Like many United Methodists (and others watching us), I have been trying to keep up with the details of the plans on offer to the 2019 General Conference. As alternate proposals and modifications are advanced, the picture both clarifies and gets more complex and confusing. As the King of Siam loved to say in “The King and I, “It’s a puzzlement.” Except it’s far more serious.
I won’t go over ground already well gone over by others, and maybe they have also already commented on what I’m about to say, but, as I began to work through the plans, I was immediately stopped dead in my tracks. The One Church Plan, which is the first the reader encounters, in its opening sentence, proposes to amend paragraph 105 of the Book of Discipline with these words: “We agree that we are not of one mind regarding human sexuality.”
With a little thought, this opening statement reveals itself as a stunner because it works on a volatile ambiguity. If “we” refers to the opinions of individual delegates or the positions of caucus groups, then “we are not of one mind” is blindingly obvious and superficially persuasive. But “we” also must include the General Conference vote as a whole. “We” in this second sense is radically different than “we” in the first sense, a distinction that makes all the difference. From the standpoint of General Conference decisions, individual opinions or group positions don’t ultimately matter. What matters is the final vote. That vote renders a decision. That vote represents the mind of General Conference.
In principle and in fact, when General Conference decides a matter, then General Conference by definition has spoken with one mind. It could not be otherwise. A simple majority is all that is required for the lion’s share of votes taken at General Conference. Regularly, delegates on the “losing” side are unhappy, disappointed, even angry, but no one starts yelling “We are not of one mind,” and calling for a “do over.” Imagine the scenarios if delegates did. Of course, they can and do take Parliamentary steps to reconsider decisions or make other moves to modify them. Such procedural moves are part of the Parliamentary process, designed to help a body function properly, not undermine its own decision-making function. When the process is abused and manipulated, nobody wins. Nothing good can come from it.
From a Parliamentary point of view, then, “we are not of one mind” is plainly false and should not be written into the Book of Discipline. The outcome of enacting this falsehood has been a long, costly, arduous and ultimately inconclusive process. I have read reference to members of the Commission on a Way Forward admitting, “No one’s mind was changed.” Mutual understanding? Yes? New friendships? Yes. Deep prayer and honest conversation? Yes. (All valuable, to be sure.) Movement on the question before them? No. Improving the likelihood of a decent and orderly GC 2019? No. Think of that for a moment.
In effect, then, a group of delegates at GC 2016 managed to avoid one more round of agonistic but probably status quo votes by procedural sleight-of-hand that trades on the ambiguity of “We are not of one mind.” Individual delegates clearly were and are not of one mind. But General Conference not of one mind? No. I am stating an obvious Parliamentary fact.
Consider this irony. The vote that set in motion the Council of Bishops’ formation of the Commission on a Way Forward and all that has transpired since GC 2016 was decided by only the slimmest of majorities. I myself heard a bishop who is enthusiastically promoting the One Church Plan say so. Think about that for a moment. By the logic of “We are not of one mind,” then that vote should also have been questioned, etc., ad infinitum.
Think about the ramification of writing this statement into the Book of Discipline. Any time a vote goes contrary to the way some bloc of delegates prefers, they can claim with good precedent, “We are not of one mind,” and call for an alternate process that buys them time for advocacy that might sway the subsequent vote. It fairly begs to be used whenever a group of delegates deems it necessary. Does this situation not look very similar to what is happening in the United States Congress? It is to our shame.
I hope an amendment to the One Church Plan removes this troubling statement from paragraph 105. But more importantly, I pray that we come to recognize how much “We are not of one mind…” tellingly (and again, ironically) diagnoses the disease of our body ecclesial.
7 thoughts on “Not of One Mind”
Very well said indeed. I am glad you pointed that out to us .
Thank you, Bert.
Steve, very good point. I grew up as more of a “we are one in the spirit” Christian. That said, we clearly are in a time when most folks wish to have their faith community believe as they do on many issues. My great sadness is that our church was one on the last in town where persons of both political parties worshiped. Regardless of the denominations outcome, we have already seen by conservatives and liberals leave our church because they found the “others” there.
I have been a minority for some time in my congregation as I do not believe a Methodist should drink alcohol, they should not gamble, they should tithe, and they should attend Church at least once a week or more. On these and other teaching I am not in the norm with my fellow church members, but I have learned from them and we have maintained a love and respect for each of them.
We have had churches who would not accept a women as their pastor, we have had pastors who would not marry a divorced person, or a bi racial couple, or a couple they did not see fit.
For many folks this lack of consistency was intolerable. I have worshiped in Glide Memorial, FUMC Houston, the Woodlands, COR, FUMC Portland, Or. and a host of other UM Churches. I valued the differences, but I think my denomination is no longer lead by “if your heart is as mine take my hand.”
At the very time our country could use some places where different views are respectfully shared and persons of different view are in fellowship together, I fear that the UMC will drop this useful roll.
I believe the denominational divorce is underway, I pray we can heal the wounds in the next 10 to 20 years.
Thank you, Steve. You and I share a lot of experiences, which gives us a bond that transcends our differences of opinion. I think there are still quite a few people like that in the UM Church. Unfortunately, there are also too many people in American church who now do refuse to worship with people of the other political party. I read a report of a survey a few weeks ago (maybe Pew?) that shows a significant percentage of parents would rather their son or daughter marry someone of a different faith than of a different political party.
What concerns me the most is that trust has broken down within our episcopacy, which encourages partisan bickering.
I believe you are correct. It will be costly. It will be ugly. It will cost millions of dollars, and take years to complete. Members are so disgusted with the lack of leadership and discipline in the UMC that they are seeking other churches before we have even have GC2019. We close over 1,200 churches annually, as it is. How much do you think that number will increase after a decision is made to or not to allow LGBTQAAI+ clergy? People focus on allowing weddings or not, but that issue will solve itself once we decide how to handle the clergy who have violated their ordination vows. And done so without any discipline.
I have watched this exact phrase used by liberals for at least 3 decades. Liberals use this when they want to confuse people which of course is their main goal in seeking to accomplish their objectives.
I have referred to this for years as the liberal, “Jedi mind trick”.
Why would the conference even bother to vote on this? If “we are not of one mind,” the vote would be as meaningless as the old cliché, “Let’s just agree to disagree,” which is no agreement at all.