Taking part in my first General Conference has caused me to wonder about the role of theology in our polity. Where do we find God in the way we have chosen to order ourselves?
At times I have been very grateful for the parliamentary structure that orders our gathering together. With so many voices, opinions, positions, and emotions it is clear we need some way to order our time together. Able and compassionate Bishops have presided with care and reason over some of our initial tedious conversations. I have been thankful that at times people were ruled out of order and at other times that voices had to be heard because of the system we employ.
It has been impossible, though, to miss the seeming change in tone and feeling in the large convention hall when we transition from worship to business. The organizers of the conference have clearly been careful to start and end our day with worship and prayer, but (and this is purely subjective) it seems to me that the room changes when we begin to consider our different petitions and hopes for the conference in the business sessions.
As we follow Robert’s Rules of Order I pause to consider a question that a good friend of mine raises from time to time. “Do we even know if this Robert was a Christian?” When my friend raises this question it usually gets a laugh, but it seems like a question worth asking.
Is parliamentary procedure the right way to discern the Holy Spirit of God’s movement in a large group of people?
Is a democratic voting system the best way for the church to make decisions?
It is of note that in Acts 15 when the early church faced its first big crisis, the first widespread church-wide issue with faithful followers lining up on both sides, there was no vote taken. There was time for discussion (holy conversation) and then James spoke up and said, “It is my judgment (or my decision then) that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
The only reason I bring this up is because there are times when I wish someone who we trust, that has been given the authority to lead by God and by the body, could stand up and say “It is my judgment that…”
I understand the multitude of problems that arise when one person is given sole leadership, and really wouldn’t propose that for the church, but at times the church does need an anointed person(s) in leadership who can speak a decision into a divided caucus.
Perhaps General Conference and its 900 or so delegates are the “James” for the United Methodist Church in 2012. We are the ones entrusted by the body to have holy conversation, to pray, to fix our hearts on Jesus and discern God’s will by determining what is reasonable and faithful for our beloved church.
One thing I’m sure of after 2 days in Tampa: It’s going to take 900 people a little bit more time than it took James to make a decision.