Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Even More Thoughts on General Conference 4/30

Today has been a hotbed of intense debate and decision. The majority of this was on GBLT issues and the future of homosexuality and the church. I sum up the events of the day with the line, "it's the same ol' story, same ol' song and dance." The debate on GBLT issues has continued since 1972 when the line "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings". A Judicial Council decision 1032 where the idea that the pastor has the final say whether or not a person is ready to become a member. The pastor in the Virginia Conference deferred membership to a openly gay man. The petition 80088 states that the pastor and congregation must receive all people who wish to become members. The rationale is that grace is abundant for all and that if we disallowed sinners the churches would be empty. The minority report wanted to uphold the JC decision and give the pastor the final say. The rationale is that people might try to take advantage of open membership for selfish gain, i.e. wedding discounts, and KKK recruitment (That is not my example, a clergy person actually stood in front of the body and said that a KKK member might join a church to recruit members, I would laugh if it wasn't so sad and pathetic). They say that the pastor must regulate the membership of the church. Personally I don't really want that responsibility.

BTW, the petition just failed by 8 votes. The Discipline language will remain ambiguous. This is disappointing and is another example of the impotence of the 2008 General Conference. The make big statements on easy subjects and ignore the tough issues.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More thoughts on General Conference

So I am trying my best to keep up with the events of the 2008 General Conference. I realize now, just keeping up with the plenary business as it is streamed live on the Internet (kudos to the UMC for technological improvements) that these 10 days of discussions and committees are just a whirlwind of activity, emotions, and information. I really can't imagine at this point in my life being a delegate at GC and I have a tremendous respect for those who take on this heavy burden.

I can tell that the wear and tear of GC is getting to some of the delegates. There have been hints of sarcasm and cynicism in the body. This is not progressive nor Christian. I hope and pray that the delegates can continue to discuss and debate the issues of our church in a respectful manner despite fatigue and frustrations.

Today there has been a lot of discussion in the area of episcopacy. A petition (#81432) that called for a change in the number of bishops in the jurisdictional conferences basing the number of bishops on membership was passed by a narrow margin 457-401. The results of this petition would reduce the number of bishops in all jurisdictions, except for the Southeastern, by 1 and thereby saving money in the episcopal fund opening monies to bishops in the Central Conferences. I do not like this legislation for several reasons. One it puts even more emphasis on numbers, as if there was not enough focus on numbers. If you attend enough district and conference meetings you will hear a lot about increasing numbers. I believe that if we worried as much about helping people as we do about increasing numbers then the numbers would come. Secondly, our bishop in the TN Conference is also the bishop in the Memphis conference and therefore we hardly ever see him. Bishops have too much on their plates already and this will only add more burdens to the episcopacy. Also, although the Holy Spirit is doing great things in Africa and Asia and they are in need of bishops to lead new congregations, we cannot ignore the congregations in the US although the majority of them are losing members. We have to work together to makes disciples of Christ.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thoughts at the beginning of General Conference

All of you Metho-nuts out there probably know that General Conference began yesterday in Fort Worth, Texas. For you non-Methodists (shame, shame ;) ) GC is a 4 year event where delegates worldwide collide together to discuss, debate, and decide the future of the UMC. The past few GCs were shrouded with the issue of GBLT membership and leadership within the church. This year, unfortunately, seems to have more of the same in store. There are no easy answers or remedies to this problem because if one side benefits the other side feels abandoned and alienated by the church. This is an issue that I continue to struggle with personally and so I understand the frustration and urgency on both sides of the issue. My prayer is that God is with all the delegates and that whatever discussion occurs is done in a Christian manner with love and grace for all. The world watches us not necessarily with enthusiasm unless of course they smell blood to which the calm will rapidly descend into a media feeding frenzy. Although this issue cannot be ignored at any level of the church, my prayer is that it will be done in a manner of respect and with a sense of delicateness. The world watches us because we are the church. It only takes a drop of weakness to draw the razor sharp teeth of cynicism and sarcasm. I am interested to see how the next 9 days work out and in what direction the powers that be steer the denomination. I hope and pray that it is God that steers and not politics and power mongering.