The United Methodist Church has decided to cancel plans to hold its 2012 General Conference in Richmond, Virginia. Instead, the Conference will be held in Tampa, Florida. The reasoning? Richmond has a minor league baseball team called the "Braves", which UM leaders find offensive to Native Americans.
Now, I'm not a Native American. Americans of Scottish descent have, thankfully, not experienced a whole lot of persecution due to their ethnicity. I cannot fully understand what life is like or has been like for our Native American sisters and brothers. They have without question been treated unfairly at times.
But I think we have done a real disservice to the people of Richmond and the folks of the Virginia Conference. General Conference generates over $20 million for the host city, and good Richmond citizens are now simply denied that financial opportunity. It was also a wonderful opportunity for the UMs of that area to "show off" their ministry and highlight the many good things undoubtedly happening because of their faithfulness and hard work. That opportunity has been taken away.
Additionally, it is possible that the UMC could have used this event as an opportunity to explain why we have a problem with Native American-themed sports teams (a practice which the UMC officially considers to be a form of racism). That opportunity for witness and mission is now gone. It is unlikely now that the people of Richmond or perhaps the entire Commonwealth of Virginia will take seriously what the UMC has to say. A potentially powerful prophetic opportunity...a "kairos moment", to use the language of Paul Tillich...gone forever because the UMC wanted to make a political statement rather than engage in transformative ministry.
I'm sure that Tampa is beautiful and the UMs of that area will do a wonderful job hosting GC 2012. But it seems to me that we needed to go into Richmond and do ministry, and we've failed.
Some days, it isn't difficult to grasp why we are a denomination in decline. By rejecting the "Braves", we didn't show very much bravery.