UMNS Photo by Kathleen Barry
Confession: Sometimes I feel like one of the things that United Methodists are best at is shallow optimism. In looking at the events of our most recent General Conference, I am not sure I am willing to put a positive spin on things, or accept the attempts some made in the immediate aftermath of General Conference to put it in a positive light. While I can certainly understand why delegates would want to find meaning in the way that they have poured themselves out over the last two weeks, I’m not sure we have much to be proud of. I’m not sure anybody won. And I’m pretty sure The United Methodist Church lost. And yet I sense that people are already putting a positive spin on things. Something about the catharsis of a stressful ten day meeting ending seems to make people feel better about the meeting itself, even in the face of the apparent evidence.
For my part, I wish we could be honest: we are sick and we do not appear to have the necessary resources to heal ourselves.
There were many ways our inability to heal ourselves was illustrated during the meeting in Tampa, FL, but none display the communal brokenness more clearly than efforts around restructuring the church. Coming into this General Conference, there seemed to be widespread recognition that the denomination was at a crossroads. We are in serious decline and the time to act is now, lest it be too late to make meaningful change. I may have missed it, but I do not recall hearing or reading any arguments that suggested that everything is great and there is no reason to worry. So, people of good will and gifted ability invested countless hours and resources in trying to identify ways forward and make the case for the necessity of the agreed upon way forward. The results are before us and they give us no grounds for having hope in ourselves.
The General Administration committee was so divided that it voted down every single substantive proposal that was before it and did not bring anything to the floor of General Conference.
A heroic effort was made to bring a compromise plan directly to the floor of General Conference. A compromise was hammered out and brought to the full conference. It passed, though few seemed very enthusiastic about it. The general idea, among those who voted for it, was that something was better than nothing.
And then, halfway through the last day, Judicial Council announced that the plan was unconstitutional and unsalvageable.