisive topics can be handled.

  5. I must admit that this one is a little more positive than most of the previous posts but still able to throw a cheap shot to “The cadre of older, white, males traditionalists…” This is the last day and as a leader at the cabinet level I hope you will call for unity, reconciliation, forgiveness and offer some encouragement Scriptures. I like your conclusion, “We are a deeply flawed, openly broken, joyfully dysfunctional church. We are who and what we are, and we are loved.” Thanks
    Nhia Wahn, Trinity UMC. Waldo, WI

    • Let me be clear — this is not as derogatory as it seems. We are talking about 12-15 individuals, all but one white, all but one under 60, all on the conservative/traditional side, all trying to circumvent our rules and processes to take control of decisions that belong to the General Conference. I will not make any comments that support or validate such egregious attempts to undermine our church.
      These folks are not working for unity. They are not committing to a common good. And they do not honor the connectional system. If you have been reading my previous posts, I am calling for unity, for a commitment to keep our church together, and I am opposed to such destructive attempts to take control of our denomination by one minority or another.

  6. The consensus fallacy is based on the idea that we are like a group that wants to go to California from the East Coast. You have multiple ways to get there but if you have regularly been taking trips and liked the experience then keeping the group together is more important than the actual path taken. But, instead we are a group that isn’t sure they even want to go to California. Many have taken trips from where they started (divorce, remarriage, etc.) and are not sure they are happy in the place they now are but are very certain they don’t want to travel any further. Others are convinced that they should get in a rocket ship to get to California as fast as possible. They are still convinced of that when still others remind them that the last two rocket ships blew up (Episcopalians and Presbyterians). Not only are they convinced that the rocket ship is best but want everyone else to pay for their trip. This can be a strained analogy but it is the best I have come up with for this.

    The hard truth is that a majority of laity (even in “just” the USA) are opposed to non-celibate gay clergy in pulpits (especially with guaranteed appointment) and clergy conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies in our churches. So, the three most likely results from the Bishop’s commission are either complete deadlock, a LYN manifest that is voted down either at a called General Conference or in 2020; or something like Chris Ritter’s Love Alike. Too many people have been disobedient for too long and they are enabled instead of rebuked.

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