Diary of a Delegate: rebuttal – Some More Equal than Others

I received a comment on my last post (and have received several mentions on Twitter) decrying my efforts with my colleagues as overly political, pushing an agenda, and even Machiavellian or Orwellian. My commenter wrote: “The only totalitarianism is the ‘progressive’ caucus forcing their will on the rest of the church. Disgraceful.”

Let me be clear: this was indeed a wild, crazy, political, how-the-sausage-gets-made, messy jumble. But if you’re looking for the “some are more equal than others” agenda, you are barking up the wrong side of the barn, my friends.

Make no mistake: the progressives were not the only ones caucusing, strategizing, and trying to make sure their “agenda” made it to the floor. We were not the only ones who huddled at the 4:15 break or the dinner hour. We were not the only ones who had been working for ten days to try to mold the United Methodist Church into the vision to which we believe God has called it.

We may be the only ones willing to blog about it, however.

I will not accuse my colleagues from differing theological perspectives of nasty politics. I will say however, that they had meetings out on the floor and behind closed doors. They were organized. They had powerful people and blocks of voters on their sides. They were, for nine and a half days, unstoppable. Their agenda– an agenda of silencing dissent, whitewashing minority voices, consolidating oversight (which we have learned is patently unconstitutional) and solidifying power in conservative demographics– was very clear and very much in force.

Let me share with you my agenda, particularly in the final evening, but really throughout the General Conference. I can only speak for myself, but I believe it was and is shared by many:

1. Provide for the ministries of the United Methodist Church to function well for the next 4 years. This includes equipping the general boards and agencies or whatever their successor bodies are with the resources and people they need to continue to be a vital voice and resource for our church.

2. Protect the voices of women, persons of color, the GLBTQ community (such voice as it has), and any others pushed to the margins. This includes advocating for a strong and thriving GCORR and COSROW.

3. Propose legislation that does no harm or mitigates harm. Oppose and try to prevent legislation that does harm.

4. Maintain a space in the United Methodist Church for social justice and prophetic preaching.

5. Whenever and however possible, cultivate space for all voices in the conversations, so that people are engaged in the process and the shaping of the future of their church. This includes a commitment to transparency and the honesty with which I blog about our process.

6. Stay within the proposed, smaller quadrennial budget, so as not to harm local churches in their ability to do ministry. Because…

7. In all things, remember that what GC does and how the UMC is formed matters only in so far as it equips local churches for the vital, transformational, contextual ministry they do. We have to help and not hinder churches in reaching more and more diverse people, lifting up principled and equipped leaders, being in ministry across socioeconomic, political, ethnic, gender, etc divides, and reaching out in mission to meet the needs of our global family. Or, you know, make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the church and the world.

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31 Responses

  1. So, basically your agenda was mercy and justice. Sounds right to me.

  2. So you had an agenda at GC2012, so did probably all 944 delegates, I would have had an agenda if there. The problems is finding common ground and acceptance, then moving forward to adopt it. And I think either side could not/would not meet in the middle, though there were options there for it to happen.

    • Agreed. It was not for lack of trying. The conversations with Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, for example, who very much stand in the middle, gave me hope. But ultimately, on the issue of sexuality, they were not “middle” enough. In other areas, like the restructure stuff, Adam was again trying to hold a middle, but there too it was not middle enough, or I wasn’t or something. And in the final moments, we thought we were the middle, and invited others into the room to share, and were told this was where the conversation was going to start, and we were mistaken. So all over the map, really!

      Peace in chaos,
      Becca

  3. the “agenda makers” who opposed you from this conference were definitively organized and prepared to launch an all out battle and they did. You are not to be singled out for having an “agenda.” So did Jesus when he defied the Pharisees at every turn. Blessings and thanks for what you have done.

    • Indeed. But see, they’re not out there blogging about how they accomplished their agenda, so clearly I’m the overly-political one. And the sarcastic one ;)

      Becca

  4. And conservatives won. Outright. With no compromise. So how Progressives “pushed their agenda through” I fail to see.

    • We had some victories, but our bar was set pretty low. Baby steps, if any, and holding the field. My favorite are the accusations that we used protest for political gain. We were “too loud/disruptive.” When that’s the only voice you have, you have to use it.

      Seeking justice and joy,
      Becca

      • I wouldn’t say that protest was used for political gain. What I fail to understand is how you can say that protest is “the only voice you have.” We have had countless times of holy conferencing around homosexuality over the past 40 years, at least two church-wide studies, and here in this General Conference an unprecedented attempt to have a time of holy conferencing around that topic. We also had the point of personal privilege by Mark Miller. Nearly every worship service and sermon promoted an agenda of “all means all,” with the subtext (and sometimes overt text) being that the church should change its position on homosexuality. It seems like the pro-LGBTQ folk have had plenty of voice, both at this General Conference and previously. It appears, however, that when the church is not ready to agree with changing our position, it is time to engage in protest and stop the functioning of the conference. I am wondering how many more petitions could have been considered in the 1-1/2 hours that were lost to the protest. It appears to me not about having a voice, but about getting your way.

