Sausage, Conference and Hope
They say that if you like laws and/or sausages, you should never see them being made. The idea, of course, is that seeing the messy process of their creation might spoil your appreciation of the finished product. In these weeks leading up to General Conference, I’ve wondered if the same maxim might also hold for United Methodism.
It is, to say the least, a messy prospect.
Any United Methodist person or organization can submit a petition to General Conference. It’s a perfect system to amass proposals both beautiful and bizarre. Imagine if we had the same process for the United States Congress. It might be interesting but it wouldn’t be tidy.
There are petitions whose action is to ‘retain Paragraph #XYZ.’ Should such a petition be adopted, nothing would change. Should such a petition fail - barring the adoption of a competing petition - nothing would change. (I love that we are sometimes so afraid of change that we want to vote in the affirmative to not change!)
There are petitions which seem to fairly drip with sarcasm, even as they make a serious point. My favorite might be the petition to add language from Leviticus and Deuteronomy regarding properly offered sacrifices as important Scriptural standards for ordination candidates.
I’m sure that much of this will be properly sorted out by the legislative committees. But even looking past the pettiness, looking to the key proposals and the larger narrative of the General Conference, this still looks messy.
There are deep divisions in our Church - theological (and sociological) impasses all around us. There is seemingly no clear way forward.
We may all agree that the system by which we govern ourselves needs to change, but how it needs to change is hotly debated. Thoughtful, well-intentioned people argue for opposing solutions.
Looking at the whole mess, we are a people having an identity crisis. Or maybe it’s a midlife crisis we’re experiencing. (Unfortunately, you can’t buy a convertible for the whole denomination.) Or maybe these are death throes of a once-great institution, suffocating under its own weight. In the middle of the messiness, it’s hard to tell.
I wonder what Mr. Wesley would think of all of this ecclesiastical sausage-making. Amidst all the politicking, is it possible that we can continue to think of this as ‘holy’ conferencing?
I wonder what Jesus might say to us.
Ah, yes - Jesus. I’m trying very hard to trust Jesus in all of this.
I don’t imagine that this is the first messy General Conference, nor the last. The common life of a denomination is hard, messy work. It always has been.
And yet Jesus seems to sneak in on occasion, the Spirit pays her sporadic visits and God, in spite of ourselves, is once in a while glorified by our work. Maybe God’s grace is bigger than our messiness. I hope - and believe - it is. And that is Good News, indeed.