COMMENTARY: The Winds of Change . . . or not
Yesterday afternoon a member of the General Administration Legislative Committee of GC2012 suggested in a passing conversation that there would be a very real possibility that nothing would be passed out of committee. I dismissed it as an offhand remark, noting that the Plan B proposal seemed to be moving forward. Last night I went to dinner not expecting to receive a tweet reporting that ALL the plans had been rejected and that the committee would be offering no recommendation on church restructuring.
Of course, as I wrote yesterday morning, the push toward restructure isn’t over. According to the new rules, there are provisions for bringing up the proposals on the floor of conference, and I expect there to be a lengthy floor debate. The dream of restructure MAY be less likely, but we still have a long way to go before any final decision is made.
What has been interesting has been the responses of supporters of the various plans on Twitter this morning. The most pointed tweet came from Bishop Michael Coyner, who wrote:
“no plan for restructure passed because of denial about current reality, fear of change, and self-interest of too many UMC employees.”
Now I can’t speak for the context’s of the delegates. It may indeed be that they are in denial. But if they serve in any situation like mine they should be quick to tell you that we are very much aware of the current reality in the United Methodist Church. Sure, many of my folks have little clue as to the machinations of general boards and agencies (even though we live in Vatican City . . . uh . . . Nashville), but they know that the church that they grew up in is not what it used to be and recognize that change is coming . . . even though they aren’t always comfortable about it. We are, after all, the folks who are being apportioned to pay for the privilege of being connected to the United Methodist system, and it is in our best interest that the system function efficiently and cooperatively. Yes, there is fear of change (that is part of the human condition after all) but I have met very few people who have stuck their heads in the sand and want everything to remain the same.
As for the self-interest of too many UMCemployees . . . well there you are messing with my peeps and I can’t let that pass. I’m not talking about the General Secretaries, who are a breed all to themselves. I’m talking about the rank and file employee of one of the boards or agencies – folks who are my parishioners and friends and don’t deserve having the weight of all the problems of the UMC placed on their backs. These are people who deeply love the church, and most give themselves tirelessly to trying their best to move it forward. Sure, there are internal politics, but name an institution of the size of our communion that doesn’t have political struggles? Yes, they are concerned about their jobs (have you seen the recent job market?). But they are all very much aware of the struggles that keep them from being more effective in carrying out the mission of the church, and I think probably could give us great insight on structural issues if asked.
So why did change not make it through committee? I have my theories. Of course, part of it is tied to the continued lack of trust noted in the Call to Action report, and a process that failed to take into account that lack of trust. I think (as Adam Hamilton told the young clergy) the compressed time frame forced a process that was less inclusive and representative of the broader church, leading many to feel left out and unheard. I believe that while there were persons on the IOT who are gifted communicators in the secular world, they failed to recognize the radically different nature of speaking to the church, and thus didn’t adequately communicate the need and benefits of the proposed changes. It was an ambitious plan, but there was no provision for a humane transition from the old way to the new way, and that engendered fear and anxiety.
But of course, it isn’t over. There is still alot more ofGeneral Conference to come. If nothing else, the work has put the general secretaries on notice that they have to transcend the turf wars and come up with new ways of collaboration and cooperation. In the long run, that may be the legacy of these proposals, but if it leads to greater systemic efficiency, that may be a good start.
We can point fingers and come up with all sorts of explanations why nothing passed in committee. But my hope is that we can take today to breathe, and then get back to the work of figuring all of this out so that we can make disciples of Jesus Christ who are engaged in proclaiming God’s reign and transforming the world.