Virtual, Yes! Anarchy, No!

I am elated at the overwhelming response of bishops, and persons at every level, to the notion of a virtual General Conference.  I argued for the same months ago.  I am concerned, though, that the move toward a virtual meeting will become the occasion for the abrogation of rights through the creation of rules by unauthorized and unethical individuals.  We cannot brazenly disregard the laws of the church…even in a pandemic.

Critics of a virtual General Conference raised some months ago, two primary concerns:

  1. A virtual general conference is illegal because the Discipline requires that it meet in a specific kind of facility (therefore only “in person”).  A convention hall type building is always to be used, and the General Conference is not to be held in large athletic arenas. (Discipline, page 260, Kindle Locations 5917-5919).
  2. Overseas delegates should not be dealt with differently than anyone else.

With that in mind, we should should demand of the process that

  • A physical majority of delegates gather in a convention hall to establish a quorum and to adopt rules for the convention.
  • The Rules must include authorization for virtual participation of ANY delegate regardless to the annual conference they represent.
  • All sessions must be projected through a digital format for both delegates “in the room” and those who participate remotely.  ALL delegates should be watching through a device, so there is no less advantage to remote participants.
  • All voting must be done through the same application, whether the person is on location or remote.
  • All Committees must have digital/remote access for members.

In upcoming posts, I will suggest a few rules we should bend to make a “hybrid” general conference a greater success.  Nonetheless, I am afraid when we “overreach” choosing laws we keep and those we circumvent.  One of the great critiques we face is the way those who preside (clergy and lay) “rule” with bias rather than reason and without regard to the will of the body.

Let’s charge up those tablets and get ready for the 51st Session!

The Curse of Assessments

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (1 Corinthians 9:7, ESV)

Mandatory assessments are a part of our AME administrative culture.  While many administrators may see this approach as a blessing for consistent, sustainable funding, in actuality, it is a curse?  Assessing authority is misunderstood, overused and undermines the foundation of healthy stewardship and wise program development.  It creates a temptation for those may be blinded by greed or the  opportunity for personal enrichment.  When poor, connectional habits become poor, local congregational practice, we see rancor among the rank and file and a root cause for the exodus.

Many posts could follow on this general topic.  Let me offer in a summary manner:

Assessments would be less oppressive if we:

  • Recognize limitations on when a mandatory “assessment” may be used
  • Make clear who has assessing authority
  • Make the assessing process inclusive of greater participation by those who are assessed
  • Provide thorough explanations/education on the necessity/validity of the assessments
  • Make assessments fairly apportioned

At present, many congregations are over-assessed because their past strength is not their present reality. There is often a lack of empathy by those who collect/receive assessments.  “Give until it hurts,” is a sad, regressive statement that suggests abuse more than charity.  But the greatest argument against the abuse of assessing authority is:  it robs the people of their blessing!

God loves the cheerful giver!  Not the fearful giver trying to avoid Ministerial Efficiency or be elected to an office.  Not the Pharisee trying to impress.  Not the politician climbing the ladder rather than carrying the cross.

Some believe AMEs will not give without being assessed.  This is not true!  We are generous, responsive Christians when we are informed and trust the cause for which we are called upon to contribute.  We need a culture shift! We resist when we are told to “check your brain and your wallet at the door.”