Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Post-Weekend Potpurri

Lately I've been making a lot of posts about church polity and ecclesiology, which can get a bit dry for those who aren't major Metho-nerds like me. The Methoblogosphere's been pretty intense. Fortunately, this past weekend was the first in awhile in which I had nothing to do. I feel as if all the stuff that's been crammed into my brain for so long slowly dribbled out. Today I have no new thoughts to share with you, but here's some interesting stuff I've been reading:

The Mainline and Me 
- a prolific young Evangelical blogger shares her experiences in mainline churches

- a compassionate but honest piece on how our undocumented sisters are being treated at work

Beyond Death and Crisis Metaphors for the UMC... (please?)
- a must-read for those following the post-GC2012 conversation (sorry, I had to!)

Agape Doesn't Mean "Potluck" 
- long-winded but worth it, this article challenges us to be a channel for Christ's perfect love

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is
- the basics of social privilege explained using video games

Nuns On the Frontier
- a look at the real lives of sisters in the US in the context of their treatment by the church hierarchy

A Priest is Like Mary Poppins
- What do pastors do all day? Find out here!

And just for fun, some randomness... remember Psalty? Turns out he's got a website and it's 90's-tastic.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

UMC Post-General Conference: What Now?

The last few posts I've made about the General Conference and the way the UMC conducts its business have been sort of like peering into a sausage factory- messy and a little bit shocking. The analogy of making sausage has been making its rounds in the Methoblogosphere: we like to eat it, but we don't want to watch it made. We may be grossed out by some of the political wheelings and dealings, but now that GC is over, what are we going to do about it. I've waffled back and forth for the past few weeks between despair and hope for our denomination. But slowly, I have begun to lean closer and closer toward hope. A few things have helped me do this.

1. The #DreamUMC Tweetup was truly a Holy Spirit wave! It was incredible to "meet" so many wonderful new friends in the UMC from all over the country. They all had wonderful things to say about moving forward from here. Another Tweetup is planned for Monday, 5/28, at 9 PM EST. You can go to Twitter and pull up the #DreamUMC hashtag to "lurk" and just see what people are saying, or you can get on Twitter and participate!

2. Last Sunday was Boston University School of Theology commencement. I have always been invited to sing with the Seminary Singers, and this year was no exception. A friend of mine, Rev. Victoria, leaned over to me and told me that her glimmer of hope in all of General Conference was my (OUR!) generation. I realized that it's our generation's turn to really do something for the Church, and that's energizing!

3. There's a new Facebook group known as Vaguely Progressive United Methodists. It's a "secret" group, so if you want to join, let me know and I'll invite you. There a conversation going on there right now about the differences between what happened at GC2012 and the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention of 1979. My pastor jumped into the discussion and wrote:

I can understand the discouragement with the General Conference, but I do not share your perception of a "takeover." If it was taken over, I don't know by whom. I will grant that the human sexuality votes, with the exception of the Hamilton/Slaughter amendment, followed that 60/40 pattern, largely as a result of an infusion of 16% more African delegates than were present 4 years ago. With that new conservative voting block the right only managed to maintain the same margin they had 4 years ago. This means that the American middle has moved considerably. But who won? The bishops lost their set-aside bishop and their Call to Action plan; the Plan UMC folks were trumped by the Judicial Council; the right held fast on incompatibility but lost every other initiative they brought to GC. We are certainly a church in disarray at the moment, but we may also be in the midst of a moment that can shape the future. For me the key issue is regionalizing in a way that will allow much more liberty than we have had before. I think we may have unexpected allies in this conversation if we get our act together.

Thank God for Scott. He reminded me that it could have been a lot worse than it was. Then somebody else who was familiar with the inner workings of the SBC takeover said:

What GC 2012 looked like to me was a stalemate. One of the beautiful things about Methodist polity is how hard it is to take over. One of the frustrating things about Methodist polity can be how it is slow to change. Its a double edged sword.

