Day before yesterday, I offered my advice to the planners of the PlanUMC restructuring plan. This morning, I want to take a minute to speak to folks on the “other side,” that is those who are reflexively opposed to the plan, which will be (by all indications) be before the conference today.
I write “reflexively,” because one of the things I’ve learned in coming to General Conferences is how reflexive we are in our voting and conversation when items originate from folks with very different beliefs and agendas. Yesterday we saw several hundred people vote in opposition to the apostle Paul’s statement that “nothing can separate from the love of God” not ( I hope!) because they don’t believe in the bible, but simply out of their perception that the language originated from those on the “other side” and as such must have some sort of secret, sinister, connotation (side note . . . it means that we believe God’s grace is awesome and amazing . . . pretty Wesleyan if you ask me).
This reflexive dismissal of things from folks who aren’t a part of our “in” group, who have different visions for our church, and who don’t value the same issues that we value, feeds into our own going division, and we quickly and easily fall into the trap of demonization — identifying “those people” as the enemy, never to be trusted. It’s true for folks both on the left and the right of our spectrum, and it quenches the chance for the Holy Spirit to shine through with a new vision for all of us.
PlanUMC, as I understand it, was an honest attempt at resurrecting some sort of systemic change out of the ashes of the General Administration Committee’s failure last week. It was born in the belief that change is needed and not attempting to do anything is not acceptable. It involved serious compromise from the various camps — CTA/IOT, MFSA, and Plan B — and represents an honest attempt to get at the various concerns people have with our current structure. It isn’t everything that I would want, but it represents an incremental change that has the potential to improve coordination and efficiency.
Did the conversation happen in a side room among a smaller group of folks, thus leading to the exclusion of some? Sure, because frankly working out the details of legislation like this required a coordinating group to get something in order to present to the body. The General Conference is simply too large to effectively try to write something from the floor. Yet the group tried to be aware of the various voices and spoke with the various camps in pulling together their proposal. They believe that they have pulled elements from a variety of concerns in creating what they will propose.
The concern has been validly raised that what will be presented today doesn’t go far enough. There are some who are saying that this simply resurrects the old General Counil on Ministries that we did away with 8 years ago in favor of the Connectional Table model. Some are saying that the plan simply “rearranges the deck chairs” but doesn’t offer a radical enough change.
These are valid questions, and must be asked on the floor today. However, if piled up deck chairs are keeping you from getting off the sinking ship, rearranging a few chairs to clear a path to salvation is probably in order. This plan won’t be all the things to all people — nothing ever is. But it is a start and I think may be our best shot and helping our boards and agencies to better coordinate their work.
So friends, relax and give the plan a chance. Try to put down your reflective responses to legislation from “those guys” (whoever they may be) and give them your ear. Certainly, ask them hard questions, and offer your suggestions (in the form of amendments) along the way, but don’t let this opportunity get away.
As one delegate said yesterday, “The church is watching.”
Let’s not let them down because we failed to give PlanUMC a chance.