March 22nd, 2015


Vote for me?

With some trepidation, I have offered myself for election as a clergy delegate to the 2016 United Methodist General and/or North Central Jurisdictional Conference. I have no great expectations in that regard, but we’ll see how it goes. I was asked recently to describe my background and experiences that might fit me for the task. I responded something like this.

Most people in the Indiana Conference know me as the Scouting guy. I have been involved in UM Scouting Ministry for over thirty years. Last quadrennium, I was the President of the National Association of United Methodist Scouters (NAUMS), which at that time made me also a member of the Board of Directors of the General Commission on United Methodist Men (GCUMM). Which means, I have seen the sausage being made, and I can tell you it ain’t pretty. And while I had always thought of the folks at GCUMM as more generally favorable to conservative/evangelical/orthodox views than most other general agencies, when you get right down to it, GCUMM is as corrupt as any of the other agencies. They will sell you out in a heartbeat to preserve their treehouse.

As for my general outlook on United Methodism, I remember that when I graduated from seminary some time back in the Jurassic, I looked around and realized that I had a different set of concerns from many other Annual Conference members. Not wishing to be like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs – that is, not wishing to be in perpetual conflict with other clergy and lay members of the Conference – I decided that I would take as my special province the defense of Nicene Christology. Nobody much was talking about dogma back then; the evangelicals were more interested in being “spiritual” than in creedal definitions, and the liberals who dominated Conference business were more interested in nuclear freezes and saving the whales. I figured I could spend my entire career in peace, since nobody would ever attack my isolated post.

How wrong I was. Within fifteen years, we were as a denomination involved in re-imagining God. Suddenly, everybody was talking about the nature of God, and I found myself with no place to back up to. I was already standing on the brink of the “last ditch” I had volunteered to die defending. I remember particularly how uncomfortable it was to be sitting among my clergy colleagues at a lunch gathering one time, and having a leading pastor (now a bishop) say to me, “Oh, come on, Art, you don’t think there are any of our people who don’t believe in God, do you?” And I had to swallow very hard and say, “Yes, I do.” Ever since, I have increasingly found myself in Tevye’s position – on both moral and metaphysical grounds – trying to get along with people but having to say to those who want me to go along with them, “On the other hand . . . No. There is no other hand.”

There are lots of things I would like to see The United Methodist Church do – especially as regards Scouting Ministry and lifting up and empowering the Central Conferences -- but I’m afraid this General Conference will be dominated by the things I want The UMC not to do. That’s not because I am a generally negative person, but because some of the things we are being asked to go along with must be answered with a polite but emphatic No.