One of the sad things for me about the United Methodist General Conference was the rejection of Rule 44 last week, which would have offered an alternative way of talking about difficult and contentious issues like human sexuality without being bound to Roberts Rules or Order. It shouldn’t be a surprise that when we can’t even talk about what we need to talk about, that makes it kinda difficult to come up with a solution.
Even the debate about Rule 44 was hampered by parliamentary wrangling, such as when Dorothee Benz was ruled out of order for using the term LGBTQ during the debate and was compelled to forfeit the remainder of her speaking time. It seems bizarre to me that you can’t talk about what the procedure would be used for during a debate about whether to approve the procedure, but rules are rules. Which is precisely why we needed Rule 44 in the first place. Le sigh.
One frustrating thing about following this general conference from afar is the tendency to view people as issues. They are not. People are people. Treating them as debate points strips them of their humanity and robs the conversation of grace.
Of course, this treating people in need of love and respect as if they were issues to be resolved isn’t unique to general conference. We do it every day on Facebook, around the water cooler at work, and in our churches. Either that, or we choose to avoid talking about the issues altogether.
But then, it’s not really issues we’re avoiding; it’s people. Because people aren’t issues. And when we avoid difficult conversations, we are denying much needed grace to our brothers and sisters.
Which is why I think what we really need as a church is some sort of Rule 44 process at our local churches where we can talk about this. Where we can learn to respect each other even if our opinions vary. Where we can learn to offer grace and compassion to those in the margins. Where we will likely find out that our shared faith is much broader and more diverse than we ever realized.
And that’s a good thing.
Photo: Emily Saliers sings during a reception hosted by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Saliers is part of the Grammy Award winning Indigo Girls. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/