Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pre-Conference Journal

I've received our pre-Conference Journal, and have only looked through it briefly. A few things (seven) have hit me right away.

First, I am shocked that Steve Cordle, pastor of Crossroads Church, was not nominated by the Washington District. He has had tremendous ministry success in the last decade or so, and Crossroads has surely become one of our most vital congregations. In fact, he may be the most effective pastor in our Conference right now. It seems to me that Church growth and professions of faith ought to count for something, even as I recognize that other factors should be a part of the decision-making process. This may be completely inappropriate, but his assigned number is 223, and I intend to vote for him.

Actually, given that as a partial voting guide, several other pastors ought to be seriously considered. David Eversdyke...Eric Park...Rodney Smith...Bob Zilhaver...each of these seem to have been very effective leaders in terms of ministry growth in the past several years...there are surely others...these are just kind of "off the cuff". Any other names that stand out in this regard - not necessarily as candidates for election, but for church growth?

Second, let's face it: while there are many pressing issues facing the Church, sex is going to be a major factor, both in June at Grove City and next spring in Texas. This is too bad, because issues such as mission, poverty, and war ought to be at the forefront, but will be brushed aside by "the elephant in the room". Sex is an important issue, to be sure, but shouldn't be #1 on the list.

With that realization, I glanced (albeit briefly) at the information provided by the nominees. I am a little disheartened that so few mention the issue of sex. There are "code words" used by both sides. "Scriptural authority" and "personal holiness" are used by many on "the Right", despite the fact that most folks on "the Left" would strongly affirm those phrases. "Welcoming all" is a phrase used by "the Left", despite the fact that most folks on "the Right" would strongly affirm that as well.

The reason I am disheartened that few mention the issue is that, again, while sex isn't the main issue confronting the Church, it's a big issue right now, important to many United Methodists, and I think it's a little disingenuous to dance around it. Say what you feel, support it, and move on. I hate all of this "cloak and dagger" stuff (do I sound too cynical?).

Third, RS 804, proposed by Greg Cox and Michelle Wobrak (et al), seems to be a good start at expanding the voices around the Conference Council table, but I'm a mite perplexed. We are giving spots on the Council to Pensions, Trustees, and Equitable Compensation, which isn't necessarily bad. What about New Church Starts? Is that the "Congregational Development" representative? If not, could we add a rep. from the New Church Starts group, to further emphasize the importance of this ministry?

Fourth, I like RS 602, which could and should promote more effective ministry to "the least of these", something many of our congregations aren't doing very well.

Fifth, do we really need five General Evangelists?

Sixth, P 71 and P 72...I know they basically had to put forth these pieces, but do they really stand a chance of passing in June? I'd be surprised if either made it out of legislative section 7.

Seventh, P 22...this is the only really new or unusual piece that I have found. My guess is it will be ruled out of order somehow. While I don't really like the protests during worship, and agree with the spirit of the legislation, I'm not sure this kind of thing can (or should) be legislated. Additionally, what would be the consequence of violating this Rule, were it to pass?

Just some quick thoughts for those in Western PA Conference.


Greg Cox said...

To answer your question briefly - the resolution about Connectional Network is trying to expand the conversation around the table so that mission and ministry can be implemented in the Annual Conference. Some of the players mentioned directly reflect the ministry plan and the priorities of the plan. Secondly, it is our opinion that Congregational Development would be either new church starts or something close. In other words, it is important that the issue of healthy congregations strategically positioned is addressed on the council both in new churches and those that exist.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Sounds good; that answers it!

Randy Roda said...

Keith...how do you feel about RS 704? To refer to Israel's right to exist as "occupation" is to me offensive. With Israel being the only democracy, other than fragile Lebanon, in the middle east to use such rhetoric is beyond the pale for Christians.

Is anybody else bothered by this code word occupation, which was last used to describe The Soviet Unions policy in East Germany as well as the Nazi's take over of Eastern Europe during WWII.

What is the church trying to say here? Are we giving credibility to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah who do everything in their power to destabilize the region? Somebody help me out on this one!

As far as delegates for General Conference,I find it almost inconceivable that Brian Bauknight is not even nominated. And why is almost every D.S. nominated? Doesn't the cabinet have enough power?

