I haven't missed attending a General Conference since 1992. In 2004, I went as a reserve delegate, and spoke on the floor of the General Conference to support the adoption of This Holy Mystery, the UMC's official document regarding Holy Communion. I guess folks didn't like what I had to say, because I was only elected as a reserve Jurisdictional Conference delegate this quadrennium. Maybe I should have shaken more hands, ditched the clerical collar and ties (are blue ties the new red now?), or changed to another deodorant. Who knows what it takes to get elected.
It is perhaps a means of God's grace that I'm not going. When I read over the legislation and get all the mail from all of the church caucuses and special interest groups (hey guys, I'm not a delegate anymore - you can take me off the mailing lists now), I am close to being ashamed to be United Methodist.
- Of the over 1500 petitions of legislation, nearly 950 of them are in regards to homosexuality (for it, against it, and every permutation in between). We have been debating homosexuality as a denomination for over 30 years. I am not saying that this issue isn't important. But while we have debated so much over this issue and spent so much time and effort in it... we have lost 3 million in membership and finding it increasingly harder to maintain our denominational structure, not to mention support our missional efforts. We are making less of an impact in a world that got larger while we got smaller. To blame the acceptance or rejection of homosexuality on these issues is the biggest smokescreen ever blown. Our church extremists want power and to be in charge. Our loss of membership might be God telling us, "Neither of you groups are getting it."
It begs the question: Have we become a mirror image of American politics? Is Mark Tooley the UMC's version of Bill O'Reilly? And is Jim Winkler our Al Franken? Isn't this sad? Jesus just might come back and turn over the caucus tables in the lobby of General Conference. "Stop making my Father's house about politics!"
- Much of the conversation will involve whether or not the U.S. is to become a central conference. To do so would mean, in short, to shut out African and European United Methodists from voting at General Conference. It is at best rude to shut out those we went to evangelize and convert. And while we American United Methodists are losing membership, the African UM's are growing.
Am I trying to oversimplify complex issues? Possibly. I also know that perceptions count for a lot. And the perception is that the United Methodist Church is majoring in the minors. We have forgotten our first love.
We are desperately in need of redemption. And we desperately need to learn once again to love one another, and remember that we are here for Christ and to make disciples for Him.
What can we do? Pray. Pray that God will not allow things that would divide us and cause unnecessary conflict in the body to stand. Pray that the Holy Spirit would indeed be present in every meeting, every vote, in every piece of legislation. Pray that this would be the General Conference where we might all raise our heads with great thanksgiving and say, they will truly know we are Christians by our love.
The best words I've seen about GC2008 are the words of fellow blogger Ken Carter, in an open letter to the General Conference. I pray that you might take the time to read what Ken has to say and pray it speaks to the GC delegates hearts.