Thursday, June 07, 2007

Church politics - My point of reference

Everyone knows that politics are not just for government. There are politics involved in everything. Even little league baseball. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that the church is just as political. If it does surprise you, let me invite you to click on one of your other favorite websites now.

I realize that Conference politics is more complicated than the simplified, hardcore Liberal/Conservative division. I know pastors who fall into the nebulous Moderate category. Then you have apolitical types who move along the spectrum depending on the issue or current life circumstance. So it is not as easy as this side or this group against that group.

What I have come to realize is that church politics, maybe more than any other manifestation of politics, relies on the perspective of the one observing others. We use words like liberal, conservative, progressive, and traditional. The shortcoming of these qualities is that they are adjectives and not nouns. They cannot stand by themselves unless they have a fixed point of reference.

I think the hard thing for me is that I am not identifiable with any one "side". I am conservative in my theology and moderate in my social position. I am flexible in my politics and the issues I face. That may be wishy-washy to some. I have been quoted the "lukewarm" passage from Revelation. So maybe I am weak.

But I know this much. I have developed friendships and working relationships with people who have vastly different points of view than I have. And regardless of whether or not I agree with them, I can support them. I can also admire their integrity and passion.

I know that I will never play "the game" right. I won't be a big church preacher or a leading General Conference delegate. In fact, I probably won't ever be a great pastor others look up to and admire. But I will continue to see people for more than their political or theological labels. I will work with people to further the Kingdom of God, even if our blueprints don't exactly match up all the time. And I will strive to be a good brother in Christ to anyone who takes the time to come to know me for who I am. And not for whether or not they can count on my vote.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Thursday's Finale pt. 2

Resolution 4 wanted the Conference to endorse the creation of a bipartisan task force by the Oklahoma State Legislature to explore and create a plan to provide health insurance for every person in Oklahoma.


We live in a time when people cannot get basic medical care due to the costs. Insurance is available but not to all people. And some insurance doesn't really provide for the care that people truly need. There is a critical need for some type of plan so that people can get the health care then need. But the State Legislature is probably not where that should come from.

This resolution was wanting a "citizen" task force. Can we honestly believe that our party-based, political machine can produce a group of people whose sole agenda is creating a health care plan devoid of any political muckery. Or can there be a program that is amenable to private health care systems without being a government funded social medical system.

Social medicine is not going to provide the care that people need. I have heard of people's experiences in Canada, a social medical system. It is not a system that will work in American culture. It is not the get it when you want it, patient first mentality we have come to believe is our right. It is at the convenience of the system.

And I don't think that our State or Federal government needs to be involved in this decision until they can grow up and act like mature, responsible, contributing members of society.

The next resolution on the agenda dealt with ministering to immigrants and marginalized peoples. The resolution urged the church to "act and dialogue responsibly and respectfully" to set a Godly example of respect and love. It also encouraged the church to minister to immigrants and people who are marginalized, oppressed, and in need.

I want to believe that this is encouraging the Oklahoma UM's to live up to their responsibility of living lives of Christian virtues with respect to all people. But I don't think that a resolution was necessary for that. That's what sermons are for.

I believe this was a veiled attempt to keep the subject of immigration and non-documented/illegal residents before the church. Our state legislature has made it an illegal act to render certain types of assistance to non-documented/illegal residents. This action by the legislature applies to churches and other aid ministries. Some churches have gone so far as to be sanctuary locations to provide aid to these people. This is a social justice position for these churches.

It is important to provide assistance to any person in need - regardless of their status. Do we have a problem with un-documented residents in this country? Yes. Should we assist anyone who is in need? Yes. But should we face prosecution in the process of doing our Christian duty? We shouldn't have to. But with the climate as it is, it is a choice each person has to make.

We failed to pass the last resolution on the schedule. It was asking that the conference endorse the creation of the U.S. Department of Peace and Nonviolence.


I am not a complete pacifist. I believe that harming another person should be avoided. But in some situations, it my not be possible. This is an interpersonal issue - between two people. This effort to establish a Federal agency whose goal is peace and nonviolence seems to be stretching. Governments have a much more complex type of relationship. And this group could only be considered a watchdog program.

The proposal states that there is already a move to include this department. And that it will be attached to the Department of Defense's budget. So we would have a Department of Defense who is paying for the Department of Peace and Nonviolence.

I believe that our nation has chosen a more aggressive posture in world affairs recently. Since 1980 there has been major armed conflicts in Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Prior to 1980, the number of major conflicts was much smaller. So we seem to be much more aggressive on the world stage. And that aggressiveness is costly in terms of life and property. I wish that we could change the posture from one of aggressiveness to more peaceful.

