I'll offer an observation about General Conference:
I've attended every General Conference since 1988 as an observer, a reserve delegate, and a delegate. At first I was inspired by the worship and the incredible people I met. Later I was moved from a spectator toward prayer and participation in things I was passionate about (particularly, worship/liturgy, ordination, and discipleship), and as a delegate became focused upon evangelism and discipleship and how our denomination is/is not facilitating such as a Connection. The last two General Conferences I was frustrated, exhausted, and at times prayed that no one from the outside world was watching. This last General Conference (2016) I'm sure it was worse than C-SPAN, in both production quality and content.
To those on the outside watching, we were petition numbers, "point of orders," people appealing for bishops to be unseated as chairpersons, and caucuses vying for power. I don't think anyone watching would have thought we United Methodists were living up to a people who used to be known for their embrace of God's grace; we looked like Congress. I fear our approval ratings are similar.
This is what we've evolved into:
¶ 501. Definition of Powers— The General Conference has full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional (see ¶ 16, Division Two, Section II, Article IV, The Constitution). It has no executive or administrative power.And if you read the rest of the ¶500's of the Book of Discipline, it reads like most other statutes of state law that we find in the United States...
- even though we are a denomination that goes beyond the United States...
- even though we are supposed to know the difference between rendering to Caesar and rendering to God...
- even though that we know that the Kingdom of God should be about more than winners and losers, seeing each other less as lawbreakers and more as grace givers...
- even though we should be treating each other like family in covenant, loving each other despite our dysfunction and disagreements...
- even though Wesley's understanding of conferencing, and what we've allowed General Conference to become, are two completely different things.
in·trac·ta·ble [ˌin ˈtrak təb (ə)l] adjective
1. hard to control or deal with, such as "intractable economic problems"
synonyms: unmanageable, uncontrollable, difficult, awkward, troublesome, demanding, burdensome, such as "intractable problems"
2. (of a person) difficult; stubborn.
synonyms: stubborn, obstinate, obdurate, inflexible, headstrong, willful, unbending, unyielding, uncompromising, unaccommodating, uncooperative, difficult, awkward, perverse, contrary, pigheaded, stiff-necked, such as "an intractable man"Should things be done decently and in order? Yes.
Is covenant important? Yes.
Should we continue to make the Book of Discipline larger and larger? Please God, No. (And UM Publishing House folks: no one was fooled when the 2016 BOD "looked" smaller than its predecessor).
All of this shows our distrust of God and of each other. We are becoming the Pharisees all over again - keepers of the law without the intent of the law in mind. Covenant is larger - and a lot more enduring - than canon law. We Americans love to argue, democratize, legislate, and codify things. Living in the Realm of God means all those things go by the wayside. Sanctification demands it. Until we live and do things differently, we will continue to see through a dark glass.
I'll continue the thoughts...