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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, May 11, 2008

United Methodist General Conference: Got IRD?

Note: If you had any doubt about the activities of the IRD in mainline Protestant churches, doubt no more.

Still have questions? If you haven't already, check out Jim Naughton's classic piece, "Following the Money" here

Word from Winkler
Robert's Rules and holy conferencing

By Jim Winkler,
General Secretary,
General Board of Church & Society
United Methodist Church

General Conference, top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church, is over — and not a moment too soon. Ten straight days is simply too long. We have to find a way to dramatically shorten the conference. Exhaustion began to set in after a few days, although I was pleased about the positive attitude most people maintained throughout.

General Conference is a constant round of meetings, plenaries, legislative sessions and events. For me, personally, in spite of the fatigue created by 18-20 hour days I found the conference to be spiritually enriching. This was not only due to the uplifting worship experiences, but because I had the opportunity to fellowship with old friends, make new friends and deepen a number of relationships.

Most of the petitions placed before the conference by the General Board of Church & Society were adopted. Our directors and staff worked hard for more than a year and a half to produce policy statements on crucial social concerns for the delegates to consider. I believe the high quality of the board’s work was recognized by the fact the overwhelming majority of the petitions were accepted.

The General Conference adopted a strong statement calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces from the tragic war in Iraq. A rally and press conference in support of the rights of immigrants were held, and General Conference passed a very good statement on behalf of immigration reform. Many other important social concerns were addressed including a call for a moratorium on the death penalty in Texas.

The manipulation of delegates, in particular those from Africa, was quite brazen. A letter from the “Reform and Renewal” coalition was distributed at the beginning of General Conference informing them free cell phones would be given to them. The same letter included voting suggestions for Judicial Council candidates.

A U.S. pastor and former missionary personally witnessed a coalition representative instruct Central Conference delegates to vote against the “Worldwide Nature of the Church” report. The same representative then took credit he did not deserve for obtaining funding for theological education in Africa.

I watched a staff person of the “Reform and Renewal” coalition sending text messages to African delegates during a legislative committee session. The activity was so blatant marshals requested the cell phone be put away.

Let’s be clear: Not only did certain organizations and individuals manipulate many African delegates, but many of those delegates willingly permitted themselves to be manipulated. They accepted gifts apparently without considering the ethical consequences. This is improper.

Once again, a reasonable compromise regarding human sexuality worked out painstakingly in committee was ignored by a minority of that legislative committee. This minority took an alternative report to the full General Conference, which adopted it.

Ironically, the General Conference refuses to admit that differences exist in the church concerning homosexuality. The proponents of that minority report insist it is necessary that the church denounce gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Eventually, I believe a younger generation will emerge at General Conference and will change our denomination’s stance.

A lot of focus was on the need for holy conferencing. I think that did help. It’s hard to have holy conferencing, though, when using Robert’s Rules of Order. Parliamentary procedure does not lend itself well to honest, Christian conversation.

Every four years, representatives from across our denomination gather to chart a course for the church. This year’s General Conference theme was “A Future with Hope.”

I believe in that future.

Date: 5/9/2008 12:00:00 AM


susankay said...

Thanks be to God for Winkler. Although I am an Episcopalian I do so value our small town's local Methodist church which is repleat (sp?) with Gay and Lesbian leaders and is so very involved in small town "stuff". (The reason we are not members of our local Episcopal mission is because of how not-welcoming it was when we moved here)

Suzer said...

What can help, I hope and pray, is the continued involvement of GLBT people in African missions. My partner and I help support a mission in Sierra Leone that is associated with the UMC. Our Sierra Leonean contacts there know of our relationship, love and care about us, and perhaps that may someday help change hearts and minds. I think they trust God to discern whether or not our relationship is holy, and refuse to be the judges themselves. Perhaps, if hard pressed, they would say it is wrong according to Scripture, but they love and respect us for who we are. That may be all we can ask for at this time. It is a frustratingly slow process, with more corruption (from IRD and other places) than I can even imagine. Change will not happen instantly, or even in the next few years. But, on my good days, I too feel hopeful for the future.