Normally I am not a defender of the status quo. I strongly believe most things could be better. I also am not usually a defender of some golden glorious past that allegedly happened and that we should try to recapture. While I love history, I try not to value or preserve anything simply because one could argue it is historical.
When I hear people arguing interpretations of the United States constitution that rely on the intent of the founding fathers, I want to gag a little. Why should we try to channel the will or intention of dead people? Human thought did not reach its apex in the 18th century. I strongly believe we need to use the inherent built-in flexibility of the United States constitution to keep it relevant in the 21st century.
So I find it a bit strange that I feel a need to stand up for the United Methodist Book of Discipline and particularly our United Methodist constitution. I do not think either is perfect. They are works in progress. Yet the constitution does try to preserve, perhaps in a flawed way, some of our inherent values as a denomination. The Judicial Council’s job is to make sure we live up to the rules we set for ourselves. We may not like the rules, but they are what we agreed to. It is not the Judicial Council’s fault or problem if some now find the rules inconvenient
A veteran lay delegate to General Conference, Joe Whittemore, writes, in the United Methodist Reporter that the Judicial Council needs a change of worldview. He attacks the Judicial Council’s understanding of the Book of Discipline and constitution. From his perspective, they are interpreting it from the wrong point of view.
He justifies this contention in several ways. Mr. Whittemore notes how many people voted for the reforms at General Conference. He mentions the
obscene large amount of money the bishops spent on outside consultants to devise these reforms. Mr. Whittemore then makes an interesting, though inane, analogy to a recent Supreme Count decision. Using that analogy he then concludes with the idea that it is the Judicial Council’s role to try and save legislation from unconstitutionality.
I do agree that there needs to be a change in worldview, but the Judicial Council is not the problem. The problem lies with our focus on leadership. At the heart of Whittemore’s commentary is expediency, which I believe is the lifeblood of leadership. Expediency in leadership asks why can’t we just empower the right people to make the
expedient difficult choices to shore up the bottom line?
What we need than anything is to ask the question who is God calling us to be? The “right people” are not going to lead us to the promised land. There is no salvation in leadership. Our hope cannot rest on us.
Again and again, through prophets and people, through leaders in faith, and in the ordering of common life, you have established your rule as Shepherd, calling, caring, culling, and bidding us to follow.
Again and again, we turned from your way of leading, to establish ourselves as leaders for our own sake, monarch, despots, generals, chief priests, and kings, distorting the gift of community into a commodity to be used for the benefit of those who rule.
I know the people who were contending for the changes passed at General Conference mean well. Undoubtedly they see themselves as faith leaders. They want to solve the problems they see. The problem is that leadership will not solve the church’s woes. It is possible that might bring some order to the chaos, clean some of the mess of ministry, but it is also possible that their focus on leadership will lead us in the wrong direction.
Our shepherd is Jesus. We are his followers. He is our leader. Leadership should not be our mantra. I believe we need to focus on discernment. How are we called to follow Jesus? How do we best invite others to join us in following? How are we being called to be the church in our various contexts as a connection?
Instead of blaming the Judicial Council, ineffective pastors, the United Methodist constitution, or whoever or whatever else seems to be standing in the way of vitality, we need to pray, dream, talk, hope, and love. Now is the time to discern a vision of how we are being called to be the church. Now is the time for people called United Methodists to share visions, dreams, and ways forward. Instead of worrying about success, let us be concerned with faithfulness. Perhaps in the midst of our discernment we might just get a heavenly view that we can live into.