|Subject: #138. LIFE IN THE
Date: Sun, 14 May 2000 22:33:12 -0500
From: Michael J Coyner firstname.lastname@example.org
#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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."