I find the General Conference to be full of ironies. Here is the most recent one. We are in a plenary session aboout celebrating our ecumenical relationships. We are lifting up with pride our relationships with other faith traditions and how we want to be at the table with others who are on a common journey with us. The irony came in that in the minutes before this session a motion was made to include visitors in the holy conferencing that has been taking place at this annual conference. There have been three scheduled holy conferencing sessions where people can talk with one another about key issues facing our church. They have been for delegates only. The person making the motion stated that the conversation has been rich and challenging and should be expanded to include the many other people present at the General Conference who are also passionate about making disciples of Jesus Christ who bring wisdom and experience that could enrich and deepen our conversation. The motion was defeated without any debate. And we just moved right on to celebrate our ecumenical relationships like nothing signifcant just happened.
So what is up with that? What does it cost us to invite everyone who wants to participate in a conversation that does not require a vote? Is it about preserving privilege and power? Is it about not wanting to listen to other voices? And how can we not see the irony of saying we are communion with other faith traditions but we don’t want to be in conversation with our brothers and sisters who are wearing a nametag other than delegate.
All day I have been reflecting on, for a variety of reasons, how we value and include one another. At one point I was witnessing a silent march of people who have felt excluded by the church. At another point, it was me feeling discounted as I was in a conversation. We do it so easliy. We dismiss one another if we don’t like how they think, if we feel for whatever reason they are not one of us, or we perceive their opinion to be not worth considering. I am feeling the divides most deeply today: age, gender, race, culture, theological perspectives, geographical location, sexual orientation, and more…on a day when the official proclamation has been about our pan-methodist and ecumenical relationships. Oh yes, the ironies abound, and we have a long way to go church.
Comments on: "Ironies Abound" (4)
Amen and amen. The church sadly often reflects the polarity of our society and seems largely unaware of those jarring inconsistencies. When will we ever learn …
Even if we could focus on what we hold in common it would be a beginning
Thank you for your transparency in this time
Listening to each other is hard even when we want to do it. I think I might differentiate between having conversations with others and “including” them. After all, Jesus did say “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34). He was talking about the divide between those who follow Jesus and those who do not (rather than within the church), and yet, sometimes it seems to me that our conceptions of and practices in following Jesus are radically different from each other within the church. Are the divisions at General Conference about unity in Christ’s church? Maybe. But maybe they are also more basically about deciding who is the Christ? Jesus didn’t hedge on who He is or the inevitability that some will be excluded.
That is reflected in the appointment vote yesterday. Bishops are appointed for life but elders who serve in the church as pastors may not be, yet we are all elders, ordained under the same church using the same vows. This ruling will make conversations around tables less transparent among colleagues, with one’s Bishop, and maybe even with one’s parishioners. This is regrettable because it comes at a time when we all need to be transparent and ‘safe’ in the midst of our denomination if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
My experience is that when I vote to include people, I feel really good about being inclusive. However, when I have to take action around that vote by including people with whom I disagree, feeling good turns into feeling uncomfortable. “Being inclusive” by taking a vote is meaningless unless my actions support what I vote for, even when those actions make me uncomfortable. I am reminded of Peter, who struggled with including the Gentiles (i.e., people like us) who came to understand that “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28) and that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).