        • In many of those “holy conversations,” as well as on the floor, while GLBTQ persons and their allies spoke words of inclusion and love, others compared them to pedophiles, sexual deviants, and practitioners of bestiality. They/we were called animals, and unfit for ministry/inclusion in the body of Christ. So yes, we had a “voice” to speak, but the louder voices were abusive and in cases downright violent and unchallenged by the facilitators and chairs. Where there is such an imbalance of power, the disempowered body has to use other methods to gain voice. I’m wondering how many powerful ministry moments could have been considered and experienced in the last 40 years of exclusion. I don’t mean to be abrasive here, but this cuts to the heart of the matter for me. Being able to speak and actually being heard are very different things.

          Seeking Shalom,
          Becca

          • I heard one statement during the floor debate that I would consider inappropriate for holy conversation. I have participated in numerous conferencing times at annual conference and in my local church where few to no inappropriate statements were made (such as the type you allude to). This is obviously something that we all need to continue working on, but it is not a universal problem in all holy conferencing times.
            If the heart of the matter for you is being heard, I would like to know how you would know that you were heard? What would be the criteria by which you could say that proponents of homosexuality had been heard?

            Also seeking God’s shalom,
            Tom

            • I’ve given a lot of thought to this, Tom, because I think it’s really important. What I’ve come to is that being heard for me would be seen by a change in the other party’s language if not position. See, if we really are talking about a substantive debate, than we should be able to have linguistic changes. For example, when will we stop using the term “homosexuals” (plural noun)? This way of naming a person through their sexual orientation is dehumanizing and distancing. Can we say “people who are homosexual” (or lesbian or gay or bisexual or…)? Emphasis is on “people.” When will we stop using the word “incompatible,” a word used elsewhere only for actions that are violent and/or demeaning in nature? The “Adam Hamilton Amendment” used the term “not God’s will” to describe homosexuality. Substantively no different. No one would be getting married or ordained. But we don’t even have a conversation about it, because the word incompatible itself has become a political football.

              When I experience linguistic inflexibility coupled with the extremely hurtful comments referenced above and unchallenged, I know we are still talking about issues and politics, not ministering with people or listening to one another as siblings in Christ.

              Hope that’s helpful for clarification. Thanks for helping me think that part out.

              Bless,
              Becca

              • “homosexuals” and “incompatible” are now “abusive” and “violent”????

                That is simply an attempt to limit the boundaries of discussion. We all know that “not God’s will” isn’t acceptable to you either.

                Demonstrations, arrests and breaking chalices are NOT holy conferencing by anyone’s definition. Those of you who participated in this year’s protest (interrupting a prayer by the way) owe everyone an apology. Bishop Wenner made a major error by negotiating with Amy DeLong. Enabling only encourages more outrageous behavior.

                Since the underlying petition failed in committee, it should not have gone to the floor until the other petitions that actually passed committee hhad been heard. In part because of the demonstration, 73 calendar items didn’t get a vote. 24 of those were Disciplinary changes that passed Committee. But, a failed petition to amend the Social Principles was more important?

                A large part of the problem is that there are those who believe that allowing gay non-celibate persons who are currently ordained to serve openly is the most important issue facing The UMC and that those persons have a disproportionate influence on the agenda of General Conference to the detriment of those of us in the majority. The majority would put your seventh priority as the FIRST.

                • Hi Creed,

                  First of all, my list of seven priorities was not intended to be in order of importance. In fact, I often use the rhetorical strategy of placing my most important point last to stick in the mind.

                  I think you’re stringing together words and ideas that I haven’t. I’ve discussed elsewhere how words can lead to a culture of violence. My point above was vastly different; that inflexibility about language is symptomatic of entrenched politicizing in a debate, rather than listening to one another.

                  I’m not sorry I broke bread and offered God’s grace in the midst of extreme pain.

                  I hope those are helpful clarifications.

                  Peace,
                  Becca

    • The fact the GBCS is still around and we’re still part of the RCRC is no victory at all. And the fact both orgs are called “mercy and justice” organizations is more proof of my original statement. Orwellian to the core.

      Remember what Orwell himself said, “political language can make murder sound respectable.” That’s exactly what the GBCS and RCRC do with abortion. Among other things.

