Yesterday, during the first day of General Conference, I was in a huge exhibit hall of the Oregon Convention Center that will be my home for large chunks of the next 10 days. Looking around realized that it was probably the most diverse group of people I had ever been a part of.
I joke that my suburb has plenty of diversity, we have tall people and short, young and old. And that’s pretty much where it ends. But yesterday the 1,100 or so of us were from around the world, with worship including snippets in perhaps a dozen languages. Places like Liberia, Russia, the Congo and the Philippines were all represented. That was the diversity that was easy to see.
But our diversity goes much deeper, which in one sense is part of the problem. We United Methodists have been United Methodists for 48 years, going back to The Merger in 1968. In his sermon yesterday during opening worship Bishop Warner Brown reminded us that in those 48 years we as a church have muddled through issues like ordaining women, the civil rights movement, colonialization in Africa and other issues.
At any point along that time line, we could have jettisoned a group or two. In my lifetime many large denominations have split, with conservative or liberal groups splitting off and forming their own group, so that all of “us” who agree won’t have to put up with “them” who don’t. Instead, we have chosen to stick together, valuing our connection over homogeneity.
As a result, we’re stuck together. We’re stuck listening to those who come from another place, those whose viewpoints are different from ours and finding a way that, by the end of this thing, we have a church we can all still be a part of.
Imagine if we had one political convention this summer, and the Trump folks and the Hilary folks and the Bernie folks all came together to nominate a candidate together. It would be chaos. Yeah, that’s pretty much General Conference.
Because I think we’re better as a church when we’re not all alike. There is a quote that says, “When two people agree, one of them is unnecessary.” That quote has been attributed to everyone from Henry Ford to Ezra Pound to Winston Churchill. So give credit for that to whomever you choose, but while this conference would go a lot easier if we all thought alike and came from the same background, then it would be a General Conference full of, well, me. Or you. Or Us. Or Them.
All of those diverse delegates coming together and trying to present a unified, comprehensive front is going to be a huge pain in my backside until next Friday. But it’s also who we are there is great value in all of those backgrounds (although I’m not completely convinced about the guy who brought his own copy of Roberts Rules of Order).
There are a number of legislative proposals that would allow us to not all be yoked together, to allow some of the Thems to split off from the Usses that think differently. Each of these proposals would make the next meeting like this way easier to get stuff accomplished. But I oppose each of these, because it would not make it better, just easier.
So we’re stuck in a system where we think differently and have to get along. And I’m all in favor of it.