Just Say No

My copy of the 2008 Book of Discipline arrived recently. If you buy the Book of Resolutions with the Discipline, it’s only $10 more for the combo pack, so I thought what the hey. I splurged, and what a bargain it turned out to be. In the Book of Resolutions you get 1084 pages of the United Methodist Church telling you what you (and many cases Congress) should do about everything from East Timor (don’t know where that is? Look it up) to Smithfield Hams (which are absolutely yummy, BTW). That’s not to say that it is all politics. There are six resolutions (5 of 1084 pages) on spirituality. There’s even one resolution opposing the Gideons – you know, the nice gentlemen who donate their time and money to put Bibles in the hands of those who need them.

How could you possibly be a Christian without this book?

Those of you who aren’t part of the United Methodist family may not know what I’m talking about. Let me illustrate.

The book on the left is the Holy Bible. It’s really a library of sorts. Within its covers are 66 books (39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New) that took shape over a 2000 year history and constitute God’s written revelation to humankind. Kinda puny compared to the Book of Resolutions, though, isn’t it.

The book on the right is the United Methodist Book of Discipline. This is our book of church law. Most of its pages are dedicated to describing how the various echelons of our church (including our orders of ministry and our boards and agencies) are organized and operate. It’s a little wordy in places – a good bit of blah-blah-blah – but every organization needs structure, and we have it coming out the wazoo. We are organized, in fact, pretty much like the U.S. Government. Our General Conference is our legislative branch that meets once every four years.

The really fat book in the center, then, is the Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, which is also a product of the once-every-four-years meeting of General Conference. Not content to spend two weeks revising the bureaucratic legalese of the Book of Discipline which tells the church what to do, the delegates to General Conference also spend their limited time debating and voting on what government, business and various other secular institutions should do. They consider thousands of proposed resolutions, give each a few minutes consideration based on limited facts presented by proponents of the resolution, and then take a vote. A simple majority of the several hundred delegates makes the resolution the official position of the 12 million United Methodists world-wide.

The people who draft these resolutions surely must want you to know they exist, as must the delegates who voted for them. So here they are for all the world to see. This is part of what you get when you decide to become a United Methodist. I showed the book to some of my non-United Methodist friends. I thought it might be a great recruiting tool. It turns out, not so so much. More on that on another occasion.

You probably have gathered that, at best, I think this is a silly waste of time. At worst, it is a grave cooperation with forces of evil, but the silly waste of time is bad enough. There’s a lot that I agree with in the Book of Resolutions, and some things that I deplore. But even if I agreed with ALL of it, I would still think it was a very bad idea.

The volume and direction of these resolutions tells me that the General Conference, when it meets, is focusing on the wrong things. The most important job for church leaders is to lead the church. It’s not as if we’re doing such a bang-up job running our own affairs that we should be telling the rest of the world how to run theirs.

The Book of Resolutions grows fatter every quadrennium. It now dwarfs the Book of Discipline, which is itself quite a piece of bloatwear. It dwafts my non-thinline, normal print Bible, too. It’s far too big; its very appearance is a joke!

At least now there is a rule that resolutions are dropped after 8 years unless they are readopted, but that’s not enough. At the General Church level, we are addicted to political pontificating, infatuated with our own opinions, and delusional with the conceit of human wisdom masquerading as the wisdom of God. The addiction is contributing to the destruction of the church and harming our ability to execute our mission in the world. Delegates, please, next time, just say no.