Despite a concerted effort on the part of the official channels of The United Methodist Church to avoid a "divisive" General Conference, the websites of the various caucus groups have begun their full-scale efforts to influence the voting of that body when it meets beginning next week.
Don't get me wrong, I think there is a significant place for the various interest groups, within and without our denomination. Many of the social justice issues that The UMC has taken a stance on in the past 40 years (and more, in our predecessor denominations) were taken because of pressure from groups like MFSA, BMRC, RMN, and yes, even Good News and the Confessing Movement. The Church needs to hear the voices of all its members if we are to truly have "Open hearts, Open minds, and Open doors."
Having said that, it is disturbing to me that many of the above organizations (and others like them) tend to see General Conference as an opportunity for more of the "us versus them" politicking that has taken hold of our denomination. Every four years, we see the gears turning, on both sides of all the "hot button" issues, to change our denomination either into a bastion of conservative theology, or a haven of liberal concerns. I have, in the past, been a part of these debates (those of you who know me well will know which side I have been on), and I still hold many of those same positions dear to me. However, I have grown to see that The United Methodist Church is a place where such differences of opinion can co-exist fairly easily, with opportunities to be in "holy conferencing" from time to time to allow ourselves a chance to breathe in God's Holy Spirit and seek the guidance of our collective wisdom on matters of importance to the Church and the World.
What concerns me is not that these groups have an agenda--we all have one of those--but that so many are willing to use John Wesley, the Book of Discipline, and even scripture to defend, build up, and support their positions. And, I am disturbed by the fact that no one seems to think that the fact that the "other side" seems to have just as many quotes to support their position--a fact that ought to convince us all of the folly of "proof-texting" to make a point.
All of this is a not-very-clear way of saying that I hope and pray that General Conference 2008 will be different--in tone, in style, and in substance. I pray that the delegates will be able to tackle the tough issues, even the ones that come up time and time again, but that they will be able to do so in an atmosphere of grace and graciousness, in a spiritof peace and cooperation, and in a manner befitting the call that we have to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Watch this space for updates from Fort Worth.
Yours in Service to Christ and the Church,