The Final Judgment: Our UMC Needs Responsible, Courageous, and Trustworthy Leadership
By John Lomperis
In my recent four-part series, I have recounted how various groups of theologically revisionist activists aligned with the Common Witness Coalition were allowed to hijack the United Methodist Church’s highest leadership body to make it embarrassingly dysfunctional, for the sake of their destructive agenda.
In summary, a dramatically geographically unbalanced General Conference Commission, dominated by theological liberals, planned General Conference in a way that deliberately ensured that a rather large portion of petitions would be effectively killed by the clock. This ended up being very favorable to the agenda of the liberal caucuses with which several commission members are strongly affiliated. The commission also protected the unjust privilege enjoyed by the regions of the majority of its own members. Then a small number of strategically placed individuals were empowered to unilaterally use the commission’s new, abuse-ready structure for General Conference to make sure that key priorities of evangelical United Methodists never saw the light of day.
Overall, the petitions effectively killed by time running out were over five times as likely to be ones supported by the evangelical Renewal and Reform Coalition as ones we opposed. The plenary session schedule was manipulated in such a way that “there was no time” to consider numerous evangelical-supported proposals that were endorsed by their legislative committees and likely to pass, while top priorities of theological revisionists, even after being decisively rejected in committee, were generously given as much time as they could have hoped for (before ultimately failing). Then protesters representing an increasingly shrill, shrinking minority were allowed to eat up much irrecoverable business time by taking over the delegates-only space and later proudly boasting of getting their way through blatant bullying. Thus we had a historically dysfunctional General Conference in which many important petitions, with strong support from the theologically conservative and moderate mainstream of our denomination, were effectively killed not by open, honest, and substantial debates on their merits, but rather on cynically Machiavellian maneuvers to prevent delegates from ever having the chance to address them.
And where was the leadership of our bishops amidst all of this?
For all of the complaints about their lack of power at General Conference, our bishops actually enjoyed quite a bit of power, which they often chose to exercise in curious ways. The Council of Bishops effectively appointed the individual members of the Commission on the General Conference and the Committee on Agenda and Calendar. Thus the actions of both powerful bodies at least partially reflect on the group that hand-picked their members. Our bishops’ appointments resulted in both groups being rather disproportionately “stacked” with individuals aligned with the disruptive protesters and revisionist caucuses. A different bishop presided over each plenary session. While performance varied, overall they could have done more in this role to encourage the General Conference to move forward at an effective pace, and not be tripped up by the Common Witness Coalition’s blatant filibustering efforts. Our bishops also had the ability to take steps, including seeking police assistance, to protect the conference from being forcibly taken over. Our bishops, perhaps more than anybody, also had the appropriate role and moral authority to have made public statements and actions that would have made clear to delegates, protesters, and all concerned United Methodists around the world whether or not acceptable behavior in the United Methodist Church includes the tactics of Amy DeLong and her allies to defend the dehumanizing, lethal violence of unlimited abortion through intimidating delegates and publicly preparing to forcibly shut down the conference if it dared to even talk about the appropriateness of continuing to give a “blank check” to the extremist Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice for using the name of our church and our members (and the Prince of Peace) in its strident political activism. Or our bishops can choose to continue to remain silent, allowing such protesters to be unchallenged as they publicly boast of taking over the General Conference and bullying bishops and other church leaders around with impunity.
The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), and their close allies have made it very, very clear that they are emphatically NOT interested in operating by an ethic higher than “any means necessary.” When it seems strategically or emotionally inconvenient, they proudly demonstrated that they have no room for basic respect, compassion, or golden-rule treatment for those of us not in their camp. They have appointed themselves as the unilateral “enforcers” who will “not allow” General Conference to make decisions they do not like. In every one of the last several General Conferences, they have very loudly and belligerently refused to confine their efforts to loving, respectful, biblical, prayerful, humble, open-to-change-their-minds debate within the same opportunities and rules that apply to everyone else. They now seek to impose as much as they can of their will on General Conference, and therefore on our entire 12 million-member global denomination, through sheer physical force and loveless threats. And openly brag about all of this.
One supporter of the liberal caucuses’ general goals (on homosexuality and other issues) aptly summarized their treatment of our church and the General Conference: “The minority point was clear: if we don’t like what you do or we don’t feel like you gave us enough deference, we will shut it down regardless of whom it hurts.”
Moderate and evangelical delegates, who are characteristically “conservative” when it comes to following the rules that are supposed to be fairly applied to everyone, were in for a huge disappointment if they came to Tampa expecting that the General Conference to be run in an even-handed, compassionate, and transparent way gave United Methodists of all perspectives, not just a privileged few, the opportunity to have their concerns heard through the proper channels.
All the ways in which the General Conference Commission, the Agenda Committee, and the Council of Bishops have accommodated and sought conciliation with self-centered liberal protesters (and not extended similar accommodations towards those who play by the rules) have sadly been shown to only further embolden and encourage their destructive efforts against the unity, integrity, and faithfulness of our denomination. Almost immediately after the 2012 General Conference concluded, liberal caucuses aggressively moved forward with their (still ongoing) campaign to recruit clergy to unilaterally shatter our covenants for how we are to live together as “United” Methodists. Appeasement has not worked. Continuing to effectively reward bad behavior while punishing good behavior is neither defensible nor sustainable.
Our Council of Bishops, new General Conference Commission, and other denominational leaders have an important choice to make: do they want the next General Conference to be as embarrassingly dysfunctional and as externally hijacked as this one? If not, our leaders certainly have the power to take decisive action to ensure that the next General Conference will be run better.
What remains to be seen is whether or not they will have the will and the courage to do so, for the sake of our Lord and His wounded bride.