You Don’t get the General Conference Varsity Letters Just Yet

Mark Miller and supporters stand in prayer during General Conference, Photo by United Methodist News ServiceMark Miller stands with friends in prayer at General Conference. Photo by United Methodist News Service

I don’t know if you have been watching General Conference at all. I have been watching whenever possible. So addicted this is to my church nerd DNA that I have watched the live stream while giving a bath to my two year old. It is sad, I know.

So what has been happening and how does this affect me?

First: What Has Been Happening

The first week of GC generally has worship, reports and legislative committees. It is in these committees that the church body works through the details of all the resolutions that are sent in and then makes recommendations to go to the whole GC body to vote on. I can share that your committees worked tirelessly to come to these recommendation points. Not always were they successful and not always were they without pain felt by people in the church. Here is what I saw happening and an active observer on the outside:

  • The General Administration committee, which received all the resolutions for church restructuring put aside the Call to Action and adopted the Plan B proposal for restructuring as their starting point. Plan B is much more of a conservative change, so to me, this seemed a logical and prudent move. They then tried working in other proposals for changing the structure as well. The sticking point seemed to be a consensus on a governing body over the agencies and in the end, there was no recommendation to GC (ie. a voting majority to send as official recommendation). So when this comes up on the floor it will be the whole body who works this out, which is sure to be a lengthy process. Unless a Call to Action or Plan B has sufficient votes to pass through on their own. We shall see.
  • All of the homosexuality resolutions, including our social principles stances and a new stance affirming gay marriage were voted down in committees (as I know, there were so many resolutions dealing with sexuality it was hard to keep up with). This means our stances as a church will most likely not change in regards to sexuality. It is unfortunate for those LGBT brothers and sisters of the church who hurt because, in their hearts, the church rejects them. It is unfortunate as a youth pastor as our teenagers, more and more, have sympathetic and/or supportive stances towards the gay community and the issues they fight for. So our church is in conflict with their principles. Tough spot to be in for a youth leader in explaining that.
  • Guaranteed Appointments, or the removal of them, has come as a recommendation out of the committees. What is adopted is called the Mueller plan which puts a committee of 8 people (4 lay, 2 clergy, 1 district superintendent, and presiding bishop) together who would approve the removal of ‘ineffective’ clergy from the appointment process after documentation of why they are ‘ineffective.’ The stance against this is a pastor cannot preach prophetically without some safe guards of stability for their family. I get that for sure. However, I am not sure everything in the life of ministry is supposed to have safety nets. I am not sure how this will affect the itinerant process as that seems to still be intact. We shall see how this pans out. For a youth worker, you may or may not be the lay person on this committee. Who knows. [UPDATE: Tuesday morning guaranteed appointments are no longer a part of the UMC as the legislation came to the floor as part of the consent calendar. That means they voted on a bunch of items at one time because the guaranteed appointment legislation came out of committee unanimously. Caught a lot of people off guard who expected to have some questioning or speeches for or against.]
  • Young people getting a ‘whiny’ rap. You can argue with me on whether this is justified or not, but it seems to me that the young folks getting a reputation of being ‘whiny’ at conference. And that is confirmed by a few sources there. Our young adult delegates are no doubt there and making their presence known. But my sense is that frustration comes to a boil quickly and in more public spaces (ie. twitter, which has been reported on extensively how active twitter is, just check out #gc2012) for the young adults because they have been relegated to the Freshman team so many times. “You are here, we let you dress up for the games, but you are not Varsity yet. So sit and watch.” I get that frustration, but also learned to live with it on my own terms. I am also not a classifiable young adult. It does not help either that some of the young peoples causes are inclusion into the church (homosexuality inclusion) and fairness in the Call to Action, which is seen as a top down approach to doing church (they want more people at the table and grassroots revival).
  • There was reconciling. There was a moment when Mark Miller, who is gay and a delegate at GC, stood up as a moment of privilege to speak about hurt experienced during holy conferencing. There was as well a powerful service of reconciliation and forgiveness for atrocities perpetrated against the Native American people of this land.

Second: How Does this Affect Me?

