30 April 2008

Disappointing news from UMC General Conference

Bear with me on the technical procedural language here. This afternoon, the quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to adopt the alternate minority report from the Church & Society 2 Committee regarding Paragraph 161G of the Book of Discipline. In short, what this means is that the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline retains the language that calls the practice of homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching". The vote was 55% to 45%.

The alternative report (which was the majority coming out of Committee) would have changed the language of that Paragraph to say that faithful United Methodists have genuine disagreements about this issue, and that the Church would continue to seek faithful responses and insights, and would have deleted that language about being incompatible with Christian teaching. Because the minority report was adopted, the majority was not voted on.

The newly adopted language also removes some of the prior language that recognized our "limited understanding" of the "complex gift" of sexuality. It also added the words "monogamous, heterosexual" to the marriage covenant.

I'm sure others will have more studied commentary on this in the days to come, but my take on it is that the Conference has voted to adopt a statement on human sexuality that is at least as repressive, if not more so, than the prior statement. The alternative would have been to say that faithful Christians agree to disagree. 

Count me disappointed. 

28 April 2008

Why not, indeed!

Remember the end of my previous rant where I suggested that perhaps “there will be a backlash against the conservative agenda, and miracles of inclusion and grace will occur at this year’s General Conference”? Well, guess what? The General Conference voted on the new members of the Judicial Council today (again, that’s the UMC’s version of the Supreme Court). The GC elected candidates supported by progressive groups such as the Reconciling Ministries Network, thereby replacing several conservative Council members who were up for re-election. It should also be noted that these new members were on a slate of candidates nominated by the Council of Bishops (which is to say, the Council of Bishops selected moderates/progressives for its nominees).

In other encouraging news from Fort Worth, the committee studying Paragraph 161G of the Book of Discipline - that being the section on “Human Sexuality” – has passed by a vote of 39 to 26 a new version of said Paragraph, which now goes to the plenary session of GC. While the new language is not yet what I might want it to be, it’s a very significant step forward. Most strikingly, the proposed new Paragraph would REMOVE the previous language describing “the practice of homosexuality” as being “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and would instead state the following:

We know that all are God's children and of sacred worth; yet we have been, and remain, divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality. Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness. We continue to reason and pray together with faith and hope that the Holy Spirit will soon bring reconciliation to our community of faith. The fire in our disagreements points to a deeper human mystery than we knew. We believe that the Spirit has brought our collective conscience to acknowledge this mystery more honestly, and to make our claims with greater humility before God and our neighbors. We therefore ask the Church, United Methodist and others, and the world, to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices until the Spirit leads us to a new insight. In the meantime, let us seek to welcome, know, forgive, and love one another as Christ has accepted us, that God may be glorified through everything in our lives.

I predict some serious fireworks on the floor of the general session once this comes up for a vote. Nevertheless, I see these developments as a serious movement of the Spirit among the GC delegates. Continue to keep them in your prayers in the days ahead.

26 April 2008

Political bribery, sure, but in the church?

OK, this is going to be a rant, with PG-13 language advisory and all that jazz. This is one of those news stories that got me so incensed I was literally shaking with rage (that usually occurs with respect to something the church has done, but occasionally I get it from the Bush Administration also). It has to do with the quadrennial United Methodist General Conference, so if you’re not interested in the United Methodist Church I’ll understand if you tune out now, but if you’re at all interested in the power struggles of the religiously inclined, you can keep reading.

So here’s the basic story: The Renewal and Reform Coalition, basically the conglomerate group of the conservative wing of the UMC (I’ll refrain from calling them “christo-fascists” for now), gave pre-paid cell phones to about 150 delegates from Africa and the Philippines as a “no-strings-attached” gift. Fine so far? Well, the phones were accompanied by a letter inviting delegates to a breakfast where they could have "fellowship with other like-minded delegates," and receive "information about the important issues that are coming before the conference." The letter concluded with a recommended slate of candidates for Judicial Council, essentially the UMC’s Supreme Court.

Let me go over that again. The phones are a “no-strings” gift, but they come with an endorsed slate of candidates for Judicial Council. Who do these people think they’re fooling? I suppose it would have been too crass simply to staple a $100 bill to the letter, so they sent along cell phones instead. Just to flesh out the argument, imagine that they had included a $100 bill instead of a pre-paid cell phone, and imagine you’re a delegate receiving this package. So in one hand you’ve got a list of candidates, and in the other hand you’ve got Benjamin Franklin staring at you. Remember, there are no strings attached to Benjamin. Right? Just because he comes with a list of recommended votes doesn’t mean there are any strings attached…maybe just a paper clip, but no strings.

Give me a freaking break! Who the heck is supposed to believe this horse manure? (That was my PG-13 language, and trust me, it’s much more R-rated in the original version.) If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a freaking duck! This arrangement is a walking, quacking bribe. That’s right, it’s a BRIBE, dirty payola that even secular politics wouldn’t tolerate.

