Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Where is the Love?: Another hard day at GC

Today has been a hard day for many people at General Conference and in the greater United Methodist Church. Tough decisions have been made, trust has been broken, and morale is low for many. However, God is still sending messages of hope and light through a time of anxiety and darkness.

The confusion started this morning as delegates gathered for opening plenary. Part of our parliamentary process includes going over items on the “consent calendar.” These items are often grouped together and voted upon quickly if they are not pulled off of the consent calendar to be discussed on the floor. If you accept the consent calendar as it stands it means you are voting to pass the committees’ recommendation (when asking a delegate about rules regarding what would happen if the majority voted no on the consent calendar she told me that has never happened; you would just get signatures to pull items off of the consent calendar).

 Now that you are caught up to speed with this process (hopefully), I will continue with the issue that occurred. The issue of guaranteed appointment to a church for ordained elders (ordained pastors who are not deacons) was on the consent calendar. The consent calendar was then accepted by a large majority. All of a sudden chaos broke out all over the “twitter-verse.” I do not think a lot of the delegates on the floor realized what they had just voted on. They had just voted to get rid of guaranteed appointments for pastors because that was the recommendation on the consent calendar that they accepted. I started tweeting the mistake (in my perception) to a seated delegate on my delegation and she was able to inform others. It turned out that my perception was true and many of my fellow delegates voted to accept the consent calendar without realizing what was on it.

Finally the head of our delegate got up to make a movement of reconsideration which was met by many relieved facial expressions of those watching and those on the floor. Of course we had to vote on whether it could be reconsidered and with a very shocking and upsetting vote (for many, not all) the reconsideration was shot down. In other words there would be absolutely no discussion or debate on guaranteed appointments; they were no more.

The feelings many of my delegation, including myself, struggled with were not those of winning or losing the vote. Our feelings were hurt because there was no discussion, no consideration of the voice of those who were affected by the decision. I am still not sure if I agree with guaranteed appointment or not because I can see both sides. On one hand it allows for the ability to remove ineffective pastors. On the other hand it creates room for discrimination and oppression as pastors could be deemed “ineffective” when it is really because the congregation does not like that they are a woman, person of color, gay, or many other identities that are considered the “minority” group. Another issue that arises with this loss is that young clergy are very unlikely to own assets, specifically a home, to go to if they do not receive an appointment. This is a personal concern for me because I am going to seminary in the fall, right out of college, and I am counting on my housing to be provided because I will be a pastor. Where will I go if there is no appointment for me or if I am deemed ineffective by a church that can’t see past my sex/gender or age? What about a pastor who is going to retire in two years who has never owned a home in her whole life and her husband is already retired? What if she needs to leave her congregation (for whatever reason) and isn’t given another appointment because what church would want a new pastor who will only be there for less than two years? Where will she go? What about health benefits? These are the questions that delegates were not even allowed to ask. 
Whether you are for or against guaranteed appointment, I think it was very unfair that there was no discussion or consideration of the reality many pastors could and will now face.

Shortly after this issue occurred, another petition was brought to the floor regarding the preamble of our Social Principles. There was a motion to amend and amendment to the recommendation to say that “we stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” The original amendment used specific wording (which I cannot seem to find now that I try to look it up) about what cannot separate us from the love of God. The wonderful young woman who got up to make this amendment to the amendment quoted Romans 8:38-39 which blatantly says “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” And yet there was still debate as to whether God’s grace is available to all and if anything could separate us from His love.

At this point, another delegation member and I held hands and started humming Amazing Grace as we waited for this ridiculous vote. It still boggles my mind, and the minds of many others that this was up for vote. One of my tweets in that moment was “I wish God would come and say ‘how many times do I really have to tell you that I love you and everyone. Get it together UMC.’” When the votes finally came in, the motion was only accepted by 53%. Only 53% of people on that floor believed that God’s grace is available to all and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I really do not know what else to say to that except “Lord have mercy.” I am still not completely over it, but all I can do is thank God that it passed. I am really sick of the people (and I know it is not everyone) who are seeing General Conference as a game that you win or lose at; this has REAL implications on the local church that are going to become evident once these rules go into effect.

Now for the hope part so I don’t make everyone else depressed. Despite all of this chaotic mess, I have found small places of hope throughout this day. I have been able to have wonderful and sincere fellowship with members of my delegation that I didn’t previously know. I have had delicious gelato (which some of us have decided is a gift from God) that has led to great connectionalism in the UMC. I have also had genuine, open, and honest holy conversations with people who do not agree with me on important issues that have been AMAZING; I am so blessed to have had those (that one probably gave me the most hope today). Finally, as I walked back for worship tonight and clouds were gathering over the river, rays of sunlight started breaking through those clouds; it was truly a beautiful sign (see picture below).

At this point all I can ask for is prayer. I do not know what is happening to our church because it does not look like the United Methodist Church I know anymore. I am not just talking about how the rules are changed, I am talking about the rudeness, the sneakiness, and the dishonesty I have seen when we are supposed to be Christians and love each other. I do not apologize for this “Debbie-downer” of a blog post because it is the truth of what it actually happening at General Conference. I know that I am not perfect and this blog post is not about me sitting here and complaining about things not going “my way.” It’s about how we need to start acting like the Christians we claim to be; that should be our “Call to Action.” I am sick of seeing the hatred and harm from both sides of the playing field; it isn’t right. So please, please pray for us and I know that many of you are (I thank you), but we really do need comfort and peace because our church is broken in more ways than one.


  1. Thanks for sharing and confirming what many of us think about the inside machinations of GC. Hang in there.

  2. Well said, Annie! One of my favorite priests always says that one of the challenges of organized religion is that people can get wrapped up in the "love of power" when they need to get back to the "power of love" which is what Christianity is all about. The Methodist church is lucky to have you!

  3. Thanks so much for this, Annie. The best post I've seen today, and I've seen too many. One issue about the GA shoot-down has to do with workers rights. You see, in January, the Supreme Court ruled that clergy have NO recourse in civil law for issues of employment inequity. FMLA, ADA, various laws regarding equal rights - none of them apply to clergy. Church law prevails. So now, what has happened, is that we have created a class of workers with no rights when it comes to combatting discrimination. Even if it is rare (and I am not convinced it is), it is so anti-Wesleyan to do this. As a clergy who falls in several of the potentially endangered groups (and having had a few such battles fairly recently), it hits me personally. But even more, it is an ethical, moral concern. What would the UMC do if it heard that a large corporate entity had just rendered the largest bulk of their employees powerless to combat workplace discrimination? We would be marching in the streets. At least the UMC I have loved for several decades would... Thanks again for your honesty and your hope. Mine is low. Am borrowing from you...