Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thoughts on the Beginning of General Conference

The United Methodist Church's quadrennial (every four years) General Conference begins today in Tampa, FL. Four years ago I did a daily blog recap, but that was before I had small children, so don't look for anything like that this time. I will probably do some intermittent commentary along the way, though.

My friend Jay Vorhees is coordinating social media coverage at GC, which you can check out over on the Metho-blog.

Before I give some opinions, let me say that I am so happy that our conference's clergy delegation is being led by Rev. Harriet Bryan, who I had the opportunity to get to know when I was serving in the Clarksville district. She has a peaceful and loving spirit that I hope will be shared by every delegate these next ten days. Were I a delegate, my passions on certain issues would not allow me to be terribly objective or as receptive to others' views as Harriet will be able to be.

There seem to be three major issues that will consume much of the time an energy of the delegates: the structure of the global church and the general agencies, the nature of the order of Elder, and, of course, human sexuality.

I don't have too many thoughts on the global structure, other than not wanting to see friends who work for General Agencies lose their jobs, but there is a need for our structures to be more efficient and effective, but I have no idea if any of the plans put forth will actually accomplish that.

Having just been admitted to the order of Elder, I do think there need to be some changes. Our current itinerant system is based on the idea of male clergy whose spouses to not work outside the home, and churches that all have parsonages for their pastor to live in. Neither of these things is the case anymore.

I lived in a parsonage in my last appointment, and my wife commuted 100 miles round-trip every day for four years. Modern, two career families cannot be expected to spend the time and money that requires and remain healthy families.

At issue is ending the appointment security for Elders, which doesn't personally bother me, but I'm a white heterosexual male. I won't be rejected by any church simply based on my race, gender, or sexual orientation. My age has given a few people reservations, but I'll be an old white guy soon enough. I have female and non-caucasian friends and colleagues who would be made much more vulnerable by ending appointment security, and I think we have to take that into serious consideration.

Ending appointment security also opens up the opportunity for a bishop to abuse the power of appointment as it is currently structured. Let's say Joe Pastor has been serving for 30 years, is the sole breadwinner for his family, and has lived in parsonages the entire time, and thus having built up no equity the way homeowners do. What happens if Joe gets on the wrong side of Bishop X and Joe is left without an appointment, effectively putting him and his family out on the street?

That's a worst case scenario, of course, but I don't think it's out of the question.

Something needs to be done to help ineffective Elders transition into a new career, but the one sided approach on the table right now doesn't seem like it will solve the issue, but simply consolidate more power in the office of the bishop without the protections that make for a mutually beneficial relationship between clergy and conference.

I don't, however, think we should go to a call system the way many other denominations do. Some kind of hybrid model needs to be developed that involves more consultation, and perhaps more open-ended appointments replacing the current year-to-year format.

Regarding human sexuality, I'm on the record saying that I do not believe that same-sex attraction is sinful, nor is acting on that attraction in a committed monogamous relationship. I am for full marriage equality in the eyes of both the church and the government.

With respect to colleagues whose convictions have led them to other conclusions, I do not feel that this injustice requires civil disobedience at this time. In other words, although I want to, I will not perform any same sex weddings at this time because of my covenant to uphold the Discipline. I want the Discipline to change.

Furthermore, I do not believe that being gay disqualifies people from ordained ministry.

(As a quick aside, this has not always been my take on these issues. If anyone is interested, I will happily share how my views have evolved over time)

My ideal scenario would have General Conference removing these barriers to begin to heal much of the harm we have done to our brothers and sisters of sexual orientations other than hetero.

But I know that's not going to happen all at once. So I do hope that, at the very least, the General Conference will add the acknowledgement to the Discipline that people of genuine faith come down on different sides of this question..

Four years ago, such a statement made it out of committee, but was narrowly voted down on the floor of General Conference after several individuals got up and started speaking in ways that came across as both hateful and hurtful. Whether they meant it to sound that way is not for any of us to judge. But I do hope that if similar things happen this time, there will be delegates brave enough to stand up and challenge harmful words spoken in the name of Christ.

For those who made it to the bottom of this post, thank you for listening to me get on my soapbox. If you have different opinions, please feel free to express them in a respectful manner. I believe the only way for us to move forward is to talk with one another, not at one another.

Above all, please pray for the General Conference, the delegates, and the United Methodist Church. We have a lot of big challenges facing us, and the events of the next ten days could help or harm our attempts to face them, or we could simply kick the can down the road four more years. Again.

Let's stay tuned to see what happens.

1 comment:

wjdf said...

Your post was a very insightful read for someone outside the established church. I appreciated your candor and bravery in being open about your views on sexuality. You are the change the church needs.