UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose.
Delegate Joan Carter-Rimbach urges delegates to reconsider the elimination of the United Methodist Commissions on Religion and Race and the Status and Role of Women during floor debate at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. "Who will speak for me as a woman of color?," she asked.
I’ve read all I can find about the final, inconclusive, disturbing and yet almost liberating end to General Conference. I wish I could have been there, but this way from the distance I was free to spend many hours in prayer for the situation.
The badly need restructuring just didn’t happen. Huge, scary trust issues, or lack of trust issues, surfaced. Nearly half the delegates walked away saddened and defeated by the church’s continued focus on sexuality as the root of evil and sin rather than far more significant issues that permeate and hurt the witness of The United Methodiist Church. Bishops gained power, rank and file clergy are learning that whille we still must honor our vows to go where ever we are sent, and while we must continue to offer prophetic voice and courageous leadership, there is no longer a reciprocal vow on the other end that our Bishops will ensure that we have places to serve.
Yet, there is liberation here. This is the liberation of speaking truth and finding freedom in that truth. After this GC, everyone knows that something must change. The main, foundational item that must be addressed: the issue of trust. If we, as a group of people committed to the work of God cannot learn to trust one another with our huge differences, then we have lost our way and our voice.
I end these musings with a parable I wrote several months ago when I saw then the tendency to hide behind our procedures rather than to step boldly into Holy Truth.
May God have mercy upon us all.
A Modern Day Parable
Jesus had just experienced a really busy day. He’d healed some guy who had been unable to speak, freeing that dear person from being chained to silence by evil. When the newly freed one began to speak, the crowds turned on Jesus, accusing him of being the Evil One himself!
Jesus explained to them that the very kingdom of God had come into their presence and invited people to be with him, to gather others as well. He reminded them that God brings signs of grace through the strangest people, like the cowardly Jonah and even a very rich queen.
He insisted people examine themselves so they would really know if they were walking in the light or not. Sometimes what people think is light is really darkness.
While he was wrapping up his speech, a really, really important person in the religious community asked Jesus to dinner. Jesus happily came, but then was immediately criticized for not following the exact letter of the law in The Book of Religious Institution Rules before sitting down to eat.
Jesus let him have it. He said, “You follow all the requirements of The Book of Religious Institution Rules. You make sure you stay inside all the lines so no one can come after you. Yes, you look perfect from the outside. That Book protects you completely.
But inside is a different story. Yes, you toe the legal line, but forget that you are called to sacrificial love and to make a stand for justice, even if it costs you. You love to have the primary seat at meetings, and have everyone address you by your exalted title, but inside you are dead.”
More people stood up—particularly the lawyers. “Jesus,” they said. “You just insulted us. How dare you! Don’t you understand how important we are?”
Jesus responded, “Yep, I know that you do all you can to make life difficult for the people below you in your earthly ranking systems, and you do nothing to make it easier for them. You give them rules about what they can say and cannot say, and then threaten them with expulsion and impoverishment when they even think about crossing them. You are so busy killing the truth-tellers, those unlikely prophets God sends, that you may as well carry the cost of murdering all those who have come before me, seeking to bring the place of grace, holiness, redemption and justice. Anyone trying to come in, you kept out.”
A bunch of very angry, very powerful people who ran the local religious establishment started meeting in smoke-filled back rooms after that night, determined to take Jesus down.
Note: a more original version of this story can be found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 11.