Last week was a crazy week in the United Methodist world.  It was the week in which legislation moved from committees to the whole body  of the General Conference, which was being held in Tampa.  As usual, there were some hot topics that caused a fair amount of debate and consternation, and tempers flared on both sides.  When it was all said and done, a lot was said, and not a whole lot seemed like it got done.

As usual, one of the big conversations had to do with the wording in the Book of Discipline that the UMC “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider[s] this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161.f).  Two of the more influential pastors in larger United Methodist churches tried to pass through a change in the paragraph that would acknowledge the deep division of thought amongst United Methodists; however, it, and a similarly worded proposed change did not pass, much to the consternation of several delegates and observers.

As I was watching the proceedings via live streaming on the internet, I was slightly confused on a parliamentary point, so I tweeted the following: “What’s the point of taking something to a committee, having it voted down, and then bringing it up again? #gc2012 #seriousquestion”  I didn’t think the question was out of line.  I wasn’t intending on making a stand on the issue.  I was simply asking a question about why something that didn’t get passed through its committee was now being taken before the entire body.  It feels as though doing that neglects the work of the committee, and, quite frankly, causes a lot of redundant discussion.

In response to my question, somebody who I don’t know responded: “Justice is the point. When the comm. fails to hear God’s voice, we have to bring it to the whole body #gc2012 #gc12love.”  Clearly, this person and I are talking about two different things.  I was asking a simple procedural question; he took it to a whole different level.  Now, I will say that a friend of mine also responded and explained why this is done in a way that actually made sense (it’s a safeguard to ensure that there isn’t a committee stacked against a particular type of legislation – that makes sense).

Now, of course, when I get an answer like that out of left field, I’m not apt to just ignore it.  I’m one who is going to ask some questions in order to get some clarification – both of what I was originally intending, as well as the response that I received. So, here’s my response: “Why is the minority view God’s voice? (I’m not just speaking of the current discussion, but in all matters.)”  Now, keep in mind, I was asking a procedural question.  I wasn’t asking why this particular piece was coming before the General Conference.  So, given the response that this person originally gave me, I’m thinking that the minority view is somehow being equated with the voice of God in each instance. (SIDEBAR: I was truly amazed how often the Holy Spirit was prompting people on both sides of several different debates to spout their particular point of view as the correct point of view.  It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit was a divided on these issues as the body of General Confernce.  Go figure.)

Now, as if the conversation wasn’t weird enough already, here is the response that I received: “not the minority… The oppressed, excluded, and invisible #Iamnotincompatible #gc2012 #gc12love #donoharm”  So, apparently the numerically smaller point of view is the point of view of the oppressed, excluded and invisible.  As you can imagine, this is slightly confusing given my original question, but it is very insightful regarding my respondents perspective.  Clearly, this is a person who is taking the legislation that is being discussed very personally (notice the hashtag: I am not incompatible).

So, now I’m getting a clearer sense of where this person is coming from.  For me, it’s a legislative issue, for him it’s a personal issue.  So, in order to help clear the air and get him to understand my initial question, I extend a bit of an olive branch and respond: “I meant minority in a mathematical sense.”  Because, here’s the thing, I’m not going to get dragged into a Twitter fight with somebody I don’t know about something that I wasn’t even talking about in the first place.  So, I clarified my initial query.  To which he responds, “I don’t see a difference.”

Okay, seriously?  Apparently, he still doesn’t realize that I’m not talking about the petition at hand, but I’m talking about the legislative procedures that are taking place.  I’m a patient person, but I might also be a little stubborn.  So, to make perfectly clear the point that I was trying to make in the first place, I give it one last shot: “If I move to make Weds 4 blue shirts & it doesn’t pass 14-12, the 12 who agree w/ me are minority; why are they God’s voice?”  Now, I’m taking a completely mundane, non-controversial topic to get back to the original question that I had in the first place.  And, in the back of my mind, I’m hoping to help this person realize that he’s getting a little self-righteous in claiming to know the voice of God, especially in response to what I was trying to get at in the first place.  Of course, it was to no avail.  He simply replied with a curt “that’s not an accurate comparison and you know it. Thanks for the chat.”  Suddenly, I’m comparing blue shirt Wednesday to homosexuality, and it is inadequate.  Now, if I was talking about homosexuality in the first place, I would agree with him.  It’s a much more complex issue than whether or not we should wear blue shirts on Wednesdays.  But the whole time, he is assuming that I’m spouting off one ideological point of view, when I never even hint at where I stand.  I really was asking a procedural question.

But, in reality, that Twitter conversation shows a lot of the problems that rose during General Conference.  One group is saying something, another is responding by saying something completely different.  When we talk past one another like this, nothing gets solved.  All we show is that we are unwilling to address the differences in our views.  At the very least, I understood where this person was coming from, but that was not what I was talking about, and all attempts to bring him back to what I was talking about proved fruitless.

In order for the United Methodist Church to thrive as a denomination that truly focuses on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we are going to have to stop pushing our agendas and really begin to understand where the “other” side is coming from.  Arguments are never resolved when both sides stubbornly stick to their point of view without even being willing to listen to where the other is coming from.  And, yes, I know that I just ended two sentences with prepositions and that’s not good writing, but, really, if that’s what you are focusing on, then you just missed the point.

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