It’s a big deal. The General Conference is both an executive body and an event. That makes the term contextually important. The 2016GC will be held in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20, 2016. Every four years the official decision and policy-making body of the United Methodist Church gathers delegates that represent the global denomination to worship, conference and make relevant how and why United Methodist are making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The General Conference is the voice of the church. The body consists of 864 delegates. The North Georgia Conference sends 22 of those delegates to the event: Eleven delegates are laity and eleven are clergy delegates. Our Council of Bishops has administrative, prophetic and pastoral roles, and they represent the General Conference.
Under General Conference’s usual procedure, delegates first meet in legislative committees for several days to consider petitions from around the world. The committees typically decide what goes before the whole body for a vote. This year, the commission is suggesting suspending Robert’s Rules of Order for “discernment groups” where delegates would be divided into small groups of 15 to address tough issues related to a potential reorganization of the General Church and marriage and sexuality. The commission sees the small groups as a way for everyone to have a voice. While this sounds helpful, it changes the perception of representation and is likely to be deemed unconstitutional in church law. (Download the 1488 page handbook at http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/general-conference/2016/documents/gc2016-advance-daily-christian-advocate-full-english.pdf to get ready.)
But why is all this a big deal? There is a fight that threatens to hurt the church no matter how the battle ends. The goal is to find a way to act in love and allow God to be glorified at the result.
What you are not likely to see and hear in the headlines, bullet points, and social media jabs is the sparing of Biblical Authority and Social Justice. Imagine going to a prize fight where the two champions enter the ring, one is a heavyweight that other is a welterweight, and the match is officiated by family members of the welterweight. In this match up the official ticket holders get to decide who wins the fight. Who is going to win the fight?
Fighting over Jesus? This moment in the life of the church is one of those moments where we have to step back and look at what we are witnessing from outside the arena. What is happening in the church, in the name of God, by the People of God? Does it look and sound like Jesus?
I have spent much effort reading petitions for legislation change, opinion-editorials called articles and blogs, attended small groups and actions groups, direct emails to position leaders and much, much time in prayer. At this point, I’m still not clear what will happen next month, but I have realized this. If our delegates enter the arena as champions for their causes, we will knock Jesus out of the process and injure the church for generations.
What is worth the fight? The fight has divided what the Scriptures say and what the witness of Jesus life reveals. On one hand, Jesus welcomes everyone and cautions people are more concerned with rules than relationships, reference Matthew 23.23. Jesus also affirms scripture for correction and instruction as authoritative over how God works, reference: Matthew 22.23-33. So which one wins? The best answer is both/and.
There is a way for the church to be the body of Christ, filled with sinners seeking the grace of God through Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The integrity of why we make changes in the church is more important than the result we derive. Which is weightier: the definition of terms or authority of being the body of Christ as both a witness of grace and stronghold of faithfulness? It’s both/and.
Pray, for us to stand in Jesus. I look forward to attending the General Conference for a few days, as a visitor, as I have each quadrennium for the past 12 years. I have witnessed the debate escalate the fight and divide rather than clarify and proclaim. The place to unite is not in our perspectives and agendas. Instead, we rally around Jesus and allow God’s word and witness to send us into the world. I ask you pray diligently during the conference for Jesus to be revealed and Jesus’ heart to be desired by every delegate and members. Our task is not to be right or wrong; our calling is to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ.