Sunday, January 06, 2008

Looking forward, looking back

It's a new year. Time for new issues, new thoughts, and new blogs. I'll begin this year by considering what will be happening in my denomination in a few months. In April the United Methodist Church will have it's quadrennial General Conference. It's a meeting we have every four years that consists of an equal number of lay and clergy delegates from every conference in the world. General Conference is the only body that can officially speak for the entire denomination. So as you can imagine, these meetings are always significant.

I'll be honest. I'm very worried about what's going to happen this year at General Conference. I'm not worried because there is tremendous disagreement over hot-button cultural issues- that's merely reflective of the world we live in. What worries me is that at the last several General Conferences, as well as in the rhetoric (including the Methodist Blogosphere) in between, we've seen a tremendous spirit of disunity and unwillingness to live together amidst our differences.

At each Annual Conference session this past year, delegates were elected to represent the conferences at GC. Almost immediately, the lobbying began. A number of groups on what we in America would call the conservative side of the hot button issues have held "informational meetings" with the stated intention of helping delegates understand what is at stake at GC. These "informational meetings" look a whole lot like the "voter guides" that Jerry Falwell and other members of the Religious Right used to produce right before elections: they seem to be pushing a highly partisan agenda rather than merely providing information.

I don't think there's anything wrong with taking sides on these issues, per se. I certainly have strong opinions on a lot of issues. What worries me is that long before the delegates to GC gather, issue groups are drawing battle lines. It's as if we're going into this with an "us vs. them" mentality. The fact that a small but vocal minority has been advocating a split in the UMC along partisan lines only increases my anxiety about the future of our denomination.

There is more than enough room for disagreement and diversity in the United Methodist Church. We've always been a "big tent" denomination. After all, we count as members both George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton! One of the reasons John Wesley believed conferencing to be a means of grace was that it gave us the chance to sit down at the table together, face to face, and work out our issues together in a spirit of unity. To be fair, for John Wesley "unity" meant agreeing with him on every single issue (he was the consummate type A control freak), but the concept remains beneficial.

If we go into General Conference with an "us against them" mentality we will be sending the wrong message about who we are as a denomination. We will be just another group that draws battle lines and values winning at all costs. If, on the other hand, we choose to work together in a spirit of love and compassion we will send the message that fellowship and unity (amidst our diversity) in Christ is what our church is all about.

So what will we choose? Let's watch and see.

1 comment:

Katie Z. Dawson said...

Besides all the unity/division stuff, I'm also really interested to see what will be proposed and what will be approved regarding ordination and ministry. I had my first sub-district meeting with other pastors today, and I think that i am one of the only ones who has been to seminary and is an elder (probationary as that may be). 2 are deacons, 2 are lay pastors, 2 are liscensed local pastors. It feels odd because I have just come out of seminary and all of my peers (like you!) have been on the ordained elder track. It was mentioned today that one proposal that might be on the table is to limit sacramental authority... if that would happen, there would only be 3 or 4 elders in my subdistrict who could do the sacraments!