The SBC takeover happened because of a polity of participatory democracy. Conservatives literally organized busloads of people to throw the vote. First they purged the liberals with strategic votes that divided moderates from liberals (which became Alliance of Baptists in late 70s). Then they purged the moderates (which became CBF in late 80s).

If the UMC were taken over like the SBC, it would be because either 1) conservatives formed a center/right coalition (something they've failed to do) or 2) progressives and moderates get fed up and check out (either by leaving the UMC entirely or just retreating to local church and not participating in denom b/c its unpleasant and people are mean). 

And there you have it, my friends. The hope of the UMC is us. We are the ones we have been waiting for! No one is going to swoop in and "save" our church, but I'm not really sure it needs saving in the first place. And if it did, the only One who could save it is God. No, we are not here to do institutional maintenance. We are here to be the people of God and do God's work (not the work of people, the work of God). We are here to love others. We are here to bring others into relationship with Christ Jesus and with one another. We are going to "save" the church by being the church.

It is time, friends, to participate! Whether conservative (10% of us), moderate (80% of us), or liberal (10% us us), all of us make the UMC who it is.  We may be in a mess, I concede that, but the only way to get out of this situation is to band together despite our differences and get to work! Who's with me?

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Great and Powerful Oz: Changing the Dynamics of Holy Conferencing

In the last couple of blog posts, I have discussed what happened at General Conference 2012 and how technology affected the way legislation is created and changed, and how business is conducted at GC. But what does all this mean for the future of holy conferencing in the UMC? Well, I mentioned in my last post that conferencing is becoming more communal and less representative in nature. But what happened at GC2012 was more than that. A change of perspective took place among those experiencing GC2012 communally through social media and the live stream. In my last post, I talked a lot about power: how having power can allow a person to be involved in processes that affect the global church on a massive scale, but not having power leaves a person voiceless in the event that they do not like these changes. For the first time, folks who had never been to GC realized that there are battles taking place behind the scenes as well as on the floor of GC, and the outcome depends on who has the power. Before live streaming and social media, what happened at GC was a lot like the “Great and Powerful” wizard in The Wizard of Oz.

LION: Look at that!  Look at that!  Oh -- I want to go home -- I want to go home!*
OZ: I am Oz, the Great and Powerful! Who are you?
DOROTHY: I -- If you please, I - I am Dorothy, the small and meek.  We've come to ask you --
OZ: Silence! The Great and Powerful Oz knows why you have come.

When Dorothy and her friends first meet the Wizard, he appears fearsome, belching fire and smoke, and wise, since he seems to know what his newest subjects need. Later, we discover that Oz isn’t who he says he is.

DOROTHY: Please, sir.  We've done what you told us. We've brought you the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.  We melted her.
OZ: Oh… you liquidated her, eh?  Very resourceful!
DOROTHY: Yes, sir.  So we'd like you to keep your    promise to us, if you please, sir.
OZ: Not so fast!  I'll have to give the matter a little thought.  Go away and come back tomorrow!
DOROTHY: Tomorrow?  Oh, but I want to go home now.
TIN MAN: You've had plenty of time already!
LION: Yeah!
OZ: Do not arouse the wrath of the Great and Powerful Oz!  I said -- come back tomorrow!
DOROTHY: If you were really great and powerful, you'd keep your promises!
OZ: Do you presume to criticize the Great Oz?  You ungrateful creatures! Think yourselves lucky that I'm giving you audience tomorrow, instead of 20 years from now. The Great Oz has spoken!

Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the Wizard at the controls of the throne apparatus, his back to the viewer. The four friends react as they see him after Dorothy calls their attention to him. The Wizard at the controls speaks into the microphone. He turns and sees that the curtain is gone, then turns back to the controls. The Wizard peers out from behind the curtain.

