Wednesday, 20 October 2010 23:14
General Conference will convene in Tampa, Florida in April 2012. The past several General Conferences failed to meet my expectations. Groups protested both inside and outside of the Convention Centers. Some delegates called other delegates unchristian, thoughtless, and uncaring. I thought the behavior often reflected society rather than the Body of Christ.
My bad image of General Conference demanded that I spend a significant amount of time reflecting on why we behave as we have and what we might do to become something very different. General Conference is composed of approximately 1000 delegates, one half of the delegates are lay persons and the others are clergypersons. Bishops preside at these meetings, but do not have voice or vote on any legislation. Delegates vote electronically so I never know how any delegate cast a ballot. The number of delegates from an Annual Conference is based on membership, with every Annual Conference guaranteed at least one lay person and one clergy person. These delegates are elected from the respective Annual Conferences. Those elections will take place for us this coming June. The clergy elect the clergypersons and lay members elect the lay delegates. Both those electing and those being elected are fine Christian men and women. Why do we have delegates that exhibit such uncivil, disruptive, and inappropriate behavior at General Conference?
I could be entirely wrong in my assessment, but it appears to me that delegates arrive at General Conference reflecting society rather than Jesus! This goes back to our mindset as we elect persons and the mindset of those being elected. In many annual conferences, the delegates are elected to “represent” certain groups, causes, or factions. Instead of electing those persons that have demonstrated a life reflective of Jesus Christ with a keen ability to discern the presence and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, delegates are elected that will “fight” for our cause, our position, or our people. They enter the process seeing other delegates as either friends or enemies. This attitude continues as the delegates seldom spend time in prayer over the issues. Speeches are often interspersed with language like, “this will never be accepted in my local church, annual conference, etc.” “This is not what the people in the pew really want us to do.” I believe delegates need to be aware of how and why others will react to positions taken by General Conference. However, I seldom hear someone say, “I am convinced this is what God is calling us to be and do.” Perhaps the speakers assume it. I assume the delegates need to spend more time seeking to discern God’s will and God’s way. They need to see other delegates as brothers and sisters. Some delegates spend more time plotting political strategies instead of praying for God’s guidance.
Please remember what I said, these are fine Christians who are elected. They are sent with the wrong message and they go with the wrong mission. Over the years when I was elected as a delegate, seldom did I see delegates who were not outstanding Christian men and women. I wonder what the results would have been if their primary questions had been, “What are the three things God wants us to do in the coming years?” “How can we inspire young people to follow Jesus and transform this world?” “How can we help congregations to diligently seek persons who do not know Jesus and incorporate them with joy into the Body of Christ?” How can every congregation become vital, alive and contagious for Jesus?” Delegates with these questions might transform General Conference.
I urge you to begin discerning now the persons you will elect as General Conference delegates and reserve delegates. Youth and adult lay persons can be elected. Full clergy members—elders and deacons—can be elected. Who are those persons that will spend several weeks preparing, praying, and working to discern God’s desires for the United Methodist Church in coming years, and are willing to spend a substantial amount of their own money to participate?
Several of the clergy members struggled with me on this issue during the Clergy Retreat in New Mexico. Some assumed that I had a specific outcome or agenda when I urged them to join me in this conversation, prayer, and discernment. They pushed me to be clearer about my concerns. They helped me to see more clearly the issues. My goal remains for us to find a different way to discern what God is calling us to do and a different way of being the Church of Jesus Christ. We must not reflect society. We need to model for society a superior way of making directional and legislative decisions. It begins with the way we elect and the message we communicate to those elected about their roles and responsibilities.
Grace & Peace,