Frankly, I think that every delegate to the UMC’s General Conference who was involved with this bribery scheme should surrender his or her credentials out of shame and embarrassment and repentance. Since that’s not going to happen, the Conference should adopt a resolution condemning this practice and reprimanding all those involved. In a classic belated closing of the barn door, the General Conference did vote today to establish an Ethics Committee for future General Conferences, since at present there’s no body where one can register an official complaint about a practice such as this one. Nice work for 2012, but it doesn’t help much for now.

My only hope (and I think it’s a legit one) is that the assembled delegates will be so thoroughly appalled by this treacherous, shameless act that there will be a backlash against the conservative agenda, and miracles of inclusion and grace will occur at this year’s General Conference. Hey, why not?

More shameless self-promotion

Recall the op-ed piece I referenced in my previous post, and then go check out my response via a letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (scroll down a bit to get to mine). Basically, I thought that Merritt was somewhat dismissive in his treatment of the "social issues" such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, human rights and peace with justice. He was shocked that self-identified Christians might deign to vote for the non-conservative-identified candidate, and figured that if only the Democrats could come around on abortion and gay marriage, they might attract a large bloc of Christian voters. I could go on a bit about these issues, but I have covered them in the past, and besides, I have another rant I need to compose and post forthwith.

By the way, despite all of my previously published letters in the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, et al., this is actually the first letter that my hometown newspaper has accepted for publication. Perhaps it's because I signed this one as the Lay Leader of my church? Who knows...just glad I finally broke through...

22 April 2008

And another thing...

Check out this op-ed piece in last Saturday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wherein the spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative notes that some younger evangelicals are actually turning away from the Republican Party (horrors!) and are voting Democratic (anathema!). While he does make a few good points and he is helping bring the Baptists around to the issue of environmental stewardship, Mr. Merritt's arguments still ring a bit flat to my ear. 

Stay tuned for my brief response, which hopefully will be published in said newspaper soon - once that happens, I'll opine more long-windedly here.

PA redux

OK, so it looks like I was off by about 2%, as the current results have Clinton winning 55% to 45%. However, I may wind up being right about how close the actual delegate tally will be - we'll have to wait a while to see how those come out. In any event, it's clear that this primary fight will continue for quite some time - that is, assuming Clinton can continue to receive the requisite funding. One opinion I've read recently suggests that Obama may have lost the battle but won the war by forcing Clinton to severely deplete her campaign's resources. Let's see how things go in Indiana next - and North Carolina too, although Obama ought to win that state handily.

21 April 2008

Quick PA prediction(s)

Because everyone else is doing it, I figured it would make sense for me to toss my free predictions (and remember that you get what you pay for) for Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary. 

In case you've been living on the dark side of the moon the last few weeks, Clinton and Obama have been going at each other with increasing intensity, having nothing else to do since there hasn't been a primary in six weeks. Pennsylvania has the demographics that should favor Clinton, and thus the expectation is that she will win the primary. The real question, however, is which of the two candidates will do better than expected? The current average of polls has Clinton up by about 6%. Most observers contend that she needs to win by about that much in order to maintain the status quo. If Clinton wins by a double digit margin, she really upends the state of the race, and we'll probably see the two of them slug it out all the way to the convention. If, on the other hand, Obama gets to within 3% or 4% of Clinton, we will see increasing movement of the superdelegates to his side, and increasing pressure on Clinton to consider withdrawing. And of course, if Obama somehow upsets Clinton and wins Pennsylvania outright, you can stick a fork in her campaign.

So what will happen? I think that as has happened in the past, Obama will lose a couple of percentage points off of what the polls tell us (due, perhaps, to latent racism that voters won't disclose to pollsters), and thus Clinton will win by 7% or 8%. However, Obama will come very close in the delegate count because of how the delegates are apportioned by district, and thus will lose very little ground in the overall delegate count. Unfortunately, this means no resolution in the near term, and we continue on with what has become an increasingly silly campaign.

Check back in Wednesday for further analysis, and feel free to make fun of how wrong my predictions turn out to be!

17 April 2008

And also...

Oh yeah, and I'm pondering/ruminating/beginning to work on a book proposal. Currently it could go one of two ways - either as a straight-up spiritual guidebook, or as a spiritual memoir with some more didactic elements included for good measure. Either way, the gist of it will be something befitting this title:

The One Theory: An East/West Spirituality for the Quantum Age

More to come...

16 April 2008

No really, I'm here!

Apologies again for my absence. I was away at various beaches recharging the batteries, and since I've been back I've been in the middle of an intense workload (still in it, in fact, through tomorrow - anyone want to join me for a wine tasting Thursday evening to put the week behind me?). However, I had to share this tidbit with you. My comments? OMGWTF!! Watch and be amazed...