On Closing the 2016 General Conference

general_conference_2016_logo-550x388Have you ever been to a session of the General Conference of the UMC? If so, could you call what happens there “holy conferencing”? If not, something has to change.

The GC is the only body that speaks on behalf of The United Methodist Church. It is where we establish church law and make decisions that will come to bear on our denominational life for at least one quadrennium. It is crucial that our denominational decisions be steeped in prayer and discernment. Our conferencing should be rooted in the holiness of God and guided by the Holy Spirit. There is a great deal at stake in many of our decisions.

Personally speaking, “holy” is not the adjective I would use to describe what went on at the 2012 GC. It was a spectacle that would have made the Ringling Brothers blush. Constant protests and, finally, the stopping of all business of the GC by LGBT protesters is what most people will take away from our time together. Oh, and the Twitter feed–that was ugly. Despite the approximately $8.5 million we invested in this event, we accomplished very little of significance. We honed our skills of insulting one another via social media and left more divided than when we began. That is immoral.

The 2016 GC is beginning to loom like a storm on the horizon. A funnel cloud might be a better analogy. Given recent events relating to ecclesial disobedience and the possibility of a division of the UMC into two or more denominations, I think we should expect the atmosphere of 2012 to seem calm by comparison.

I suggest that we close the GC meeting space to all but delegates, bishops, and other essential personnel. Anyone who wishes to watch the proceedings can do so via live streaming. We should ban all caucus groups from having a presence inside our gathering space: no protests, no signs, no distribution of materials, no flash mobs, no stopping our work together. We should focus on the business at hand with as little distraction as possible. There is plenty of work to do relating to a broad variety of ministries. There will be issues related to security of appointment, our international ministries, our work with the poor, our ministries with people with disabilities, and outreach to young people. Legislative proposals regarding our stance on human sexuality will undoubtedly come forward. There may be various restructuring plans to consider. To have all of this business function in an atmosphere of constant distraction is unfair to the people who care deeply about these ministries. To have this business preempted by the protests of a single group–as may well happen again–would be another sign of deep, abiding dysfunction in our denomination.

Some may object that this proposal would silence demonstrations in favor of LGBT ordination and marriage in the UMC. It would not of course silence any legislation or  discussion of these matters, and discussion and legislation belong properly within the business of the GC. Further, we should bear in mind that counter-demonstrations are possible as well. Do we really want to operate in such a way that any group that feels strongly enough about its position can interrupt the work of the GC, particularly in light of the enormous cost of this event? According to the UMR, the 2016 GC will cost almost $11 million. How do we want to spend that time and money?

36 thoughts on “On Closing the 2016 General Conference

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  2. To borrow an expression from Alexander’s day, this is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. I am disheartened that it comes from the dean of the seminary I graduated from and was president of the student body at. It was there that I learned to expand my perspectives and appreciate the fullness of expressions of the Christian church. It was there I learned the Methodism I grew up with was more inclusive in thought and theological meaning than my previous experience presented. This is where I had class that included attending the 1976 General Conference, a deep learning experience that abides with me even now. There I learned the values of democratic action, including caucus and protest actions, as integral to the life to a church that did the essential work for “going on to perfection.”

    The moral core of the last General Conference fell apart after, under the guise of “holy” conferencing, LGBT delegates and observers, and their allies, were insulted and abused by others, including leadership, during the first week of committee work. Tears and testimony of the abused were the catalyst for protest and rage from the ecclesiastically oppressed delegates and members who are within the church. What you suggest is closing the most visible and important witness possible of the church that sells itself as having open hearts, open minds and open doors. The above suggestion is, to say the least, ironic.

    This idea of closing the General Conference to “outsiders” flies in the face of “holy” conferencing and the representational identity of the General Conference. It belies sensing shame for the actions that caused protests in the past because you know the shameful actions and positions remain standing. Therefore, protest will come again. If you cannot do your church business in the open and stand for it in the light of protest, then the business you are doing is a business of darkness. You are suggesting that the lamp be put back under the basket, only to be seen by some means of closed circuitry.

    Instead, suggest that this next General conference open with a service of repentance for the harm done to LGBTs, their parents and friends who are members of the body. Such a time of worship, edification and reconciliation — including a call to inclusive Christian discipleship — would be a healing step in the direction that I believe Jesus Christ calls us to “Go.”

