Last week, I recommend a piece by Rev. Darryl Stephens on who really has a say at General Conference. This week, I'd like to recommend a follow-up piece by Rev. Stephens that provides a theological assessment of how decisions are made at General Conference and more broadly within the denomination. He identifies a Methodist productive tension between democracy and grace, but argues that for Wesley grace was a more important aspect of conferencing than democracy. Rev. Stephens then calls for an approach to Methodist conferencing that emphasizes grace and the important role diversity has in helping us build each other up.
One of the things I appreciate about about Rev. Stephens' writings along with such other stories about the upcoming General Conference as those noting debates about if and how to use holy conferencing, how to ensure African voices are heard, and the role of gender in General Conference is that they highlight that one of the biggest issues related to General Conference this year is not one of the major legislative pieces. How and by whom decisions are made at General Conference has emerged as an issue separate from the specific policies up for debate. This debate about decision-making reflects, I think, tensions within the church related to changes in membership trends, changes in wider society, and the denomination's continued efforts to live into its reality as a global or international denomination. Such tensions are inevitable given these set of factors. Their resolution, however, is not foregone. Therefore, let us heed Rev. Stephens' injunction to engage in the gracious work of building up each other as disciples of Jesus Christ as we seek to address these tensions.