Long Live the Zombie Church? #CallToAction

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One of my friends sat in the General Administration committee this past week, which is the committee responsible for the bulk of the Call To Action legislation (the global church restructuring). He emailed out his reflections that I’m posting below with permission. This is from a young clergyperson in the North Central Jurisdiction.

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I walked around a little dazed last night after the conclusion of the General Administrative legislative section. Working with the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, I had sat through each and every moment of the committee’s work, including the structure sub-committee. I watched how despite all of the pressure brought by the Connectional Table leadership and the Council of Bishops, the restructuring proposal in the end could only get 25 votes (to prevent substitution). After hours of pain staking committee work, after a successful melding of Plan B with principals of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) plan, I had had real hope that we would adopt a new way of organizing that provided for more accountability while greatly increasing the influence of the Central Conferences in the life of the church.

Then the last two hours happened. Admittedly, it was somewhat insane to have to present the amended restructuring plan to the full committee with only 2 hours left. But, honestly, it seemed few were even willing to listen to the work that had been done. The first motion was simply to ignore all the committee work and to revert to plan B. Not to understand better, not to tweak, but simply to dismiss. Then finally, the plan for which so much work was given died a parliamentary death.

Suddenly, the Connectional Table machine whirred back into life. They sprang forth with new handouts, new graphs and charts. A powerpoint presentation the just happened to be available with 30 seconds notice. I suppose one could argue it was resurrection, but I would argue it was a Zombie that just wouldn’t die. Indeed by the end of the night, it was ruled that the plan was indeed dead, always dead, we were just confused by parliamentary jujitsu and the still warm, twitching carcass of the plan.

As I sat there, angry by the events, someone behind asked just what did I have against the “new” Call to Action plan. To be honest, in those emotional moments I couldn’t give her much of an answer. I was more fixated on the whole winning and losing aspect of the debate. I was just a little stunned.

Having had a night to sleep and meditate on all that happened, I’m better able to articulate why the Call to Action reform plan leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth. I simply have a fundamentally different model of leadership then that proposed by the Connectional Table.

Let’s look at the process: when it came to restructuring the church, the Connectional Table folks did attempt to listen. I believe that is what they were trying to do with the mounds of research presented. Having listened in some fashion, a smaller group went and crafted a proposal that put real power in the hands of few. They saw this as a feature- not a bug. The church wasn’t moving forward because power, the ability to change course, was too spread out. So power needed to be consolidated. So they formed a plan. And they started the PR. They talked at us constantly about how great the proposal was. [Editor’s note: the term “talked at us” is completely appropriate and not a typo]

Many didn’t quite buy the PR and sought to put their own plan together. So a new MFSA plan emerged and later a “Plan B” came forward. Each represented a reaction to the crisis at hand, but each reflected different values. Behind the scenes, Plan B and MFSA entered into serious negotiations to try and find common ground. Much was accomplished. The few areas of disagreement (representation of Central Conferences, independence of monitoring functions, Connectional Table) were left to work out in the committee. The authors of both plans listened, sat at the table and sought to find common ground. The Connectional Table folks, however, would have none of that. They simply had no desire to negotiate. They were too busy putting together the flashy presentations and twisting arms to sit down at the table and really try and find common ground. Sure, they tweaked their plan based on the blowback of their PR blitz, but they never wanted to offer anyone else a seat at the table.

After losing a key vote, the Connectional Table folks simply checked out. Their three delegates who sat on the subcommittee abstained from nearly every vote. Why bother to try and legitimately work to perfect this plan? After all, they were working behind the scenes to craft their own. Why sit at the table of the sub-committee, one with people from each plan at the table, one with six central conference members, one with three US ethnic minorities, to try and get us on the right path? Because that’s simply not the way they do leadership. Leadership, for the CT, is working out the details in a smoke filled room rather than at a public table where all forms of diversity are welcome. Leadership, for them, is behind the scenes crafting rather than inviting all to the table. Leadership, for them, is worrying far more about the flashy presentation than true dialogue and consensus building.

So, in an epic night of parliamentary intrigue, all of the plans died. The CT plan. The Plan B. The MFSA plan. The perfected Plan B. Dead. Buried. Destroyed.

Sure, some things are going to be resurrected on the floor next week. Some zombie plan is going to come and try to rule over us all. The CT may indeed get their plan through. And if they do, we’ll be in a church largely of their making.

  • One where a powerful few will listen, but ultimately they’ll decide.
  • One where a powerful few will talk at you, but not with you.
  • One where only a powerful few are welcome at the table; the rest of us just will have to anxiously wait to be told what is good for us.

This is the church I believe they want. It may indeed be the church we get. But please don’t tell me its a church filled with life.

Long live the zombie church. Perhaps only Christ can bring resurrection to it now.

Jared Littleton is a provisional elder in the East Ohio conference. He is working at General Conference as a legislative monitor for the Love Your Neighbor Coalition. He is hoping that his mild concerns with the Connectional Table (that his bishop chairs) doesn’t make his next appointment in Siberia. :-)

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Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. says

    There are a lot of struggles going on with the church. Organizing events and planning programs often seems to take precedent over the mission we have been given. It is sad that many churches lose sight of what their focus should be and get lost in all sorts of issues that are of secondary importance (or less). The church is ever, only, always about Jesus. It’s not until that becomes our mission and focus that the life of the church will be fully restored.

    Interesting thoughts, zombies, in church. There’s a book by that name, you can find it on Amazon: Zombie Church. Maybe it would be helpful in dealing with your current frustrations.

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