The Bigger Picture
I'm an editor and word dithering is important to me. I think we ought to take the time to get the words right, because words should represent what we really mean to say. We need to listen to each other and change our minds every now and then about the words we print in our books of Resolutions and Discipline. I'm glad our doctrines are living documents that stretch and grow and change with the growing pains of our church. But is a committee of 1000 members the best way to get this done?
General Conference 2008, held in Fort Worth, Texas, was a world-parish gathering, a sight to behold. Nearly a third of our United Methodist elected delegates now come from churches outside the United States. What an opportunity to share our faith and understand what God is doing in one another's lives! And that happened—at dinner, in hotel lobbies, and for brief interludes during breaks.
During plenary sessions, however, in which delegates spent most of their time, they dithered over words—and English words at that, which perplexed delegates who spoke other languages. One French speaker declared that he didn't really care if the word used in the petition in question was "shall" or "will." It was basically the same in French.
Now consider the bigger picture. Delegates from Zimbabwe were deeply worried about their families, their churches, and their country. They left home not knowing what would happen in their absence, as the recent national election results did not go the way the ruling political party favored, and that will mean potentially life-threatening trouble for the whole country. Inflation is already through the treetops, and hunger is a constant companion for many in Zimbabwe.
The delegates from the Philippines received news just before they left home that one of their deaconesses, 26-year old Elisa Pera, was killed in what appeared to be a military operation in a remote village. She was answering her call to serve among the poor and oppressed.
The D.R. Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone delegates were all survivors of horrible civil wars. They lost friends and family members and many fled their homes. Their communities face great shortages of medicine, food, schools, equipment, roads, and security.
Bishop Mawia from Myanmar learned just after General Conference that flooding in the low-lying delta region of his home country had killed a hundred thousand people and left millions homeless.
After spending so much time, effort, and money to gather the United Methodist family, we might ask ourselves if word dithering is the best use of our time. But perfecting the books is what the US church does at this quadrennial legislative gathering. In light of what is becoming an increasingly international gathering, we could devote some creative energy to finding another way to perfect the words and use our "face-time" to support one another, assess the state of our whole communion, and try to discern where God is leading us in the next phase of our ministries. Following Jesus, we could end up anywhere—and everywhere.
Christie R. House
Date posted: Jun 29, 2008