DOROTHY: Who are you?
OZ: Oh - I - Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Go - before I lose my temper! The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken!
DOROTHY: Who are you?
OZ: Well, I -- I am the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.
DOROTHY: You are?
OZ: Uhhhh -- yes...
DOROTHY: I don't believe you!
WIZARD:     No, I'm afraid it's true. There's no other Wizard except me.
SCARECROW: You humbug!
LION: Yeah!
WIZARD:     Yes, that's exactly so.  I'm a humbug!
DOROTHY: You're a very bad man!
OZ: Oh, no, my dear. I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad Wizard.

In a sense, social media has “pulled back the curtain” on the once-mysterious General Conference proceedings. For decades, we all waited patiently for our delegates to return and give us their reports, which were factual but brief. We knew that sometimes our church fought over contentious issues, but we trusted our delegates and gave them the benefit of the doubt. Now that we have seen not only what happens on the floor but what happens behind the scenes as well, United Methodists have realized that the inner workings of General Conference aren’t especially spiritual. And there’s nothing exceptional about the delegates who perform this work— they’re just like us. Now that we’ve seen those who are in power at work, we realize that they are just ordinary United Methodists who happen to have their hands on the “levers” of our church. They aren’t necessarily our best and our brightest, but they’re our most passionate members. We’ve assumed benevolence on their part for a long time, and now that the smoke has cleared and the curtain has been pulled back, we’re not so sure anymore.

What all this means is that General Conference– and all holy conferencing among we Methodists– is going to become much more transparent. One incident highlights this need: the elimination of guaranteed appointments. This measure was bundled into a consent calendar with a lot of other items to be passed all at once. First of all, it should not have been put on the consent calendar because it has far-reaching implications, both for current/ incoming pastors and for our ability as a church to attract and employ new pastors. It is my opinion that the measure should be been debated. Second, whoever placed it on the consent calendar knew that debate might cause it to fail, and had sufficient influence to slip it into a place that no one would think to look for it. The body, as is wont to do with large bundles of “fluff” legislation, passed the entire consent calendar right away with no debate. Only after the vote did a few delegates realize that they had just eliminated guaranteed appointments without knowing what they were doing. Delegates used Twitter to organize and call for a reconsideration of the consent calendar, but the vote to reconsider failed. Pastors’ lives were changed in about five minutes flat and there was nothing anyone could do about it. In the future, delegates will be paying much closer attention to even “no-brainer” legislative procedures, and any issue that impacts so many people will have to be discussed before a decision is made.

This also means that members who are concerned about the Church who care about its future, but who do not go to GG, need to collaborate in between conferences to make our ideas and opinions heard. If we want our church to not just survive, but to thrive, it’s time to take action. After Dorothy discovered who the Wizard really was, she didn’t just sit back and say, “I’m disappointed in you, Wizard.” She stood up for what she really wanted– to go home– and asked for it directly. It’s time to stop thinking about how to change the church to keep it alive and to start thinking about how the Church can fulfill God’s hopes and dreams for it— and our hopes and dreams for it.

Join in the discussion tonight! Young people of the UMC (and those who are young at heart) are invited to come to a Tweetup (Twitter + MeetUp) called #DreamUMC tonight at 9 PM. You can find instructions for how to join the discussion here. But if you just want to watch the discussion without joining Twitter, you can simply to and search #DreamUMC. I’ll be joining in— I'm @wickedmethodist. I believe that the United Methodist Church can be the kind of church God wants us to be now, and I can’t wait to hear what my fellow Methodists in the Twitterverse have to say! I hope to “see” you there!

* All quotes above are taken directly from the movie script for The Wizard of Oz.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How Social Media Exposed the Inner Workings of GC2012

Earlier this week, I mentioned that some backroom deals were taking place at GC2012 during the creation of PlanUMC. Well, this was not the only surprise that first-time live streamers and Twitter followers encountered as they followed the events of the conference. Since the time I first conceived this post, I read a blog post written by one of the people involved with the formation of PlanUMC, which asserts that the claims of “backroom deals” by those who sought to defeat the plan are erroneous. This post will contain a sort of dialogue with the writer, as well as a synthesis of what happened on social media over the 10 days of GG2012.

