Engaging Conflict at General Conference

GC2016-logo-color-hi-resIt is 2016 and we are at that time in the rhythm of our life as United Methodists – convening the quadrennial (every four year) General Conference – the gathering of United Methodists from throughout our worldwide connection to consider matters related to our witness and ministry in and with the world. United Methodists are a diverse people with different experiences of faith and witness to Jesus Christ in this world.

The UMC General Conference can be a place of inspiration and exhilarating celebration through worship and prayer and interactions with persons throughout our connection. It can also be a place of deep pain and an awareness of the fractures within the Body of Christ. I am mindful of the ways in which we as United Methodists can experience our drastically divergent world viewing, convictions and experiences as negative conflict and that which tends toward “winners and losers”.

One person’s experience describes.

“The confrontational nature of some of the conversations in my Legislative Committee at the last General Conference left me wounded and discouraged. I even considered leaving this Church I love. Sometimes it feels that instead of a time of searching together for God’s will, General Conference is a blood sport where there will always be winners and losers.” (Advanced Daily Christian Advocate, page 99, Delegate Handbook).

How do we engage when it seems as though we are in deep conflict, even battling one another?

During a previous General Conference, a delegate shared with me an experience with a colleague delegate during an interruption in General Conference proceedings related to a witness about changing the Disciplinary paragraphs concerning homosexuality. As the Conference recessed their business, persons giving witness remained standing and surrounding the tables where the delegates were seated. It was disconcerting to some of the delegates. One colleague delegate turned to the neighboring delegate and said, “Why are they doing that?” The other delegate replied, “I don’t know. Let’s ask them.” Both delegates proceeded to approach those standing and soon after introductions and conversations, there were several that were huddling in prayer together.

Engage conflict – it is a key principle for community and, as David Anderson Hooker writes, “(t)aking time to learn about the constellation of information, ideas and experiences that produce distinct differences might allow us to learn and grow.”

With God’s help, let us help one another engage.

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