Against all logic and my own better judgment, I’ve been a little obsessed with General Conference this time around. I’ve read a rather unhealthy volume of the reports, legislation, and commentary that has been written in anticipation of this quadrennium’s attempt at “Holy Conferencing”.[i] I’ve read the “Call to Action” (hereafter CTA) studies on vital congregations and church organization, the Study of Ministry Commission Report, the Church Systems Task Force Report, and a lot of the legislation that has grown out of these efforts. I’ve read legislation on human sexuality and other “hot button” social issues. I’ve read commentaries from all manner of people involved in drafting or opposing these legislative efforts about how “critical” their passage or defeat is “for the future of the United Methodist Church.”
I have much admiration for many of the people involved in these drafting and analyzing these documents. They are talented and intelligent people who have devoted their lives to the church, worked successfully within its structures, and are now doing what they feel is best for the future of the church they love.
But that being said, I’m increasingly disheartened and disgusted by the use of fear to manipulate the deliberations of General Conference.
Take the Call to Acton for example: I’ve read stories encouraging mistrust and fear of those who disagrees with CTA, calling them “fearful” people, afraid of giving up their “comfort with the status quo.” I’ve also seen stories that tell us to fear the CTA itself as a power-grab – by the Council of Bishops, by the pastors of large churches, by the South East and South Central Jurisdiction. I heard a pastor I usually respect give a very disappointing presentation supporting CTA that placed more emphasis on the fear of what may happen with no change than on how the proposed changes offer hope for the future.
All that just today, all about one issue! I can only wait with dread for the coming debates on the global church, the study on ministry, and the legislation on human sexuality. All of these issues promise to raise plenty of anger and anxiety, and undoubtedly whole new choruses of people happy to tell the General Conference and the church at large who to fear and why.
So if I could offer one my prayer for – one plea to – the delegates of the General Conference, it would be simple: Be not afraid!
Fear is the enemy of reason, the enemy of charity, the enemy of wisdom. Remember the mantra from Frank Herbert’s Dune: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” Remember that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) Fear is the opposite of faith. It has no place in “holy conferencing”, because it is anything but holy.
Whatever issue is before you: Read well, ask questions, talk to others, pray hard. Then cast your vote – based on your prayerful conviction, your logic, your sense of justice, your own experience of life in the church. Heck – vote your hunch, flip a coin even!
But please – don’t cast a single vote based on fear. Not fear of decline in the denomination, not fear of the power of Bishops. Not based on fear of losing status in the church or weakening the political leverage of your own “caucus”. Not out fear of the “other”, no matter whom that “other” may be. Ignore the voices that tell you who or what to fear. Tune them out, put their flyers aside, delete their Tweets – they will not, can not, lead anyone into a brighter future.
[i]After hearing that phrase a few hundred times in the last few days, has anyone else found themselves fighting back the urge to add the word “Batman!”?