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.
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