      • Thanks for commenting, Donnie, but I’m going to have to disagree. RCRC makes women’s health care sound respectable, not abortion, let alone murder. That’s how I see it. We’re talking about comprehensive health care access. It can save women’s lives.

        The GBCS is my favorite of the boards, if I’m allowed one. They do things that my local church and I can’t do, engaging the political process in a faithful way on a national level That’s a ministry of the church in a place the church would really struggle to be relevant, and something we can’t do on our own at the local level. If that’s not the definition of what we need a general board for, I don;t know what is.

        Bless,
        Becca

  5. Becca – I’ve been following your tweets and posts since GC. I liked your summaries, but we’re in such a state now that there will always be folks commenting about how “the other” side is wrong and pushing their agenda, etc. There was a bit of it in your post, and then in a reply…

    I, for one, am grateful for your thoughts and perceptions. Thanks for sharing!

    The weird thing I keep coming back to, though, is that I once attended a week-long evangelism training with Eddie and Maxie. I really had no idea at the time they were these conservative powerhouses; but at that week’s training, I was impressed with their conviction to evangelism.

    • I agree that’s where we are.

      On your other point, as hard as it is to concede, I don’t think Eddie and Max are evil people (although they participated in actions that felt pretty close to evil to me at times). I actually don’t doubt their commitment to evangelism, to spreading the good news of Christ. I see that good news differently. Where I oppose them, it’s not to stop their version of the good news from being spread– knock yourselves out, fellas! But it’s to open a crack of freedom so that my understanding of the good news to have a place too.

      Bless,
      Becca

      • I agree – there needs to be grace from both sides to allow various voices. That’s why I was so incredibly distressed that even a reasonable amendment such as what Hamilton/Slaughter offered could not be affirmed! Thanks, again, for sharing your thoughts.

  6. I find several things interesting. How can one assume that any body that meets to create and/or enact legislation is not engage in a political activity? As Peter Seeger on more than one occassion remarked, politics comes from the same root word as people. The body politic is the action of the people and we can never let one group dominate the discussion.

    The other thing that I find interesting is that conservative movements always claim that the progressives are pushy and forcing and they, the poor conservatives, are merely trying to survive. Yet, it is more often than not the conservatives who are well-organized, well-funded, and entrenched. I suppose that when you want to keep the status quo or prevent others from saying anything, it is best to make it seem like you are the one being attacked and not the attacker.

    Becca, I appreciated the effort you put into blogging these past two weeks. You were able to give a side of the process that may not come out in the “official” reports. But I do know this, you wrote and spoke the truth because others told the same story. As long we seek the truth, it will be the truth that sets us free.

    Continue the struggle and know that you are not alone!

    • Thanks Tony, for your comments and for your framing and reblog.

      Yes, I find it curious that we think politics is a dirty word, and something only “the other side” does.

      I appreciate all these comments; it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do and why.

      Bless,
      Becca

  7. Reblogged this on Thoughts From The Heart On The Left and commented:
    If you did not follow what transpired over the past few days in Tampa, I encourage you to jump over to Becca Clark’s blog and read what she wrote. There are those who would seek to silence her but hers was a voice speaking the truth (I recieved confirmation of that from other sources).
    There are those who want a return to a more Wesley oriented church but they have no idea what such a church would be. What they want is the authoriatian nature that was Wesley privately, not the church that sought change in the world.

  8. Prophetic voices are always challenged by the naysayers. To find a progressive delegate who knew how to use the political to protect the spiritual, is a gift from God!

  9. The problem is, you likely have the SAME agenda as anybody else (as outlined above). Presuming that others do not share your goals because their beliefs about methodology differs is fallacious. The only concrete difference here (that I see) is your, “advocating for a strong and thriving GCORR and COSROW. And even then, those who supported the structural change may simply have had methodological beliefs about why they thought the change would help the mission of the former/current GCORR and COSROW.

    Political talk is empty when everyone simply states their agenda is big, vague values. Politics is real when we start saying what are agendas are methodologically and debating how/why those methodologies are correct.

    • Hi Amos,

      I’ll try to clarify more in the future– I’m worn a little weary just now to go more in depth. I think part of the point I was trying to make was that the overall goals are very much the same and we just disagree on how to get there. I do have a couple of assumptions that I think mean I differ from the folks who support, for example, Plan UMC. These assumptions are on a methodological level, not a value level. So I think we can all agree that the denomination needs streamlining and greater efficiency and accountability. My assumption is that a corporate board model inhibits accountability rather than enhances it, and that the existing boards and agencies can be impressed upon to streamline themselves. Clearly this is different from what the Plan UMC folks think, but our goals are essentially the same.

