Earlier this week, I wrote about some of the more consequential actions taken by the General Conference in the first couple of days of plenary debate. I wanted to follow that up with some highlights of events in the second half of the week.
- As I anticipated, the “Plan UMC” proposal for church restructuring was passed by the conference. There was just too much momentum to make some kind of change for delegates to allow the opportunity to slip by. This is all needed work, but we shouldn’t let it distract us from the primary arena for vital ministry — which is local in focus and congregational in context. As of this writing, there are some disciplinary inconsistencies with Plan UMC that will need to be worked out if the restructuring is to be approved in final form by the end of the day.
- The General Conference has rejected attempts to change the Book of Discipline’s language stating, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” (par. 304.3). The result of voting led to protests that disrupted the business of the General Conference on Thursday. For the record, I believe these issues need to be discussed openly (and explored theologically in ways that don’t seem to be happening in the present climate). But I think the strategy at the past few General Conferences to take over the floor of the plenary session is counter-productive. In an article by Sam Hodges at the United Methodist Reporter, activist pastor Rev. Amy DeLong seemed to suggest openly that she has been pressuring bishops to change the conference agenda so that debate will not take place on issues with which she and her colleagues disagree. The intimation in the article is that, if Rev. DeLong’s wishes are not heeded, more disruptive protests could be staged. The challenges to our polity with this approach need to be recognized, which I hope is something that can be understood by people on all sides of the issue.
- In a sign of the ‘single issue’ focus of national media on church matters, broader news coverage of the GC seems to be limited to our continuing disagreements on human sexuality. If anyone out there has seen coverage focused on anything else (the wonderful example of a 12 million member church gathered in conference, the growth of the church overseas, etc.), please let me know! It would be nice if we were discussed in the media for the other 99.9% of what we do. As it is, major media outlets like the New York Times seem to think there is only one thing of significance about our work together.
- If you want signs of great hope in the worldwide Methodist movement, look no further than the remarkable growth of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria. Membership has apparently tripled there since 2006, and the church is poised for even greater expansion in the years ahead. Thanks be to God!
- The conference is scheduled to end with a closing worship session this evening. And when it does, I will offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all the hard work undertaken by delegates from around the world over these past two weeks.
This may be the last General Conference-related post that I write. (That would change if something unexpected happens in the plenary session this afternoon.) I have penned a column for the United Methodist Reporter that looks at where we need to focus as a church once the conferencing is done. Once that appears online, I’ll link to it in the blog. Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to offer feedback positive or negative.
Update: The Judicial Council ruled late on Friday afternoon that the Plan UMC restructuring proposal is unconstitutional. So it turns out this is not the last General Conference-related post. Go here if you want the lates update as of 5:00 pm EDT on 5/4/12.