2012 was the first conference that was truly revolutionized by Internet technology. GC2008 was the first General Conference to offer live streaming of the entire conference on the Internet. But while some people watched that year, there was no way for large numbers of them to discuss it in an open forum in real time. 2008 was when Twitter really took off, but most early adopters were young and privileged enough to have frequent access to the Internet. The iPhone was in its first model and not many people were willing to spend the money on an expensive plan to have mobile Internet. By 2012, smart phones have revolutionized the way we use the Internet: lots more people have them, and they can do a lot more and do it faster. Now, more people have regular access to the Internet. People over 40 have joined Twitter, so much so that Fox News, a company that caters to people 50 and up, is using Twitter to interact with its viewers. Now that so many people use Twitter, United Methodists were able to discuss GC2012 as it was happening. Many people pulled up the live feed of GC and monitored the hashtag #GC2012 at the same time. A hashtag marks a topic on Twitter, so if you search for that hashtag and watch it, you will see every post being made about #GC2012 in real time. Thus Twitter became a kind of forum in which United Methodists discussed what was going on at conference as it was happening. Using the @ feature, they were able to speak directly to one other, or they could speak to anyone who was listening. Even more revolutionary was the fact that Twitter users at General Conference brought their cell phones and laptops into committee meetings, and tweeted what went on in the committee meetings. For the first time ever, large numbers of concerned United Methodists who were not at conference- and who had never been to a GC- were privy to what went on in some committees. Even more detailed explanations of what had happened in these meetings were posted in blogs. One of the most infamous blog posts about the death of Plan A, Plan B, and the MFSA Plan was written by a provisional Elder in the EOC who was in the meeting.

All of this was, as my colleague Becca called it, “the sausage-making factory.” All the political rhetoric, all the parliamentary slight-of-hand, and all the wheeling and dealing of the most powerful members of our church were suddenly 1) out there on the Internet for all to hear, and 2) being discussed in real time by real United Methodists from around the country and around the globe. And a lot of people didn’t like what they heard. I was among many who didn’t understand how GC really worked, and personally, I was shocked and disgusted to hear some of the things being said on and off the conference floor.

Now for the defense of committee meetings and "backroom deals." The first four days of GC are full of committee meetings. The are, as my pastor, a longtime GC veteran, says, "the pregame" to all the action that takes place on the floor. They are necessary because we just can't hash out every single piece of legislation as a full body of 988 people. What happens is that committee members do work together before conference, do more intensive work at conference, and then finally decide whether or not to endorse the legislation. Any legislation that comes before the body is presented as being approved or not approved by the committee that worked on it. With the restructuring plans, no plan was endorsed by committee, which is why it was necessary to try to create PlanUMC. In the blog post I mentioned above, Josh states that those who worked on PlanUMC did so "out in the open," with no closed doors. He therefore claims that PlanUMC was not created as part of a backroom deal. I have two objections to this:

1. Because it was created at GC, in less than 24 hours before it was presented to the body, it was impossible for the entire UMC, including its many and diverse voices, to give input to the plan. It was literally impossible for every single constituency within this church to be consulted during its creation. And, given the implications of a church restructuring plan, I believe that every United Methodist has the right to be heard regarding such a major change.

2. The people who chose to create PlanUMC were some of the same people who created previous plans. Josh writes, "These “not sanctioned by GC” talks happened in public meeting rooms, between groups that had only days ago been opposed to one another in significant and sometimes almost hostile ways when it came to restructuring. With my own eyes, I witnessed the talks grow organically out of relationships between persons involved in the different plans, and the deep underlying sentiment was apologetic, repentant, and dedicated to agreeing on something that would benefit the church." That may be true. However, the whole reason PlanUMC happened in the first place was that the writers already had relationships. Someone or someones in that group was powerful enough to get this legislation on the agenda, and Josh himself was only involved because his father happened to be one of those people, and he happened to be a very powerful person- an episcopal candidate. If you're not already "in with the in crowd," you're not part of this conversation. Again, conversations about restructure have to take place all over the connection, and voices that influence the plan must come from the entire connection- not from a few people who are already powerful.

