VOTER IDS + ZOOM LINKS will be emailed to AC members Tuesday (June 6)

Changing our Mindset

General conference means many different things to different people. As the youngest member of the delegation, I did not get to experience previous conferences. This will be my first one. However, I feel like I am in an interesting position because of how I have been working on the commission (the committee that plans General Conference) for the past four years. Starting off I was simply the fourteen-year-old-kid from Portland, but over time I began to count those people as my friends. These were people of many ages over many continents, all with different ideas and perspectives. These different perspectives created what we will all be experiencing in May. People from across the world, combining thoughts and ideas that will be General Conference 2016 in my own town of Portland, Oregon.
I am not sure that anyone who has not visited Portland could ever really describe the city very well. Even after living here for my eighteen years, I am not sure I could describe it very well. But I think I have a decent idea about who the people here are, and how much they will not particularly care that our General Conference will be in the city in just a couple months.
On a recent trip to Israel and Palestine with a group that included many General Conference delegates, there were many questions asked of me about Portland, and whether “Portland was ready for General Conference?” They asked me this, not to see if we had finished our planning, or to see if our volunteers were ready, or the building prepared; they asked whether Portlanders were ready for the “shock” of General Conference. They were asking if the people of my city were prepared to be overrun by these Methodists from all over the world. To be honest, I almost laughed at the question. Because, in my opinion, Portlanders are not even going to notice us. They aren't going to notice that thousands of United Methodists are coming to their city. We are not going to be changing their world. We will not affect them. So these people really will not care. 
This is something that we United Methodists have been preparing for for four years. Our decisions that we make, the words we change, and the ones we don’t, will affect all of us in The United Methodist Church for years to come. However, most of the people here, in the city in which we will be making these decisions, will be completely unaware of what we are doing. Their minds will be overfull with their work, and worries, and the presidential primary that will be happening during the conference. 
But I think that even though most everyone you meet on a Portland street will be ignorant of what we are doing, what we do still matters. Our decisions will affect real people; real lives. We have the power to give people hope, and renew their faith. But our decisions do not always help. Our decisions may have the power to help, but they also carry the power to hurt. 
The legislative committee I am following during the conference is Church and Society 2. Anyone who knows about General Conference knows that this is the committee that deals with all of the legislation relating to human sexuality. This issue is one that I feel strongly about personally, which is why I decided to take on one of the most adversarial, most stressful committees at General Conference. A committee that will be very polarized, and will most likely spend days arguing over a single sentence. 
I feel that our church cannot, and will not survive if we do not change our position of exclusion of non-heterosexual persons. I am ashamed when friends tell me of their churches with full inclusion, and I have to say that my denomination is so set back in their ways that those people are considered “incompatible with christian teaching.” And the saddest part for me is that no matter what happens at General Conference, a further split of the church is going to happen. No matter which way it goes, someone is going to not have their voice heard, and it is not going to go their way. Either way someone will get hurt, and our church will divide more, unless we can work together and accept each other.
We need to stop thinking about this issue (and many others) in a “them vs us” mindset. This is going to be very hard for me, and I assume many others as well, but it is what I think all sides need. No matter how wrong you or I feel about the other side, fighting them will not change their minds. The only way we will help people understand why this is important is learning from them and learning why they think the way they do. We also need to listen and actually learn from them too. Working on the commission, I chose not to argue every point against people who I disagreed with, and to understand and listen to others. This has given me new perspectives. I hope that any of you who come down to the convention center in May will talk and connect with these other United Methodists from all over the world, because connection is the one thing that we can be sure can happen no matter what decisions are reached. 
We have an amazing opportunity to make connections. So I encourage you, whoever you may be, to make some new connections, make some new friends at General Conference. Because by building relationships, we have the ability not only to change the world, but we can change the world of everyone that comes to us. 

Josh Hauser
Josh Hauser is the First Alternate Lay Delegate to The United Methodist General Conference in 2016 for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. He has served as a member of the Annual Conference for five years and is member of First United Methodist Church in Portland Oregon. A graduate of Franklin High School in Portland, he is a freshman at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, studying psychology and music.