Some people I would vote for: Bob Zilhaver...because he cares so much about structural stuff...Arnie Rhodes...we need a seasoned voice of reason...Eric Park...he is thoughtful and articulate. Other than that, I think people should vote for me...I think I have a number. I would be good because I would advocate one salary paid to all pastors no matter what church they serve. I guess that finishes me off as a serious contender...it's o.k. I probably wouldn't show up anyway.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I think "occupation" is a bit strong...a very politically charged word. While I think both the Israelis and Palestinians can do better in working toward peace, there's a lot of blame to go around...I'd advocate a change in wording on that one.

I'd LOVE it if we could get you elected...mud in the eye of the establishment!

Randy Roda said...

Keith...I have decided to mount a grass roots campaign for GC. I thank you for your endorsement. Please check out my campaign platform on my blog. I hope I have your vote (by the way I approve of this ad!)

#673 for GC...that's my slogan

Matt said...

Section 7 is gonna be heated, I think...I'm the section leader, too! I'll get to continue to perfect my parliamentary skills!

As far as the sex thing, I didn't want to write about sex, but I felt like it was such a big issue (even if it's not really an important issue!) that I needed to write about it. We'll see how that shakes out!

What about laity? Several laity stick out to me...A couple old stand-bys, but a couple newbies too....We'll see I guess!

Brett Probert said...

I didn't get my journal yet. I feel excluded. I'm bringing you up on charges for excluding me.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Matt...I'm sure that several prominent lay people will go, such as Tracy Merrick and Pat Morris. I'm sure you'll make it as well.

You will be in my prayers as you lead section 7.

Brenda said...

I did not use the word sex, because I did not want to look like I wanted to go to GC because of one issue. I feel that it is a big issue and very dishearted that we continue to debate this year after year, and that it has been such a huge issue at GC for a number of years now. I think that there are many issues that have brought the UM church away from it's traditional stands and think it is time we look at all of these issues not just the sex issue.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I agree that there are many issues, and many that are far more important. BUT...sex will be one big issue that everyone will be talking about. Many people will, right or wrong, vote based on that one issue (I've been told that by people on both sides who intend to do just that).

The thing that upset me is that sex is a major, major issue for several candidates who didn't even mention it in their written pieces, or who alluded to it vaguely. That seems a bit dishonest to me. I can vote for someone on either side of the issue, potentially...but I can't respect that kind of dishonesty and the attempt to, in my view, mislead. Not from you, Brenda...but others who are far more politically-oriented.

I'm just asking that we be upfront about it, not afraid of it. Let's put all of our cards on the table in an open, honest fashion, and then lovingly and graciously (I would hope) dialogue.

Eric Park said...

To the best of my knowledge, Steve Cordle did indeed receive the support of the Washington District. The names were not announced until we were having dinner following the district conference (because it took the counters a bit of time to count all the votes). But I thought that I heard Steve's name listed among them. I am uncertain of why Steve did not have any biographical statement recorded in the pre-conference journal.

I appreciate the kind of honesty from candidates for which you are calling in your post. But what do you mean by honesty? Do you mean, "What is your honest opinion on the issue of homosexuality and the church?" If so, then let's have the conference make a response to that question a mandatory component of candidacy. Or, to be even more thorough, let's construct a list of questions that will cover everything from homosexuality to abortion, everything from christology to baptismal understanding.

I am not being cynical when I say all of this. I am simply making the point that, if we want to know how it is that people feel about certain issues, then let's make the process into a bona fide theological inquiry in which we call upon candidates to "come clean" on a whole host of issues.

But that's not what our conference has demanded from candidates. Candidates are asked to provide a 150-word "statement of belief." I am one who takes words and instructions seriously (I was toilet trained at gunpoint, after all). If I am given 150 words in which to express my belief, I want to practice good stewardship over those words and use them wisely. I want people to hear about what it is that provides the theological foundation upon which I stand and the christological framework in which I place myself. If that is not sufficient for people, or if people want to know more about me, I am always available for further conversation. I'll even pay for lunch!

You are right in saying that sex is something that everyone at conference will be talking and thinking about. But does that fact make it necessary for every candidate to make reference to his/her position on the issue in the 150-word statement of belief? What option is given to the candidate that believes that, important as the issue of homosexuality might be, there are more foundational issues to be articulated in such an important personal statement?

Personally, I am way too much of an introvert to become a good politician. I don't have it in me to posture myself strategically in the process of self-advancement. In fact, I have an admiration for people who are able to do that in a way that does not compromise their integrity or humility of spirit. But that's not my gift. At the end of the day, I simply want to live in such a way that the whole kit and caboodle of my life--my sex, my money, my ambitions, my relationships, my priorities, my vocabulary--is subordinated to the Lordship of Jesus.