    • I can appreciate the diversity of concerns within the context of the issues that have become the political/social/theological foci of the GC. The question that has always been mine is this: What is the purpose of GC? If it is an opportunity to provide denominational-wide publicity and focus on the social issues of our cultural/social/theological divide,then I am the first to say continue the current social functioning occurring at GC. If the purpose of GC is to give guidance/direction/theological-instruction and discernment, then it is time to devise a new way of conferencing as outlined by Dr. Watson. When I hear/read of our GC described as a circus, I am appalled at the thought that Wesley would have wanted us to turn GC into a “three-ring circus” with our Bishops being the “ringmasters” directing our attention to the various rings where we can watch the various “acts”. It is time for us to remember why GC was originally called — to gather as a people of faith whose focus is on Jesus Christ’s call to “make disciples” (not have the current disciples gather to discuss/disparage/dismiss/deride/destroy/disect our purpose and call to win the hearts and souls of all to Jesus Christ and Christ’s love, life, and living in the souls of all!). It is hoped that the current actions on the part of some of the Bishops is a sign that the Discipline under which we all who are ordained are called to lives, with its imperfections as a human document, will become a “work in progress” as we continue to “perfect” our church, our denomination, and our lives!

      • To say that peaceful protest of spiritual malpractice and ecclesiastical injustice, which wrecks families, kills careers and is a more-potent catalyst for teen suicides, causes General Conference to appear as a circus is more than disheartening — it is appalling. The stiff-necked people who resist the reality that homosexuals are full members of God’s creation, and so should be in the United Methodist Church, need to be awakened by the noise and signs that God’s realm is unfolding around them and they need to repent from their quelling of the Spirit of inclusion,

      • I can appreciate the challenge concern and the failure of the past to give recognition to all persons — it is the proof that we live in a world that has sin. It is a reality that there has been inequality, discrimination, and failure on the part of both the church and society to treat people fairly. But I also must say — risking rebuttal/challenge/recrimination — what my parents used to say to me: “Who said life is fair?” All of us, in some way or another, and in different levels of intensity, has experienced discrimination. It is also true that there has been serious failure on the part of the church (local and in general) to be the proponent for the discriminated. My point in sharing my challenge to the GC’s allowance of the protestations is that I am convinced such allowance would not be offered to those who wish to protest the GC for its failure to take evangelism/church-growth seriously. We are now having to reduce the number of delegates to GC because we are a denomination that is dying and NO ONE CARES! Wait, I take that back…Africa cares, as they continue to evangelize their communities, taking seriously the salvation of souls. That is what GC’s goal and focus is to be — the salvation of souls. It was for Wesley (“The world is my parish!”) and it needs to become our focus in the 21st century. A primary focus on salvation of souls does not mean “lessening” the focus on social justice issues — it means that our primary purpose is evangelism of ALL persons’ souls! We are not converting their physical selves — we are focused on their souls! I know that is not what persons in today’s “politically correct” culture want to hear,and such perspective is perceived as “antiquated ‘pie-in-the-sky’ ” theology and perspective, but I can guarantee that, unless we are willing and wanting to reverse our USA decline as a denomination, we will not have to worry about the protesting at GC in a few years because the GC will be held in Africa and never return to the U.S. Other groups would like to have their protestations and conference-stopping efforts as well…instead, they operate within the prescribed rules/regs of GC and promote within those parameters. Why is that not good enough for the groups in question?! (I know — they will never be heard and their issues/foci will not be seen as effective and respected! I got it!! Believe me, I felt the same when I was discriminated against and almost not ordained because of my physical size — what does that have to do with whether I believe in Jesus or nor?! I felt the same when I was discriminated against by the church for 20 years because of my theology and my using that belief to reclaim a church at the expense of conference support and perspective of a different theological expectation/practice within the conference. Was that the same as those who are claiming sexual discrimination? No, but the point is this — discrimination comes in many ways, many shapes and sizes, in many forms — but it is still discrimination. And protesting is not the answer/solution, and I am not going to assume that my discrimination is any more or less that anyone else’s discrimination. Sin is sin. And I continued in my ministry despite the discrimination/recrimination I experienced and overcame it for ME and did not expect others to change for me.

        That is what I experience and sense from the GC challenges — a need for reparation for the “sins of the past.”
        That is not to be expected in an imperfect world, and our call is not to “expect justice” but to “proclaim Christ and Christ crucified and resurrected for ALL”!

  3. End the GC completely; it’s a sinful waste of resources that could feed hungry people. It’s just a forum for a bunch of old blow-hards. And UMC wonders why it is dying! And after all, Jesus never had GC’s, did He, now?

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