23 April 2007

Quick Commentary on some UM Polity

As part of the structure of the United Methodist system, every four years Methodists from across the globe elect delegates (both lay and clergy) to attend General Conference. The next GC will be in Ft. Worth, TX in May 2008. During the year prior to GC, candidates who wish to be elected to GC "campaign" for their election, speak to various groups on different issues, and do some general "shakin' hands and kissin' babies" in an attempt to garner support.

In that light, I read two articles this morning about proposals for changing the way delegates are elected to GC. One of them (scroll to page 4) was written by a pastor that I used to work for and the other was written by I guy I have never met. I ask you to read both of them before continuing on with my comments as my thoughts will probably only make sense in light of what the authors said.

Gary (my former boss) acknowledges the politicizing of the elections, but is "convinced that the political process is the best way for those of us who are sinful creatures to order our collective life." He offers six suggestions for 'new ways' of approaching the elections held each quadrennium. His suggestions (posed as questions) made me stop and think about what I will be participating in (as a voting member of the Annual Conference) this June. I especially appreciate ways #1, 2, and 6 because they lead each voter to ask critical questions that supercede personal agendas, seek to dialogue with those who hold opposing view points (for growth and deeper understanding, not conflict), and personal responsibility for each vote we cast. He closes with this thought:
If, when all is said and done, we actually are willing to do things in a new way, I think we will be delighted at the outstanding leaders of different ages, theological perspectives, genders and places of ministry who emerge. Even more importantly, we will be amazed at the difference it makes in the United Methodist Church as we live out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Eric (never met him) believes that the whole electoral system is in desperate need of repair. He says, "The present system of electing delegates to our General Conferences has degenerated to the point that little distinguishes it from the political processes in secular society." He further believes that some candidates are saying whatever they need to say to curry favor with whatever audience with which they are speaking. His proposal for reform includes asking each voter to consider two questions: 1)"What is my stake in this election?" and 2)"What would God call our denomination to do, and what leadership skills will it take to achieve it?" He further proposes that any candidate for GC have a proven track record of leadership ability in their local church. He closes his article by saying, "By achieving unity in doing, maybe we can find a renewed unity and purpose in being the Body of Christ."

Here are some of my thoughts...
I tend to agree that the political nature of our electoral system can lead to manipulation and lower-functioning as a whole denomination. From what I have heard about the electoral process, it is more about who has the most friends (or who is most charismatic or appealing) that gets elected, rather than the person who is going to speak for the whole church on important issues in our denomination.

I am going to do whatever it takes to inform myself about each candidate for GC because I feel that that is the only way that I can vote responsibly and in a God-honoring way. I know that it will be hard, but I am willing to have difficult conversations with people who differ from me theological, socially, racially, and ethnically in order to understand them better. I really feel that I must honor my calling to ministry by conducting myself in that manner.

I hope that others will follow suit, but if not, at least I will have done my best. I look forward to blogging about the whole process in June...perhaps even while it is going on (if the laptop is up and running).

What are your thoughts?


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