“I thought we were going to do something with this thing.” This is my response to the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I am glad I did not go (normally I work with the United Methodist Rural Advocacy group trying to inform delegates about rural, small church, and local pastor issues). Unfortunately, General Conference did not move any further towards honoring (ordaining) the non-seminary trained clergy that work tirelessly in many rural settings. They also failed to remove the legal obstacles that have kept guaranteed appointments in place, even though the 2012 conference decided it was time to change this. Such slowness is to be expected if you are trying to preserve a beautiful piece of art. But, church institutions are not art. They are people who need to be trained, empowered, and set free to use their gifts if they are to be in mission. Oh yes, the same can also be said for the elephant in the room at Portland.
Often we do the right thing for the wrong reason. Proposals relating to the LBGTQ community need dialogue, so that the church can move away from its passive-aggressive behavior on this issue, and towards genuine, missional, leadership. We shouldn’t be left behind by social change — we should reforming our theology to be prophetic, inclusive, and future oriented. The wrong reasons for differing action involve an over-narcissistic concern that the church only act in ways that are popular and a fear that the institution might schism. While I agree with Dante that schismatics should be repeatedly sliced in two in hell; I think allowing local congregations, conferences, and clergy persons the right to discern their mind on the issue is the most missional path.
Passive-aggressive behavior is also to be found in our continuation of the guaranteed appointment. The 2016 General Conference says it wants to find another way to remove ineffective clergy. Bad pastors are not the issue, nor are ineffective clergy to blame for the UMC’s 1% per year decline since 1970. The problem has to do with paternalism. The system operates out of a “we know what's best for you” mentality. Both clergy and congregations are prevented from discovering their missional calling. Four year pastorates are the average because we never allow people to become rooted in the community. No one is effective in four years.