By Bart Gingerich
Imagine a dystopian landscape, where totalitarian overlords rule church polity/the world with an iron fist. They are called….”The Monitors.” Somehow, the GCORR/GCOSROW (General Commission on Religion and Race/General Commission on the Status and Role of Women) monitoring force has accrued magnificent power over the quadrennials. While they started out by merely eying the demographics of committees and subcommittees during General Conference, they eventually became mad with domination (perhaps in cahoots with a set-aside super-bishop?). Out of the tradition of Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury, I present to you my latest contribution to social futurist literature. I haven’t really decided if there’s going to be some equivalent to soma or New Speak or even H. G. Wells-esque tripods from Mars. I haven’t even come up with a strong plotline, but it’s going to be great. My fine novella will appeal to revisionists and orthodox United Methodists alike, who both expressed some discomfort with the presence of the committee monitors.
Yes, IRD researchers exhibit a potent combination of geekiness and eccentricity, but a recent article on the General Conference practically FORCED me to produce this invention. It touted the “ministry of monitoring,” hoping to ease the annoyance of observers and delegates. Propaganda for an insidious plot of ascendancy, I say! (That was a joke, folks). However, the monitors’ role does seem humorously minimal. They simply announce the racial/gender/age distribution of groups and complain that extraverts are talking while introverts are not. Sometimes this exhibits Ameri-centric politically correct multiculturalism, but it also helps remind participants about the global nature of the UMC.
One situation does strike me as revealing a dual impotence and silliness of the GCORR/GCOSROW monitoring project. In Church and Society, the committee had problems knowing and following the parliamentary rules of order. Almost every other delegate declaration was point of order or question regarding the rules. Often, delegates didn’t know what they were voting on; calls for physical counts and recounts became common. Several days into the struggle, a monitor submitted his report to the entire committee. He scolded them for their “mistrust” of the chairperson of the committee. He asserted that delegates had to submit to her decisions and judgments regarding the rules. Recounts, he intimated, were the result of resentful suspicion. He also contended that these procedural holdups were slowing the legislative process. He praised the virtues of pumping out petitions and resolutions at a rapid pace. Thus, the monitor exercised his primary (perhaps only?) authoritative power: browbeating. I’m guessing if there would be a definable abuse, GCORR/GCOSROW could help initiate an investigation that could end up with some enforcement. But right now, sharing observations and poo-pooing delegates seems about the only substantial role for the “ministry of monitoring” (now I want to incorporate Harry Potter elements into my novel).
We need to investigate the merits of such scolding. It’s nice to see a witness for righteousness and fairness. But let’s be honest: exercising and using the resources of procedural order does NOT mean that there is a vast mistrust within the ranks. As one young delegate remarked, the rules are there to protect minority voices within a body. The confusing enforcement and explanation of what was happening on the floor made counts and recounts necessary. In the church (as in any other branch of human life), the conditions need to be above board as possible. Christians are called to be above reproach. Let us not impugn another’s character because he looks to the rule of law rather than the rule of men. Let us also remember that the most efficient form of government is a tyranny.
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