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?

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