April 25, 2012

An unsettling calm

By Bart Gingerich

As I attend my first ever United Methodist Church General Conference, I sense an unsettling calm. Delegates, observers, and hosts of visitors eye each other with some unease as they prepare decide policy and dogma within the wider communion. My work at IRD offers a unique perspective: here I see one commission leader address the plenary assembly; I covered one event in which she basically espoused universalism. At another speech, I see one outspoken homosexual activist whom I covered at another assignment. He works hard during the intervening years to push the pansexual agenda in the UMC. In one conference workshop attended, he had intimated that our African brothers and sisters are rather racist (due to colonialism, of course!). Now he was instructing the delegates on how to nicely interact with one another. Despite my minding “the man behind the curtain,” I saw everyone being nice to one another. Even the hotspot of revisionist activity—the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle—greeted representatives from the Renewal and Reform Coalition with a stiff courtesy. I asked General Conference veterans about this unusual niceness. “Wait till the votes happen,” they advised me, “Then feelings will get hurt, and you’ll soon see much frustration and maybe even confrontation.” Soon other GC attendees told of extravagant protests, publicity arrests, hassling, and commission interruptions.

A more humorous side came out on the Twittersphere. Young first-time delegates complained about vociferously about parliamentary procedure. They bewailed that this is exactly what is wrong with the UMC: too much rules and talk with little to no action. Granted, the plenary for adopting rules went over an extra hour and a half or so. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help chuckling as I remembered similar complaints from freshman students senators during my undergraduate days. Robert’s Rules may prove annoying to start out (especially if one hasn’t taken the time to learn them). However, the same also allow for great efficiency when faced with a large body of voices. Parliamentary rules allow for open ordered debate (“in good order,” St. Paul may very well say), allowing even for minority voting blocs to express themselves to their peers. It’s over ten days; the delegates are in for a long slog. Complaining about the rules of engagement won’t help anything, but it is interesting to watch young representatives come to terms with such structures.

I suppose that at moments like this, the “let’s agree to disagree” position looks attractive. However, when I look back on church history, nothing could be further from the truth. The Holy Spirit used moments of disagreement, confrontation, and argument to establish the canon as well as the doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity. After all, Christ did not leave a set of abstract laws to lead his church, but men inspired by the Holy Ghost. Just because church-goers and ecclesiastical leaders disagree on something does not mean that there is not a true position. It is my hope and prayer that all delegates realize that now is the time to be committed to God and His truth, not just convenient compromise.

Stay tuned for more updates. What are your thoughts about General Conference? Share them below!


  • SHE

    Well, Bart, it sounds like business as usual. What we are praying for is boldness on the part of our brothers and sisters from across the sea. The Holy Spirit can part the waves of the Red Sea and He certainly can move delegates where He wants them. Oh, the liturgical dance video was not very inspiring. I’m hoping for better.

  • Rodakay

    Pastors and bishops should be warned or at least aware….that parishioners are watching them, how they vote and what they spend on this trip. They will be accountable to their flock…and to God.

    • hank beckel

      You are so right. If the liberals have there way UMC may have two less members. We were once Southern Baptists and we could very well go back.

    • mike barker

      No they aren’t. One of the fundamental functions of UMC clergy is to prevent the occupants of the pews from knowing what type of club they have joined. No member of clergy, whether conservative or liberal, wants the rank and file member to be tuned in to the various boards of Church & Society, Global Ministries, Women’s Division, and the Council of Bishops. They kinda would like to keep their salary and retirement plan intact.

  • Charles R. Hogge, Jr.

    I wish every delegate to the Conference would read David Klinghoffer’s “Shattered Tablets – Why We Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril” before voting on any major issue.

    • mike barker

      Klinghoffer’s book?!? It’d be enough to get them to read the actual Bible.

  • Dan

    I watched the part of the opening ceremony where the Native American gentleman spoke. There was not anything even remotely Christian that I could discern in his words or the actions of his partner who was smudging everything in sight. It seemed like a pagan ceremony to start off a church conference. I hope this is not precedent setting for the rest of it. Briefly skipping through the rest of the video, I did not find anything encouraging. It was definitely unsettling, but there was nothing calming about it!

  • http://garnergoingson.wordpress.com Saraspondence

    I’m grateful for IRD, if I were relying on my district or pastor to clue me in that there was a big and very important meeting going on, I would not know. Praying for the Holy Spirit to be very clear. Was thinking about what a blessing our African brothers and sisters are to us now, when our church is so in need of their Spirit led voices.

    • Rodakay

      I had a pastor to tell me that he does not have to tell “how” he voted on the gay issue!!! That neither do the delegates…and the pastor PICKS the delegates from the church…that’s like letting the fox watch the hen house isn’t it? So the church is a conservative church (people), and he/his wife/the bishop are all liberals….so how do you think he voted and WHY won’t he tell us how he intends on voting??? You figure it out…

      • Trish Scharmann

        Rodakay your responses created a dilemma for me. I am very conservative and my first response to your comment was this is wrong. But then I thought about the conservative pastor that might be appointed to a liberal minded church. I would not want my husband to be forced to vote against his conscience just because he was appointed to a liberal church.. I have the feeling if that happened either he, the PPRC, or both would be requesting a move ASAP.

        • Rodakay

          Which is why I think ALL pastors and delegates should be taking the majority vote of the congregation to the convention. There should be a vote…and the “delegates” and the pastor…who are supposed to be representing the church…should represent the majority…not their own liberal mindset. It should be FULL DISCLOSURE!!! Or they could ask for a move ASAP!!!

    • http://theird.wordpress.com theird

      @Saraspondence Glad to read that the post was useful. We strive to provide the best, most accurate commentary on the issues of our day. Please continue to pray for our work as well as our African brothers and sisters!