The current debate over United Methodist constitutional amendments reminds me of a standard joke in the rural State where I live. Farmers quip about holding things together with bailing wire and duct tape. Throw in a pair of pliers and you’ve got a farmer well-equpped to keep any piece of machinery running awhile longer.
Our United Methodist structures are starting to look more like bailing wire and duct tape all the time. They’ll hold the denominational machinery together, and we’ll keep sputtering along for another season. But the wise old farmer knows that the thing is going to wear out and quit eventually.
The talk about denominational unity symbolized by the current General Conference structure is unconvincing to me. Yes, I watched Maxie Dunnam’s YouTube appeal. I have loads of respect for Maxie. If my ministry could be half as fruitful as his, I’d feel like I’d done something. I also admire and respect Eddie Fox and I’ve read his comments about the implications of going to this new structure. But in the end, I really cannot see how having a global super-structure with regional conferences is all that bothersome.
Does the current General Conference demonstrate any sort of denominational unity? I have witnesssed the appearance of deep suspicions between, say, delegates from New England and delegates from North Georgia, over proportional representation. I’d be hard-pressed to say with a straight face that, with what I saw, those people actually felt like they’re truly part of the same team working for the same ends. I heard the tongue-lashing we got for not voting the right way on church membership at the most recent General Conference. We are not unified and never have been (remember 1844?), since maybe 1784. Remember, we began arguing over slavery very early on.
I think I believe that the constitutional amendments, then, are proper and good. They attempt to reflect the global nature of the UM Church. To be sure, we Americans at regional conference would lose the voice of the Africans and Latin Americans and Asians and Europeans and that loss would be sad for us. But their representation at the new General Conference level would be more proportional to the way United Methodism actually is. And that would be a good thing, no?
But notice, any position you take on this matter, we’re still talking about structure, not actual mission. We’re talking about control of an organization. I don’t mean to trivialize anything, but I have to admit, it sounds like we’re talking about bailing wire and duct tape.
In the end, then, I don’t see how voting for or against the constitutional amendments is going to matter one whit in helping to renew a dying American United Methodism. (See my post, “In a Sea of Gray Hair.”) It just means that the power center will shift at the general level to non-American countries, as it should.
Please remember: I’m still not suggesting an end to our denomination. I’m suggesting we quit worrying so much about structure and figure out how to be the Body of Christ on the ground where most people actually live.