For ten days the United Methodist Church has been in (arguably) its biggest debate ever on human sexuality (you can catch up on all that happened here). General Conference is the event where the church gathers to set the vision and direction of the church for the next four years. There have been protests, there have been bold speeches, and there have been frustrations. Through it all I have watched: I have watched my friends in Portland fight for what they believe in and I’ve watched my colleagues at home anguish over the future of our denomination. I also watched on Twitter as hundreds of concerned laity and clergy gave their commentary on the events as they took place.
I also prayed: I prayed fervently for the events as they unfolded, I prayed for friends, and I prayed that no one who was just beginning to follow Jesus was watching the events or the Twitter feed. It was embarrassing. People were mean, people were ugly, and everyone did it in the name of Jesus. It was exhausting to watch.
My reflection on General Conference is this: When mom and dad fight, the children are the ones who will be scarred. And in this case the children happen to be the local church. And just like in every ugly argument I’ve ever seen both sides claim to be fighting for the children.
As our denomination’s legislative body went to work, I couldn’t help but think about all the local churches and pastors who would have to try to communicate what took place at General Conference. The good news is that conveying the legislation is the easy part. The hard part is trying to explain how this is making us better or how the church will stay united through it all. The really hard part is explaining how the 10.5 million dollars spent on this conference is money well spent.
The argument on human sexuality is one that will never be agreed upon in a general conference type of setting. People’s passion on the subject will never be relegated to a vote or squelched with changing the words in our Book of Discipline. No one seems to be following the Book of Discipline now, and having a special convening of the General Conference two years from now will only bring us back to the same problem: Conferences don’t change people’s hearts; conversations do.
As a church leader, I would ask that you pray for a new way forward, not on the issue of human sexuality, rather I would ask that we find a new way to do legislation. Putting over 800 delegates in a room and opening up microphones doesn’t seem to be working. It really doesn’t seem to be working when we consider it only happens every four years, and I shudder to think about all the important legislation that didn’t happen because of our broken system.
Somewhere along the way we need to ask the question: Is our current system working? From my perspective I would say no. I would say that at this point we have come to a place where our General Conference is nothing more than a ten-day exercise in frustration. The change that needs to happen in our global church has to start with the way we do things, and from there I think anything is possible.
The cool news is that what is working is the local church. The presentations at General Conference illustrated the faithfulness of the local church in so many ways. The people in the trenches are out ministering the Gospel in so many amazing mediums. That is the tension that comes with something like this; in some ways everything has to change, and in other ways we need to just keep doing what we’re doing.
The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world. This is a timeless message, and a message we can all follow. The good news is that no matter what happens, God is still in charge!
I would like to invite all of us to be in prayer for Christians. Pray for the individuals that call the local church home. Let’s all pray that together we can rise up and get back to the basics; love God, love people, and make disciples of Jesus Christ.