Josh states that some people declined to participate, and some did so with uncharitable attitudes. Well, if I were there, I would have declined too. For the reasons stated above, I would have believed that to work on such a project would be disrespectful to my entire church. And, in the heat of the moment, I may have been a bit graceless too, and would hope that he would forgive my attitude. When one feels one's church is being disrespected and one's voice is being disregarded, it can be difficult not to be offended.

Now that there are members of the body of GC tweeting and blogging for those members of the Body of Christ who are not at General Conference, committee meetings are suddenly transparent. Now, we both see "what's on the stage" via live stream and hear what happens in committee via firsthand report on the Internet. All of this happens in real time, and real United Methodists across the country are reacting to real events as they happen. Delegates no longer ask, "How would my home church/ district/ conference feel about this." Now they know exactly how we feel, and they know it instantly (if they are listening)! A good example of this was on the second-to-last day of GC, when the Common Witness Coalition coordinated a demonstration on the floor of GC in the middle of business. When a bishop announced that visitors would not be permitted entry to the plenary after recess for lunch (that never actually happened), I was afraid they would shut off the live feed too. I contacted one of my delegates, the amazing and talented Rev. Valerie Stultz. She responded very promptly- and her email ended with "sent from my iPad."

The implications for doing Holy Conferencing this way are far-ranging. Holy Conferencing is now a much more collective event than a representative event. And since Twitter is, in certain ways, "our sandbox" for young people, conferences now have the potential to get more of us directly involved with how our church works. OK, so these are some implications for the practical, concrete side of Holy Conferencing? But how has the UMC changed emotionally and spiritually as a result of this technological revolution in conferencing? Tune in for my next post!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

General Conference 2012 Legislation Round-Up

OK, friends, it’s that time of the quadrennium: the time when those who attended General Conference return home and report what happened to everyone else. This year, there are many more reporters than usual. In 2008, live streaming was available, but not as many United Methodists were on Facebook and Twitter. Those who could watch did watch, but there was no one with whom to discuss what was going on. This time, folks interacted on social media while watching the live stream. Those who witnessed and processed what happened on the floor together have already been blogging about it, and I will now join the chorus of voices and the cloud of witnesses. One thing is for certain this time around: General Conference – and United Methodism – will never be the same again. You’ll see why in this series of blog posts.

First, I’ll post a brief legislation round-up so you know, in a nutshell, what changes or non-changes will affect your lives as United Methodists for the next four years. And then I’ll get to what happened off the floor of conference, both in committee and emotionally psychologically. Next, I’ll address the ways in which social media affected the way Methodists conferenced and project implications for forthcoming conferences.

2012 Legislation Round-Up

Many of you know that incredibly important, far-reaching changes were proposed this year. Most of them failed, but how that happened is a long story.

