This morning’s General Conference day began with beautiful worship, a powerful sermon from Bishop Christian Alsted, and spiritual music leadership from a Danish Gospel choir. With presiding chair Bishop Hope Morgan Ward leading the way, early business moved quickly and decisively. Then came – yes; again – consideration of Rule 44. For the third day in a row, everything ground to a halt. First came a motion to overrule the chair’s decision from the previous day that only a simple majority would be needed to pass the Rule, thus requiring a 2/3 majority in order to implement it. That passed by five votes. Then came points of order, a motion to resubmit Rule 44 to the Rules Committee to be brought forward again in four years. Then more points of order. Declarations that motions were out of order. Demands to be called on by the chair despite the rules of the Conference. People so confused even the Chair wasn’t sure whether people should be speaking for, against, which motion might or might not be on the floor.
Finally, a delegate for Northwest Katanga Conference stood and said, “I’m confused. We’re all confused.” Another point of order asked for prayer, which received applause (even though it was out of order, technically). An exhausted and exasperated Chair called for a short recess.
In the midst of all the speeches, in and out of order, a delegate from Western North Carolina stood and, speaking against the motion to refer Rule 44 back to the Rules Committee, noted that, while Robert’s Rules of Order were intended to bring a measure of order out of chaos, they could also be exploited to sow chaos. He noted that Rule 44, being a different way of discerning among the gathered delegates, offered something other than doing the same thing the same way, which seems only to bring the same results.
The reality is simple: What was supposed to be a simple, direct move either to adopt or not adopt was diverted toward confusion, which is never conducive either to trust or humility. The first is sadly lacking; the second is obviously lacking. It would seem that, as much as people seem to love to worship together, to hear prophetic calls to act as the Church, and to sing our faith as good United Methodists should, we aren’t willing to trust, we aren’t willing to surrender our agendas and preferences and demands to speak and desire to toss proceedings off the rails. This is what we’ve always done. Thus the result that we’re getting what we’ve always received.
I wonder if there’s anyone in that crowd of over 800 delegates, various Bishops, special guests, volunteers, and observers who might yet help make the General Conference see what it looks like to those outside. Just one small voice to remind us all we stand in judgment before a world we are trying to serve.