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.
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