UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose
United Methodist Church General Conference wonk-fest
I don't know Andy Langford. I have read (and really appreciated) some of his stuff, I respect his work on the Connectional Table, I hear he's a great pastor and a good leader. I also acknowledge that he's a five-time delegate to General Conference, and I am but a second-year provisional member of the North Georgia Conference (and an associate pastor, to boot!). Maybe I should just shut up here and let things go along without trying to get a word in.
But that's not really who I am, and I want to respond to his recent blog post about the state of things post-General Conference (and, in turn, several other post-mortems I've been digesting).
I followed General Conference very closely, as I think a lot about institutional-type things. I am especially interested in how institutions and structures affect the local church's charge to make disciples. I have seen, among many delegates (especially those for whom this was not their first rodeo) a deep resentment--in some cases, a hot anger--at the institutional roadblocks to change. For some, it was liberal delegates who prayed for everything to stay the same. For others, it was as if General Conference was held hostage. For others, multiple constituencies hijacked the agenda to avoid talking about other difficult issues (sexuality, of course, being the main culprit). Still others blame the Judicial Council, as if the JC should have just gone along with the body because the vote was 60%, which is 10% more than 50%!
Forgive me for sounding glib, but there is one thing not being discussed--and perhaps we are all just trying to be polite . . . but I will get back to that. I want to first respond to Langford's post, because it contains within it a couple of things I am either having trouble understanding (legitimately possible) or that I am having trouble swallowing (because I find problems with the arguments presented). I suppose you could say that I disagree with that which he presents as the diagnosis and the cure.
First, there is this:
The single greatest institutional problem that hinders effective congregations is our general church agencies.
I have heard this argument in a couple of different places, and I must tell you that it makes absolutely no sense to me. I am not even really sure how to analyze it. Truly, the biggest institutional problem we have is our general church agencies?! To take the argument just a bit further, Langford seems to be saying that the institutional problems of clergy effectiveness, young clergy recruitment, the lack of an open itineracy for women and people of color, confusion about our doctrine, the increasing expectations of District Superintendents and Bishops, the issues surrounding numerical decline in the United States, a lack of clarity about how cultural contexts affect theology and polity (not to mention problems with the fact that the Central Conferences have say in the General Conference in ways that General Conference does not in the Central Conferences), structural issues of mistrust . . . all of these are smaller institutional problems than our general church agencies? None of these issues keep us from our mission more than our general church agencies?