But the world is not the same as it was 100 years ago. The aggression we have shown has been measured out in such a way to meet a problem directly. Our world is not a peaceful world. And sometimes, as much as we don't want to admit it, peace and nonviolence are not realistic solutions.

Tomorrow I'll deal with the voting process for delegates.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Thursday - The Finale

I've been a little tardy about this last update. Two reasons: I was busy and I didn't know how I felt about Thursday.

The entire family went down Thursday. Which means we were late getting to Conference. Thursday was the "big day" so to speak. Most of the resolutions that were hot topic were scheduled for the day as well as finishing up the voting process. I'll deal with the resolutions first.

The first resolution sparked a little bit of discussion. It was a resolution calling on the UM's in Oklahoma to, in essence, boycott any sporting event that use Native American names or mascots. There was no distinction given to professional or local school teams. This was asking for a general boycott of any team that used Native American names or mascots.


I am not against changing team names to remove reference to Native American heritage. I believe that some enduring images of the injustice done to Native Americans are still too fresh to simply say that it is harmless or even an honor to use the Native American heritage as a mascot. A sport teams pride in its name should derive from who that team is and the local character. It shouldn't just choose a name to imply a characteristic or quality that may have never been true nor will it ever be true (what team truly wants to be considered savage in the way it plays a sport?).

But I believe that we cannot allow double standards to exist when it comes to names and respect of heritage. I understand the injustice done to Native American tribes. I am not going to defend the U.S. governments efforts to relocate, exterminate, and integrate Native Americans simply because they were different. But there are some names within Native American families that are also potentially offensive. Names such as Whitekiller, Sixkiller, or Mankiller all represent a bloody heritage that should not be glorified if we are truly to move beyond the perpetuation of violence.

The next resolution sparked some serious debate. It was a resolution on torture. This resolution was asking Oklahoma UM churches to call on the governments of the world to abide by the Geneva Conventions and prohibit all forms of torture. The original resolution specifically named the U.S. government. This direct reference to the U.S. led to the most passionate debate, especially from veterans. The resolution was amended to remove specific reference to the U.S.

The Geneva Conventions are a series of international treaties stating the fair treatment of soldiers and civilians during times of war. These treaties gave rise to rules regarding how soldiers and sailors will be treated if captured, how injured soldiers and sailors are to be treated, and the protection of civilians in combat areas. The Conventions do not allow the torture of prisoners of war.
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind. - Covention 3, Part 3, Section 1, Article 17

I believe that the conventions set fair treatment for all soldiers, sailors, prisoners of war, and civilians. There are going to be gaps in their protection. And there will be some who will not abide by the conventions. But do we have the right to say, "Well you won't obey, so we don't have to"? That is an argument that I have heard. "The terrorists don't obey the conventions, so we shouldn't have to." This is childish and opposes the level of love Christians should portray. We do to others as we would want them to do to us. That's our biblical ideal of treating others, friend and enemy alike. We are not called to treat others in the way we think they might or have treated us.

The third resolution had everybody preparing for a battle. It was a resolution to recommend a change of language to the Discipline to be voted on at the 2008 General Conference. The resolution wanted to change the Discipline to say that, "...the pastor shall faithfully receive all adults willing to affirm our vows of membership."

This resolution came as a response to a Judicial Council ruling last year the upheld the authority of a pastor to refuse membership to a person. A pastor refused to accept a person into membership because the person was living a homosexual lifestyle and would not change. This decision by the Judicial Council has caused a firestorm of debate over pastoral authority against our general inclusion of all people in the life of the church.

While I believe that the pastor should have the authority to determine a person's readiness to join a church as a member, it is also important to remember that pastors sometimes can't see past their own bias. And while there is nothing wrong with being open to receive people in all stages and walks of life, we are also called apart for righteousness and toward sanctification.

This move to accepting all persons into membership without an accountability process is counterproductive to baptism and the role of membership as a step in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. Membership in a local congregation is the outward symbol of joining the Church Universal, the entire body of Christ. Yes, baptism is the sacrament of inclusion and the rite of passage into the Church. But no person is baptized into a church of one. To be included into body of Christ, baptism takes place in the context of a local group of believers. So water is the sign of the Spirit's work and a membership certificate is a symbol of a person's place in the body. It is tangible, hands-on material of the spiritual, intangible reality.

By saying that a pastor must accept all persons who will simply affirm the vows of membership (the rite simply asks, "Will you support the United Methodist Church through your prayers, presence, gifts, and service?"), then we open the door to anyone, regardless of their depth of commitment to Christ and their willingness to walk after Christ's teaching.

Simply it means that if a person has no interest in doing more than attending on Sunday morning or giving more than the same $20 a month they have given all their lives, then they must be received. Even though we are called to give our lives and sacrifice ourselves in ministry, we should not seek out whether a person is prepared to live that level of commitment.

More tomorrow.