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Dakotas Bishop Laments, More Was Lost Than Won At General Conference


Subject: #138. LIFE IN THE DAKOTAS
Date: Sun, 14 May 2000 22:33:12 -0500
From: Michael J Coyner bishopcoyner@juno.com  

#138. NOBODY WON IN CLEVELAND

The 2000 General Conference of the United Methodist Church is now behind

us, and there are many people claiming that they "won" and others feeling that they "lost" on issues that are important to them. I was there, and I can report to you that nobody won in Cleveland.

There were many highlights at General Conference: wonderful worship services filled with music from many cultures, pagenantry, and powerful preaching; a high and holy moment of Repentance when we United Methodists gathered with representatives of the historic Black Methodist denominations to confess our racism and to receive their forgiveness; and the historic moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury joined us for the first time since our Methodist movement broke away from our roots in the Anglican Church of England.

Of course General Conference is also filled with many wonderful moments of friendship and fellowship -- much like a huge family gathering. I find that those relational moments are the most enjoyable part of General Conference.

Otherwise, General Conference did pretty much what everyone expected: it defeated most of the report of the Connectional Process Team while attempting to keep some of the principles involved, it reaffirmed our stance on homosexuality, it adapted a budget with a very small increase, it elected a new Judical Council and various other officers, etc.

In the midst of these ordinary activities, no one really "won" and in fact there were many "losses" at General Conference 2000:

  1. CIVILITY was lost at General Conference: there were more caucus groups and more hurtful language than at previous Conferences. The many flyers, newsletters, and PR sheets distributed each morning to delegates were filled with images of strife and accusations. Even the official publication (the Daily Christian Advocate) included for the first time a format of "letters to the editor" with personal attacks from persons or groups against one another. I don't know what official made the decision to include such messages in the DCA, but it caused a loss of civility.

  2. TRUTH was lost at General Conference: some of those same caucus groups put out statements that were completely false. For example, the flyer of the Affirmation Caucus claimed that the Council of Bishops agreed that none of us would discuss homosexuality -- and no such agreement ever happened; and the flyer distributed by Good News claimed that Bishop Kulah's sermon was "the first time that most delegates have ever heard a bishop be passionate about anything except apportionments."

    Including such false statements in these and other publications caused much Truth to be lost at General Conference.

  3. DECORUM was lost at General Conference: after some delegates and visitors formed a silent protest against the retention of the UMC stance on homosexuality -- and after the presiding bishop and the conference treated that group with great hospitality and respect -- that same group broke covenant and stormed the Conference stage until they had to be arrested for trespassing. Such an arrest was the first time in history that anyone refused to accept the basic decorum of our United Methodist global gathering. Most of us grieved that loss of basic decorum and respect.

  4. TRUST in CHRISTIAN CONFERENCING was lost at General Conference. Many individuals and many groups treated the voting at General Conference as a political contest where each side tried to "win" -- rather than seeking to answer the question "What does God want for our church?" I wonder how many thousands of dollars those groups spent on "politicing" and printing flyers and hiring staff and volunteers to lobby for their positions. It was painful for me to watch both those who thought they "won" and those who thought they had "lost" -- because both groups have missed the whole point of Christian conferencing as the body of Christ.

  5. Much UNITY was lost at General Conference. Perhaps we only showed how deeply we are divided with our consistent 2/3 vrs 1/3 votes on many issues related to homosexuality, the authority of scripture, etc. Perhaps we have now "lanced the boil" (as one bishop suggested to me), allowing the pain and hurt to be drained from the church. Perhaps we will look for ways to continue together as United Methodist Christians who are seeking the guidance of Christ. Perhaps we will find ways to be united without being in total agreement on issues which are surely secondary to our basic mission. I can only hope so, but at this time it seems that much of our unity was lost at General Conference.

Nobody won in Cleveland -- at least nobody who wants to see our United Methodist Church move from distraction to discipleship and from fraction to faithfulness.

And so I continue to pray the prayer for unity on page 564 of our hymnal: Help each of us, gracious God, to live in such magnanimity and restraint that the Head of the church may never have cause to say to any one of us, "This is my body, broken BY you." Amen.

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