Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

General Conference and Looking Both Directions

I don’t actually know what this Roman god “felt like,” obviously, but feeling like Janus seems appropriate right now.  If you’ve seen pictures of this deity, you see two faces.  Janus was worshipped as the deity who oversees the transition of time – looking to the past and looking to the future.  But Janus also takes a rap for being two-faced, looking both directions at the same time.  Or something like that.

Here’s my version of Janus-like feeling.

1.  I’m very interested in the proceedings at General Conference (United Methodist) 2012 and wish I could be there.  Big issues coming and big decisions will be made that potentially will affect the church’s structure (thus, in some ways, its mission) for years to come.  I pray for delegates, wishing them all the best.  It’s a grueling, exciting, frustrating, mysteriously exhilarating time.  The worship is inspiring.  It’s wonderful to see friends and acquaintances across the connection.  And there are even moments of grace and peace when adversaries manage to treat each other like Jesus teaches us.

2.  I feel simultaneously disconnected.  Jaded maybe.  While talking about Christian conferencing, there will be virtually no serious, sustained, engaged, theological dialogue.  The truth is, United Methodists as a lot don’t do theology very well.  And it matters.

Case in point: the biggest elephant in the room at GC 2012 is the Call to Action proposal and the various alternative proposals.  It has to do with the potentially massive structural changes coming for a denomination that recognizes it is bureaucratically bloated.  I agree that something needs to be done.

But I read the Towers Watson Report (a significant source for the CTA proposal).  Two things stood out to me among all the graphs, charts and statistical summaries.

1.  Permitting clergy to self-describe as “liberal” or “conservative,” the report concluded that theology doesn’t matter much with reference to the marks of vitality for a local congregation.  The irony hit me like a truck.  The one thing that distinguishes the church from other agencies involved in working for the common good is theology.  Not the exceedingly nuanced academic abstractions that people love to hate when they use the word “theology” almost like a swear word.  But lived, thoughtful, reflective theology.  And the Towers Watson report suggests that theology really doesn’t matter to us.  We all love Jesus, so let’s just go do something!

2.  Thus, in the pressure and stress to get something done before the clock runs out on GC 2012, there will be appeals to emotion, impassioned references to our denomination’s mission statement (it will be used to support all kinds of conflicting efforts), and even a few assorted threats.  The Consent Calendar probably will be used to good and ill effect.  There will likely be passing references to the Wesleys, especially Father John.  He will be invoked (“social holiness” or “catholic spirit” or something close).

In short, too often General Conference is an exercise in unproductive and inefficient pragmatism.

I love The United Methodist Church.  I am a cradle Methodist and, after my little period of young adult disenchantment in college, I became a United Methodist by informed conviction.  I feel almost disloyal being so critical about what is likely to happen in Tampa.  But if the Towers Watson Report adequately reflects clergy attitudes, then, truly, we do not know what we are doing.

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April 26, 2012 Posted by | Religion | Leave a comment