Northeastern Jurisdiction Global Connection Plan (part the last)

proposal-on-stack-of-cubes_249x354The first three parts of this may be found here, here, and, here.

Having read the synopsis of the proposal (I confess, I did not go through all of the official changes required to the BoD and the language used) I feel as thought there are a good many positive things that can result from it. I find it likely that more control to regions to address specific needs and ministry goals is most likely a good thing. It is sheer arrogance to think that a body as large and diverse as ours can possibly know what is best for every culture that is represented. I think that we, as a denomination, should work toward that goal as it can only help in reaching those who do not know Christ, and also in the training up of those who do. I also think that one of the things to be taken away from this proposal is the sheer amount of language and bureaucratic structure that would need to be changed to make that a reality. It should show us that our process is in need of some sort of simplification. There are some rather specific concerns that I will summarize here however.

  1. Here’s where I get called all sorts of unflattering names, but the reality is that what the church believes constitutes holy living, and proper understanding of the faith matters and needs to be consistent. This proposal does not adequately address that and rather leaves it to a board of 15 people appointed by a board that has proven to be both vulnerable to outside influences and not willing to follow through on keeping it’s word regarding the issue seen as the most decisive to our denomination. I do not find that to be wise and can not support any proposal that does that. I am also concerned with this as it is a proposal that leads to a proposal, so it does not really offer a solution, it offers instead a small group to propose a solution. Again, given who appoints that group, I do not have confidence that it will propose a solution that represents the theological spectrum involved. I also have serious concerns about the views of the laity being adequately and accurately represented.
  2. The finances involved are concerning. The initial cost plus the cost of whatever proposal comes out of the proposal. We are already in a long term financially difficult situation. Spending more money on what would ultimately amount to more bureaucracy seems a bad move. To be fair, I don’t often, if ever, think more bureaucracy is ever a solution. I worry that this would have the unintended consequences of financially strapping the poorest regions of our church even more. While believing that part of the goal is to give more control to those on the ground so as to better make disciples, I am not convinced that this results in more membership and discipleship in the long run that is proportionate to the anticipated cost. As a purely financial matter, the cost of the new regional conferences required would be between $300,000 and $1,000,000 USD each four years. Four regional conferences would mean that this plan would have to somehow generate between 1.2 and 4 million USD every four years to cover just that cost in order to stay at the same difficult point we are at. That of course does not include any administrative costs involved in the four regional conferences themselves. Unless we believe that this is the key to reversing not only the loss of members, but also resulting in a net increase of members, then it is probably not terribly wise financially. To put a number to it, it is about 180 people giving about $5,000 a year to cover the maximum cost of one regional conference. (I think the costs of regional conferences are underestimated personally, but that is of little consequence). That means that we would have to have about 20% growth to be able to turn around our current financial issues. That would be reversing the totality of the trend since the 70s. That, while possible, does not seem a likely or realistic result of this plan.
  3. My understanding of this plan from reading the synopsis and also the FAQ section, says that ordination will be under the complete control of the regions. This presents a potential problem and also leads me to believe where those who wrote the proposal lean regarding doctrine of the church. The African region could determine that a “self avowed practicing homosexual” can not be ordained because sex between two people of the same gender is a sin. Meanwhile here in America, we could ordain such individuals as we do not find it a sinful action. That breaks the connection and eliminates the ability of the church to have a consistent witness as to what holy living is. This does not happen because of SSM or all that goes with it, but because it would, in effect, make sin dependent on geography and not on scripture. The church would no longer have one voice and instead have several voices. That is not unity, it is division. We would in essence go from the connexion to a larger form of congregationalism. That model is not working any better for long term financial stability, for retaining members, or anything else, so I see no compelling reason to adopt it. It uses connection in the names of things, but in function eliminates much of the connection by threatening the one voice of the church. While I do not think that it is necessary for the GC to micromanage the ordination of pastors, I do think it should be able to set some minimum standards.
  4. As I read the proposal, I could not shake the feeling that this had the goal as some others I have read of allowing the more left leaning portion of the of the UMC to do what it wants. When I examine where the plan was drafted, who was consulted, who has the power of appointment, etc. all of it is shaped by the more liberal portion of the church. While there are those more liberal than I whom I admire and respect, such as the person who asked my opinion on this, the actual organizations themselves I do not trust. The statements and actions those groups have taken have not fostered trust and understanding, but rather have fostered discord, confusion, and distrust. This, as many other proposals, sprang up around trying to solve the issues of SSM and all that goes with it in the UMC, so I could never quite shake the feeling that was a large part of the motivating factor. If our position is to change on any matter of sin, personal holiness, etc. i should be done with vigorous debate by the church as a whole and not by bureaucratic reorganization. It seems to me that is a part of the goal here.

I hope that from this plan those who know how to craft such things can take the good ideas, more regional control over ministries, etc. and incorporate them into something eventually that does not do an end around to our theology. There is really a lot of great ideas here that could perhaps be incorporated without adding more conferences, boards, etc. Maybe they can only be implemented in that way, and if so, then it should be examined as an option. What I can not support though, under any circumstances, is to support anything that would allow for what we, as the UMC call sin, to not be consistent across the denomination and instead be determined by each geographical region. Despite my concerns, I could get behind this if it did not allow for that. Unfortunately it seems to in some respects (specifically allowing ordination to be strictly a regional decision) and potentially in others (by not addressing where our doctrine is settled and instead allowing for a liberal church agency to decide if that is indeed global). Good stuff here, but the bad spoils it.

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