I have no idea if these amendments will provoke debate or boredom. My hunch is most folks won't read them in detail, people will read what has been written in the Reporter, Laity and Clergy Sessions will have some lobbying for and against them, and a few folks will watch the various videos (pro and con) that people have uploaded on You Tube. Fellow blogger Mark Covington has even compiled a host of these writings and videos here.
It is no secret that I am not in favor of the amendments, but it is less about being against "inclusivity" and more about honesty and practicality. If the proponents were honest and would say that this is a referendum about homosexuality and a backlash about one isolated incident in Virginia, it would perhaps institute an honest debate. As it stands, it seeks to institute change through a trap door. Some will say, "Whatever it takes." I don't think the Church can ever begin to be faithful by being dishonest. As the saying goes, "The ends do not justify the means."
Another aspect of all this that disturbs me are the words of a district superintendent in Liberia. While a big selling point to the amendments regarding the restructuring the General Church has been to empower our churches in Africa, Asia, and Europe, the Rev. Jerry Kulah of the Monrovia District says that no African leaders (or for that matter, no grassroots UM's in Africa) were even consulted about the matter. "Most United Methodists in Africa are not [even] aware” of the proposed amendments, much less have an understanding of the changes that could result if the amendments are passed. For that matter, he is “not sure that [most] United Methodists in America are [aware] either.” He concludes his video by saying, "Many of us who are leaders of the church in Africa do not favor passing these amendments right now."
The cynical side of me asks this: Have we become so agenda-laden as a denomination that we would use political correctness to dictate the canon law and doctrine of our church? If that's true, it is possible that we have created a real "P.C." problem: as a denomination, are we going to decide to be pro-homosexual at the cost of being anti-African? I shudder to think what would mean historically, theologically, and practically. Sounds like we are trading off "-isms."
The practical side of me wonders how many unintended consequences will result just by changing Article IV with the addition of "no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body." Does that mean that the UMW, UMM, UMYF, and other bodies and units would be unconstitutional? Does that mean that boards of ordained ministry can no longer examine candidates for ministry? And when it comes to church membership, do people have a "right" to claim membership - and implied discipleship - in the Kingdom of God? The Great Commission says we are to go make disciples. Discipleship requires cost and sacrifice. The amendment could be legally construed to render any questions regarding sacrifice, doctrine, and morality moot, since such things would run tangent to the proposed language, "all persons shall be eligible." Confirmation classes, new membership classes - all unnecessary, and perhaps even unconstitutional.
Practically, as far as the restructuring of the General Church is concerned - no one knows how the amended regional structures will be implemented - or how much it will cost. Given that we cannot afford our present structure, how can we budget and afford another level of bureaucracy?
I don't think that's what we intend, or even what we want. But I don't see how we'll avoid it - and instead of our decisions about church doctrine and practice being decided by the Holy Spirit, they will be decided by the Judicial Council, who will go by the law - which we're about to change.
We have amended the U.S. Constitution twenty-seven (27) times since 1787. We are proposing thirty-two (32) amendments to the UMC's Constitution all at once. My colleague Randy Cooper asks us to ask ourselves two questions of each amendment before we vote:
- Will this amendment strengthen the mission and ministry of the church?
- Will this amendment make clearer the church’s witness as the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” community called into being by Christ for the sake of the world?
I can't find many of the amendments to answer either of those questions in the affirmative. I fear that all this will do is further polarize people and issues in a denomination that is losing membership and becoming financially insolvent.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.