Changes to the Discipline 
  • Guaranteed appointments for Elders were eliminated. Emotions run high regarding this action and the way in which it was executed. The measure has been referred to Judicial Council to determine whether it violates the Constitution of the UMC; if it does, it will be thrown out. JC will deliberate in October. 
  • The United Methodist Women was made an autonomous organization rather than remaining a subsidiary of the General Board of Global Missions. This will allow more freedom for UMW members to decide how the money they raise will be spent.
Issues/ Miscellaneous
  • We did not divest from three companies whose products are used by the Israeli military in occupied Palestine. 
  • We repented of our complicity in acts perpetrated against Native Americans from the 1600’s to the present. 
  • We created a ministry plan for Pacific Islanders.
  • We did not change language in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. The bishops issued a statement acknowledging that the current language has been used to hurt LGBTQ persons. 
  • We lowered apportionments and passed a reduced budget of $603.1 million for the coming quadrennium. Two new funds were approved: one for theological education in the Central Conferences (outside the US), and one for recruitment and training of clergy in the US. 
  • The President of the Council of Bishops for the coming quadrennium is Rosemarie Wenner of Germany.
Failed Legislation 
  • The proposal to create a “set-aside bishop” assigned to administrative tasks, nicknamed #Superbishop on Twitter, failed. 
  • Proposed term limits for bishops failed. Bishops remain under lifetime appointment.
  • Church restructure failed. Instead, General Conference approved plans by all the General Boards and Agencies to voluntarily reduce in size.
So what was this church restructure about? How did it come about in the first place and how did it die? That is a very long story, so I will attempt to briefly summarize. First, one should note that the supposed motivation for restructure was to benefit the local churches and help reverse the trend of attrition that we have seen over the last 40 years. However, the restructure plan was not about the local churches or about discipleship (it was about money, but it was not really about saving money , as the plan’s proponent would have had us think… more about that later). The plan’s purpose was to restructure the way the General (worldwide) Church Boards and Agencies are run and the way power/ money is distributed among them. In the end, restructuring would only have saved each local church about $120-$180. So why was this plan such a huge deal to everyone? Well, the proponents of the plan have had a lot of people convinced that “the church is going to die” if this measure wasn’t passed because young people would not be attracted to the church. In many of the speeches given in favor of the plan, “the time is now” to “save the church” was the main idea. Many young people expressed their views on Twitter that this is just a band-aid and would not solve the underlying problems the UMC faces, but the Interim Operations Team (IOT) tokenized young people’s voices and didn’t really listen to their objections (except for Adam Hamilton, but more about that later). So how did this whole thing happen, anyway? Well, here’s as brief a summary as I can offer:
  1. GC 2008 commissioned a study on vital congregations. The Barna Group published a lot of stats about church decline. 
  2. The IOT, aka the Connectional Table, was formed and created the Call to Action report, which proposed a restructure plan.
  3. People objected, and there was a lot of conversation on social media and blogs about it. The MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action) wrote its own plan. Members of the Connectional Table who did not vote for the CTA (including young adults) created Plan B. 
  4. Plan A was proposed by Adam Hamilton on the floor of General Conference. He urged the church to pass it. This was wildly unpopular with young people, who felt “talked at” and “marketed to” rather than “talked with.”  They expressed their displeasure on Twitter and Hamilton met with them first thing the next morning to discuss their concerns. 
  5. The Committee on Administration met to decide which plan should be presented to the body. Plan A (CTA) people, Plan B people, and and MFSA people were deadlocked. No decision was made. 
  6. Some people (Plan A and B writers?) and Adam Hamilton came up with a so-called compromise through a series of backroom deals: PlanUMC (basically an iteration of Plan A). 
  7. PlanUMC was presented to the body and passed by a 60-40 majority. My pastor, Scott Campbell, requested that this plan be referred to Judicial Council because he was concerned that it was unconstitutional. It was referred. 
  8. PlanUMC was voided by Judicial Council for being unconstitutional on four counts.
  9. PlanUMC proponents had another backroom meeting and attempted to fix the plan. Its unconstitutional elements were so inextricably enmeshed with the rest of it that it could not be saved. 
  10. In an additional evening session of GC2012, PlanUMC proponents made a motion to refer it to committee to be studied and made constitutional over the next four years. Referral was defeated. 
  11. Someone made a motion to table PlanUMC indefinitely, and that motion passed. PlanUMC finally died.
It is clear that United Methodists know our system is too big and clumsy, and that it needs to change, but we will not accept a poorly conceived plan that has been hatched in secret by a few powerful people. Any restructure proposals made in the future will have to be created in the open by a group of people that reflects the diversity of the UMC long before General Conference. Formal legislation to make changes to our church structure will most likely be submitted to Judicial Council for review before the legislation even makes it to the floor of GC. There needs to be ongoing conversation among all Methodists in the next four years regarding, among other things, how our church is run.

Up next: how the extant political culture of power plays and backroom deals collided with the culture of transparency found in social media… and why General Conference will never be the same again.