Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Global UMC structure and the run-up to 2016

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

It has become a common trope in American politics to bewail how soon in advance people's attention turns to upcoming presidential elections.  Though the 2016 presidential election is nearly three years away, speculation has already begun about the prospects of Hilary Clinton, Chris Christie, and others.  The United Methodist Church may be displaying an equivalent focus on future events, as the amount of attention to General Conference 2016 increases, even though that event is over two and a half years away.  Hardly done with one presidential election or General Conference, we rush on to begin thinking about the next.

That rush to focus on the next General Conference has not earned the same amount of condemnation by pundits that our early fascination with the presidential election has.  Indeed, there may be reasons why this early focus on the next General Conference may be productive, unlike speculations about the 2016 presidential race.  If that early focus helps the UMC continue to dialogue about important issues affecting the connection and allows consensus to develop for solutions to those issues, it may well be a good thing.  Last year's General Conference shows that last-minute negotiations are not a successful way to arrive at large-scale church reform.  If major reform proposals had insufficient support after a year of prior discussion, perhaps three years worth of conversation and negotiation is a better way to go.

One of the issues that's sure to be up for debate when General Conference does meet again in 2016 is the world-wide nature of the church and how that nature is embodied in concrete structural and organizational forms.  That issue has been one of debate for the past couple of General Conferences, without major reforms having yet been approved.  Some minor changes were approved at General Conference 2012, and if you need a reminder of what those are, you can read about them here.  The Connectional Table has already begun discussing a variety of issues related to the global church in advance of General Conference 2016, as reported by UMNS.

If, though, the point of beginning discussions about GC2016 years in advance is to allow for fuller conversation around and greater support of proposals, these conversations about the global nature of the church cannot be confined to the Connectional Table.  We as United Methodists must all be praying, thinking, and talking about how the Spirit is leading us to structure our global common life together for the sake of ministry and justice.  One of the goals of this blog is to provide a forum to do just that, but I hope that you will seek out and find other means for conversation as well.  Our ability to answer the Spirit's calling in 2016 may depend on it.

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