      Becca

      • Also, I’m sorry if my comment was overly forceful. Strike that, it was. It wasn’t *your* blog per se that had stirred up my ire, but the totality of of opinions I was going through concerning what I consider to be empty poltical talk (as in, ‘they don’t support my method–why don’t they value women!!!’). I wish that we were all capable of sitting down and asking, what values do we share? Okay, what methodologies of advancing those values do we support and *why* do we think they are the best?

        The demonstrations against one another that if we don’t support each other’s methods than we don’t support the same values does nothing but stir up more strife and move our conversation away from (what I think is) our intended goals.

        • I appreciate that Amos, and I agree. I think there is much that we can learn from reasoned discussion.

          Bless,
          Becca

  10. Hi Becca! I’m glad you were able to blog this, and for several reasons. Highest on my list is that I think your thoughts here demonstrate more of the areas of agreement (with a couple of glaring areas of difference of opinion that threaten to overwhelm the conversation, as they usually do) than disagreement, as I perceive the General Conference.

    I think it is because I am a miserable moderate that I see this. Or perhaps, I’m a miserable moderate because I do. Chicken. Egg. Long story. Moving on.

    As I read through your words, I began to hypothesize that the only places you differed with most of the folks in the delegations (with whom I interacted) were the phrases using GLBTQ and the “whenever and however possible” phrases used in conjunction with cultivating voices. The one is a theological difference of opinion, and the other is a reversal of one ethnic/gender privilege by preferring another — unfortunately associated with some reverse discriminatory practices that I pointed out on my blog.

    The rest of the points you made above were actually in keeping with most of the other delegates I spoke to by twitter, cell phone, email, etc. And that’s including the lib, conserv, and mod folks I know (Drives us all nuts at Christmas, trying to figure out who sits with whom).

    The difference is in the method and the methodology. For example, in your first point, I think that was the same belief held by IOT, Plan B and MFSA folks in their own ways. The primary difference is in the definition of “vital and effective” and perhaps the word “need.” Honest disagreement.

    Another example, found in your second point: Protecting gender and ethnic specific voices may not be the goal for some of the delegates, but protecting voices most certainly was. I presume that there was something besides racism behind the lack of desire to fund those agencies, mostly because there was a multi-ethnic and gender diverse group of folks who were in agreement with that reduction.

    I could go on, but I won’t in hopes that this is already inspiring in you a second (third? thirtieth? three-hundredth?) effort to reach across disagreements to understand and be understood.

    You have quickly become one of my favorite bloggers. Not the least of the reasons for this is your honesty and plain-spoken style. I see the beginning of the conversation that should have happened at General Conference taking form in these points you have listed. The next step off the conversation is to recognize that the differences of opinion that took center stage were honestly held views that were, on the whole, without subterfuge.

    For example, I do not hold that efforts to maintain and strengthen COSROW, GCORR, and the Church and Society were uniquely designed to advance the GBLTQ debate. I think that’s ludicrous, yet our conversations as a denomination seem to be stuck on that notion that the majority of your points are not shared when in fact they certainly seem to be. Thus, many of our colleagues imagine exactly that. While it may contribute to the reasoning to keep those agencies, it is not the “only reason,” either for or against maintaining those agencies in their current state.

    Let me encourage you to investigate the potential for agreement on that agenda you have listed above across the denomination. And then, perhaps we can arrange a far broader audience and a much deeper examination of the differences of opinion regarding the “how” and “why” of the methods that were often ignored in foavor of the much easier stereotypes and asssumptions that carried far too much of the day — and too many of the days — at General Conference.

    As always, thank you for your voice, your thoughts, and your dedication to Jesus Christ.

    Grace and peace,

    Joey

    • So in a word, Joey, yes.

      I’ll say more later, but yeah, that’s where I’m going with this. I don’t think the differences are that great; I do think we have a lot of common ground on which to work; I do think we need to be clear about what the “liberal” and “conservative” platforms are– as in secular politics, we get overwhelmed by issues, when the substantive debate is deeper/other (ie role of federal government, not same-gender marriage). So for example, freedom to minister in one’s context– how free, how far? Need to allow for voices– whose? at the potential exclusion of who elses? We can get distracted about acronyms thrown around, when the conversation is deeper. That’s not to say that COSROW and GCORR and GLBTQ and LMNOP aren’t important; just that those debates are symptoms of a deeper– but less emotionally charged, and ultimately, I hope, more workable– divide.

      Becca

  11. Daniel Webster, great U.S. Senator said, “There is nothing as powerful as the truth.”

    My truthful thoughts on moderate politics: “The middle of the road is where the chickens get run over.” I know that is not ‘politically correct,’ but I stand with Elijah, “Choose you this day who you will serve.”

    For me there is no middle ground on the subject of oppression.

    Cheers!

    Stephen York

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