In a 150-word statement of belief, that's what I want people to hear about me. If it isn't enough, vote for the other guy (Art Vandelay). Or come and talk with me.

As much as I am humbled and honored by my district's support, if candidacy requires of us that we spend a good deal of time in the a vocabulary that inevitably leads to the idolatry of pigeonholing, then count me out. No trip to Texas is worth that!

Thanks, my friend, for helping us all to think about these issues. You're the man! Or, something like that.

Randy Roda said...

Art Vandelay...Isn't that guy a latex salesman? Vote #673 for G.C.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Eric - your point is well taken, and I agree with you; I also liked your written statement.

But the reality is that many (perhaps most) folks will be voting based on
1) name recognition and
2) sex.

We all know that to be true...right or wrong, it's the way it is...largely because extremists on both sides have MADE sex a defining issue.

There are several nominees for who the issue of sex is a major issue...perhaps THE major issue, yet, they don't openly mention it. Why? Are they ashamed of their position? Are they afraid that mentioning it would cost them votes? Is it then a political game rather than a spiritual exercise?

THAT is what seems disingenuous to me. I'd just prefer an open conversation rather than dishonesty. Let's get this issue out in the open and deal with it.

Jeff Vanderhoff said...

Between this post on sex and your previous post with the double entendre "Does Size Matter?" I'm beginning to think you've got a Freudian preoccupation with this issue! Do you have dreams where you are flying? :) Seriously, you have hit the nail on the head when you say that many (hopefully not all) people will vote based on this issue and name recognition. It is not the ideal that we hope for, but it is the reality with which we must contend until a better method can be established. I like the quote that Ed Saxman referenced in his bio (I think it's from the Koran) - "Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." I will vote based on how well a person can do that - putting God's interests and the interests of the church before their own, and what I know of a person's character and their approach to decision making. Meaning, I'll be voting for you, Keith!

Keith H. McIlwain said...

The thing is that the sex issue isn't a big issue for me at ALL. It's not something I deal with too often in my ministry. I have gay friends and have had gay parishioners; we are friends who disagree. I have friends engaged in HETEROsexual behavior that is inappropriate, and it's the same thing.

I just feel FORCED by both sides to deal with this issue. It's where we are as a denomination, and we've had precious little insight or leadership from the Council of Bishops.

And it's the politics of the issue which disturbs me. I'm not savvy enough to be a politician, and I guess that's a good thing.

I agree with you 100%, Jeff - we should vote for those most able to put God and the divine mission ahead of themselves and personal agendas.

Unknown said...

Keith, is that the same Steve Cordle that we knew from Westmont UMC when we were kids?

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Yes, indeedee; he started a new church about 10 years ago and has done a great job.

Randy Roda said...

Keith,I am still waiting for your official endorsement...

Unknown said...

Keith, you wrote the following, "I think it's a little disingenuous to dance around it. Say what you feel, support it, and move on. I hate all of this "cloak and dagger" stuff"

The use of veiled speech may be a result of how people get voted in. Whoever says the most popular things, gets the most votes. Right? (maybe I am too cynical with you).

I am teaching through the book of luke and just this week spoke on Luke 6; "Religion is a Pit with No Plumb". As I read your comment, one part of Jesus' teaching came to mind.

"“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way." (Luke 6:26, NASB95)

Is the connection clear?

Matt said...

I agree with Keith...Sex isn't the main issue, but unfortunately is it a hot button issue, and for many, the views of the delegates on sexuality is crucial. Will I vote for Tracy Merrick even though we disagree on the issue of homosexuality? Yep...still will, because for me, sexuality isn't the main issue. Yet, at the same time, I felt that I needed to be completely upfront about the issue so that people knew what I thought, but I very purposely listed it fourth, said very little about it, and encouraged the disciple making mission of the church. I guess I feel like we have to speak to our reality, even if it isn't what we wish it was.

I think that it'll be interesting to see a new generation of clergy come up for General Conference...The Eric Parks, Jim Walkers, Chris Livermore (although he isn't new, it still intrigues me).

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Joe...I think you're right. There's a certain danger in playing the political games in order to get votes.

Matt...I agree. I hope we have MORE Eric Parks going to Texas next year, and fewer members of the "old guard", God bless 'em.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Randy...sure, I'll endorse you, AND buy my latex from you.

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