Right now, nothing affects you. I mentioned the church’s stance on homosexuality and our teenagers increasing support for the gay community. That really hasn’t changed in the last four years and probably won’t for the next four. The other items still have to go to the General Conference floor for amendments and voting. In the end, there could be a huge shake ups. But equally, in the end there could be the same everything as when we came into this General Conference.

If you are reading this and represent that young adult demographic. Please do not do things that contribute to the bad vibe that the young adults are getting. Just as you and I as a youth worker can get 100 praises for a programmed event, is that that one negative that hits deep in the heart, so is it with how folks are feeling the message from young adults. Can you speak to your hurt? Absolutely. Can you speak to your position? Absolutely. Refrain from taking cheap shots at Bishops and delegates. It is cool that we disagree on things, we all want what is best for the church & though we do not see eye to eye on it all, it is a good thing to not show off the plank in your eye while pointing out some splinters.

Do watch the live stream some this week. If you want, you can watch with me and others as we do a “Hangout” on google plus. I find this to be helpful in keeping up with amendments and the whole process. Send me an email (gavin (at) youthworkercircuit (dot) com) and I’ll make sure to include you in the invite lists (we tried to do a public hangout but that went bad quickly, think chat roulette).

Just From Me

My personal opinion is that if we come away without some major changes then we will risk being bankrupt as a church within the next 15 years. Clergy pensions and healthcare will drive the need for promised money, which I feel is something we need to do (think of how our social security system is working right now & in future). But declining numbers will mean less money for the overall church. Exterior programs and agencies will loose funding as apportionment dollars continue to fall. People will be out of work at the agencies, but then try to re-enter the appointment/itinerant process. Prospective young pastors might be detouring away from Elder routes because they cannot incur student loans that have little stability of getting them work as churches close or are filled by older pastors who are having to keep working because of their pension and benefits in limbo.

It really is a potential mess that can affect a lot of really wonderful people.

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  1. Ending guaranteed appointment is probably a good thing.

    And as we disciple youth in the word of God we will not wrestle with the tension of wanting to accept homosexuality as something other than a sin. The only teens we have issues with in regards to this subject are the one’s who are new in their faith and simply haven’t read what the Bible has to say.

    • Gavin –
      Thank you for a great write-up on all this for youth ministers! This summary is greatly appreciated.

      Phil –
      I respectfully disagree with your statements.
      I won’t go into it all in this forum – only what is specifically relevant to our youth ministry.

      You stated, “The only teens we have issues with in regards to this subject are the one’s who are new in their faith and simply haven’t read what the Bible has to say.”

      Teens face many struggles (I would not put it as “teens that we have issues with”) in relation to the issue of homosexuality and the church:
      (Below I use the word “our” in reference to our connectional, worldwide United Methodist Church)

      – There are youth in our church questioning their sexuality or who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
      – There are youth in our church with friends who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
      – There are youth in our church who’s parents and family members identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

      Even if these youth interpret the Bible to simply state homosexuality as a sin, they have to reconcile this interpretation with their lives.

      There are also youth (and adults) in our church who interpret the Bible differently – this is not that they “simply haven’t read what the Bible has to say,” it is actually that many have gone deeper in their approach to interpretation than a “simple reading.”

      We have youth and their families who are in all of these places and we are called not to simply dismiss the hard issues, but called to minister to them where they are.

    • Hi Phil,

      I agree with you that the end of guaranteed appointment is probably a good thing but respectfully disagree with your analysis of the Christian homosexual question.

      The tension over inclusion and status of homosexuals is not due to biblical illiteracy. This is a principled disagreement based on careful reading of the Bible by all concerned. Because faithful, disciplined, biblical inquiry can lead to different conclusions, using “the Bible tells me so” justification drives out the next generation. Youth will do their own careful reading. No matter what we offer as scriptural justification, if we stand solely on chapter and verse, failing to provide a holistic vision of living Christianity, we will be open to charges of ignoring relevant material. We all, but youth especially, want a church of principled actions, not pinched, middle road, justifications. We must now move purposely towards evangelical fundamentalism or towards emergent liberalism. Sadly, we will probably do both; as separate, biblically inspired denominations.

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