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In my observer duties, I’ve been tracking legislation in the Church and Society A legislative committee, or, as a dear colleague of mine dubbed it, the “Church and Socialism committee.” My subcommittee has devoted itself to “world” issues involving war, the Middle East (especially Israel and Palestine), immigration, and other various international policies. Since CS-A boasts one of the most liberal/revisionist make-ups, I really was not too surprised nor too upset about the legislation decisions that the subcommittees made. All is fair in love and parliamentary procedure.
My patience was tried as I watched a General Board of Global Ministries representative full-on tout a rather sloppy, slanted resolution condemning Israel in particular while outright ham-stringing a well-crafted petition denouncing the terrorist group Hamas. Similar inconsistencies occurred more than once. GBGM wants to be setting its own agenda for foreign affairs (and surprisingly little evangelism in the Middle East, it would seem), not the wider church of lay and clergy representatives. But what could I expect from such a vested interest? These folks are paid for lobbying, advocating, and making political statements. I really was not too surprised with these sorts of things. He was called upon through due procedure to state GBGM’s position, and I respect the rule of law.
Unfortunately, one element really bugged me. At each end of the table, two outspokenly progressive delegates kept taking direct cues from General Board of Church and Society representatives. When various amendments were proposed by others or petitions came up for adoption, these two delegates would look to the assistant general secretary for approval or disapproval—generally a vigorous nod or shake of the head and whispered affirmative or negative. It was as if these two committee members were the mouthpieces of the GBCS.
Look, I know we’re excited here; I’ve rolled my eyes, sighed, or nodded on occasion after a motion passes. Granted, GBCS are the supposed “experts” on all matters societal, though whether their positions match the consensus of the UMC remains incredibly dubious. On the other hand, we are all still observers who are explicitly forbidden to communicate with delegates unless called upon.
Let us not be naive here. GBCS has a vested interest to get their resolutions passed with some very particular wording and choice vocabulary. In an era when the American presence of United Methodists is fading and mainstream Protestantism is seen as mainly irrelevant beyond a moral rubber stamp for narrowly liberal political decisions, the GBCS needs to making work for itself to justify its existence while simultaneously creating church law that endorses the board’s controversial public stances. I don’t care if these ecclesiastical spokespeople rule the public witness roost; they still must submit to the authority of law and good order.