Much has been made over the past two days about “the cell phones.” This, of course, is shorthand (Methodist-speak, if you will), for a controversy that has arisen over a gift given by a special interest group to a block of delegates from outside the U.S.
It goes like this: The Renewal Coalition held a dinner for delegates from outside the U.S., or those from the “Central Conferences.” At this dinner, there was much talk about how The United Methodist Church needs to be renewed, and how we’ve gone astray, and how we must vote to keep the liberal agenda from destroying the denomination. At the end of the dinner, boxes were handed out to about 150 delegates from Africa and the Philippines. Inside these boxes were pre-paid cell phones—a gift from the Renewal Coalition. On top of the boxes were letters, from “Your Friends in The United Methodist Church,” encouraging, in part, that the African and Filipino delegates vote for a specific slate of officers for the Judicial Council, the highest "court" in the United Methodist "legal system."
You read it right.
Don't get me wrong, I think that delegates from outside the U.S. have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the technology afforded them, but it seems a bit underhanded, and yes, even a little un-Methodist, to go about rectifying the situation this way.
I wrote that "much has been made of this," but really, as I talk to folks back home, there's no indication that this news has even been a blip on the news radar screen. General Conference is such a rarified environment, filled with tension and a fair amount of exhaustion. Cell phones become a big thing when you're locked up in a convention center for two weeks with 1,600 petitions to get through. And tensions can get high when you're in such an environment.
I've been going around this week telling people that I'm much calmer this year than I ever have been about the outcome of General Conference. Maybe it's because I'm getting a new perspective on it. Maybe it's because I've grown since 2000. Or maybe it's because I've seen the care and concern that the delegates are showing in their committees and meetings. The Holy Spirit is flowing in the hearts and minds of the people here, even despite the politics and wrangling (no Texas pun intended). I see it in the careful attention to detail that Matthew Laferty (East Ohio) takes in chairing the legislative committee on Conferences. I see it in the way the delegates keep reminding one another to "slow down," so the translators can keep up, and the non-U.S. delegates can hear. I see it in the hallways and in the hotels and on the shuttles, when the barriers are down and the fatigue of the day has set in. And, I see it when we worship, and 3,000 plus voices are raised in praise of the Almighty God.
Call me an optimist, or maybe I'm just still hopelessly in love with this denomination, but I still think there's hope. I really need to get some more sleep--I'm getting too mushy.
Grace and Peace,