Saturday, February 16, 2008

General Conference: Can We Stay Together?

Saturday, I had another delegation meeting for the NCNY delegation to General Conference. The UM Reporter blog has a good set of interesting articles out right now about General Conference. John over at Locusts & Honey has a conversation going about this pastoral letter from Foundry UMC. And I've got General Conference and our future as a denomination on my mind and in my heart.

At our delegation meeting, we talked about the Pre-General Conference Briefing that delegation heads attended last month. They reported back about church leaders really hoping that we can focus on ministry concerns at General Conference, specifically "four areas of focus: developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; creating "new places for new generations" by starting new churches and renewing existing ones; engaging in ministry with the poor; and fighting the killer diseases of poverty such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS." I would love if General Conference and our work focused on these issues, with other matters as small aside issues. But, having been to General Conference before, I'm skeptical.

Can we stay together? Work together? Move forward from this place? That's what's on my mind. Our deep disagreements over human sexuality issues, and, at core, theological understandings, scripture authority, biblical interpretation - these divisions are killing us as a denomination. Sometimes, I think both 'sides' wish the other sides would just leave the denomination. Sometimes both 'sides' say just that. Sometimes, 'liberals' (I know, labels, labels, but for lack of better words) wish 'conservatives' would just realize that eventually our position on issues of same-sex relationships will have to change. Sometimes, conservatives wish liberals would just realize it's never going to change. Any way you look at it, I feel like we're all losers in this situation.

Is there a way beyond our division? I'm no fan of confrontational arguments on my blog as you might know, so I'm not really looking for whether you think ordination/holy unions/etc. for gay and lesbian persons is OK or not. We've all done our "drawing lines in the sand." We've all heard the arguments for and against. What I'm wondering about it: do you see any possible way we could move forward from where we seem stuck as a denomination? I guess if we could answer that question, we'd not be stuck here anymore. But I'm looking for a little inspiration. Or do you think things are just too far gone?

The United Methodist Church is such a theologically diverse denomination. That diversity is so frustrating sometimes. I can't deny I've occasionally wished for a denomination where everybody thought mostly like me! Seriously, if we had more common ground, I feel like we could spend our energy for God in such more constructive ways. But I've also been richly blessed by our theological diversity, even in my frustration. I'm not willing to give that up so easily. What do you think?
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