Three significant and unusual things happened this summer in the life of The United Methodist Church.
- General Conference passed a re-structuring plan.
- General Conference removed “guaranteed appointment.”
- A bishop was involuntarily retired because he was deemed ineffective.
The Judicial Council overturned the first decision in a matter of hours. They overturned the second decision exactly two weeks ago. They overturned the third decision exactly one day ago. Every significant decision in the large UMC from this summer (other than the pro forma ones, like elections of bishops) has now been voided.
There’s already all kinds of hand-wringing about this. “Can we do anything?”
The UMC’s Absolute Inability to Make Major Change
Before General Conference this year, I wrote a piece on “Why the American UMC is Dying a (Somewhat) Slow Death, and Concerned Leaders’ Best Response.” In it, I said, “We are a democracy – a large democracy – unready for significant change. Large democracies do not vote for major change. It brings too many fears. It moves too far from too many people’s comfort. The majority cannot effectively be educated to the point that they understand the problems that make such drastic change necessary and the reasons proposed solutions might do better.”
I ended up only partially correct. We have, indeed, established a behemoth of a system, and we’re finding that the system we’ve established makes significant organizational change nearly impossible.
But our problem wasn’t just getting people to vote for change. Despite the near total failure of GC2012 to accomplish anything, they did successfully vote for change on structure and guaranteed appointments.
So now, what we’re finding is that even on the rare instances when we can pull off a large democratic vote for change, there are more systems in place to assure that the change doesn’t actually take place.
What’s a Concerned Leader To Do?
I’ll point you back to the post mentioned above. Part I is about “Why the UMC is Dying a (Somewhat) Slow Death.” I think my experience at an Annual Conference was what we’re experiencing everywhere. But part II, “Concerned Leaders’ Best Response,” is what I hope all the hand-wringers will read and consider. I wrote the piece as therapy for myself. I hope anyone else who is discouraged might find something therapeutic in it.
I think we have great opportunity for change and good things in the UMC. Please don’t let our unwieldy and ineffectual system discourage you to the point of inaction or ineffectiveness. And if you’ve found yourself wondering if it’s even worth sticking with this big system, well, I’ve wondered that myself. I wrote “Why I am (Still) a Methodist” as a bit of self-therapy for that question. Hopefully it might be helpful, too.