I’ve been decompressing since General Conference. It was emotionally exhausting, and I wasn’t even a delegate. To those of you who were delegates: I salute you for enduring this marathon of emotional, mental, and physical exertion. I hope you’re getting some time to wind down and relax. You certainly earned it.
I didn’t blog or post on Facebook at all during GC because, in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say something you’ll regret later. In truth, my mind is still spinning from everything that happened. At this time I’ll offer four brief reflections. Perhaps more will come later.
First, I was reminded of how many really fine people there are in our denomination. Across the theological spectrum, there are people of character and honor who love God and love the church, and who are really trying to do all the good they can for God in this broken world. In the midst of our ecclesiastical feuding, it was good to be reminded of this.
Second, it is becoming ever more apparent that The United Methodist Church is following the patterns of Christianity in the Global South. (On this point, see a post from February 2015, “The Next Methodism.”) We tend to think of Christianity as a “Western” religion, though its roots are in Western Asia and North Africa. After a prolonged period of European dominance shared briefly with North America, the center of Christianity is returning to Africa and Asia, and it is becoming increasingly Protestant and charismatic in Latin America. Delegates from outside the United States will soon dominate the General Conference. As a result, our denomination is becoming more theologically conservative. Over time this trend is also going to have serious implications for distribution of funding, including funding for theological education.
Third, there is very little trust within our denomination. This was exemplified nowhere more clearly than when Bishop McAlilly was accused of giving hand signals (!) to indicate which way delegates should vote, and was shortly thereafter accused of somehow torpedoing a controversial motion on the floor. It was an embarrassing moment, surprising even amidst the rancor of the Conference. I felt quite badly for the bishop. He deserved more respectful treatment than he received.
Fourth, it is absolutely imperative that we hire a professional parliamentarian for future conferences. It was frustrating that we spent so much time debating the rules of the Conference, but once we settled the matter there was considerable variation in the parliamentary aptitude of the presiding bishops. Points of order were legion, clogging the legislative process and diverting attention from the proper business at hand. Given the exorbitant cost of the Conference (about $1,400 per minute), we should attempt to maximize our capacity to engage in legislative business.
Okay…. I’ll stop there. Do you have reflections of your own? Please feel free to post them below (and please be charitable in your comments).
14 thoughts on “General Conference: Four Reflections”
On most of this, I wholeheartedly agree, however, I support the concerns raised about Bishop McAlilly. As bizarre as it sounds, watching at home, we were mentioning quite a number of concerns with him before anyone challenged his leadership in that session. We were curious why he kept raising his finger at voting time (which seemed to be a nervous tic, but was still frustrating), and why he cut off every delegate who wasn’t white and male in their speeches. He proceeded out of order and quite confused during most of the process, and called for votes without clarifying that a vote was being taken. He then closed his session with a racist and ignorant sounding reference, immediately following the secretary’s urging to avoid racial slurs.
I’m not trying to pinpoint his heart or his motives, and have great respect for other who respect his leadership as their bishop, but I have been disappointed at how quickly people defended him because he’s a bishop, rather than examine the experience of the session in question. Other bishops have had their own human moments while presiding, and this instance occurred during an incredibly tense session. I support the request, and support the decision for him to continue with caution. I’m angered for all the people who felt like they needed to apologize for the disrespect to his role as bishop, when so many others felt wronged and manipulated from the position of power he holds.
Whew! Rant over. Just wanted to clarify, that many of us saw concerns before they were raised, and do not consider the question raised to be out of line whatsoever.
I agree with the concern for Bishop McAlilly, although he was clearly fumbling in his role as a presiding bishop. Several delegates rose up to speak against his mistreatment and defend his honor, and their civility toward him was appropriate.
We should note, however, that no bishop was willing to similarly defend the honor of the General Conference delegates or to restore decorum and order to the business session. Instead, the presiding bishops allowed the delegates to be exposed to hours upon hours of harassing, disruptive conduct by hundreds of demonstrators.
Over time, the demonstrators created a sense of crisis that their allies then used as a warrant to suspend the inclusive, representative, democratic process in favor of elitist, authoritarian leadership. Net result? The episcopacy benefits from a crisis that, through their collective negligence of church order (prior to and during GC), they helped create.
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This is the first year I actually watched some of the General Conference and I had both positive and negative reactions. On the positive side, it was good to see arguments presented for and against certain things in a very informed and logical way.
On the negative side . . . man, there’s a lot. The first big impression I got was, “This is a huge waste of money.” How many seminary educations could be paid for? How many local pastors could be given training with that much money? How many pastors in countries with poor economies could be supported with that much money? 14 million? Really? There is no way that I can support such a waste of money. I will personally not be giving any money towards the General Conference. I know that some of my tithe goes there but I will not give any more than my tithe to my local church. I will be giving all extra to agencies that are using their funds for important things . . . such as the Mission Society and International Christian Concern. I cannot believe that UM’s are not absolutely appalled at the waste of money at GC.
As a student pastor, not too long from graduation, I was left with the impression that I am not so sure that the UMC is best for me to be ordained in. I’m taking it one day at a time but it is clear to me that this current situation is totally unsustainable. And what is worse, apparently it is heresy to talk about anything other than denominational unity. If I hear one more person tell me that sexual ethics is not a part of essential doctrine, I think I am going to throw up.
I had a large clergy meeting that occurred at the beginning of the GC and it just seems that everyone has shut down talking to one another. For me, as a Generation X/Millennial, community is very important. I do not want to be a part of a bunch of lone rangers. I do not want to be a part of a fighting, bickering family. Ministry is tough and I do not want to do it alone. I have always said that you cannot force unity and spiritual friendship. Those things are organic. The whole system is just a mess right now and we need to something better. I have seen some things that have troubled me greatly: elders talking down about local pastors as if they were uneducated imbeciles, stories of pastors and DS’s pulling off “deals” to land the “big” churches, clergy meetings being nothing but a big gripe fest, clergy meetings being filled with hostile arguments over topics that the BOD already addresses (homosexuality, universalism, etc.).
I came away from GC thinking, “God, whatever and wherever you lead next is O.K. by me. I am thankful for the UM Church and my heritage. But I am O.K. if you lead me elsewhere.” I hope that there is a better future for the UMC. I truly want to stay. But anybody advocating for things to stay the same is out of their minds. Things are not good. Things needs to change.
General Conference is about as close to raw democracy as you can get in The United Methodist Church. The messiness of it is protracted, bewildering, and tedious to the point of being nearly unendurable. But isn’t that evidence of changing roles and dominance? North American voices have long practiced their hegemonic rhetorical prowess on General Conference delegates. We still hear vestiges of this in tone and accent, but clearly the floor has been occupied by the Africans and others from outside the USA. They will shape the character of General Conference in the future, its vision, its will to ministry.
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