I woke up this past Saturday morning with a leg cramp – a Charlie horse in my right calf. I know the pain will be with me for a few days. All this after spending a week at Annual Conference, the yearly meeting that United Methodist ministers and some lay members gather for. We worship together, make policy, pass resolutions and approve a budget for our work together.
My favorite parts of Annual Conference are seeing friends, some of who I only see at this annual event, and worship – especially the ordination service. For the past few years my son (who turns 24 this month) has also attended and I really enjoy having time with him. I serve as the parliamentarian for our conference and like that role, though it means I don’t get the opportunity to speak during debate (though that may not be the worst thing as I will note shortly). This year we elected delegates to the international gathering of United Methodists called General Conference, to be held in Fort Worth in 2008, and I was privileged to be elected. Thank you to those clergy colleagues who made that possible.
As the chair of one conference committee, I did have a chance to make a report, and I tried to begin with a little bit of humor. I read from an old United Methodist document about mission work to Swedes, Norwegians and other foreigners (and in Minnesota we have many of Swedish and Norwegian descent). I wanted to make a point about our need to reach out to whoever is in our neighborhood. Anyway, I said I better not say much about Swedes or Norwegians as then I might have to make a public apology for my remarks. I went too far. There had been an apology for a presentation made earlier in the conference, and at least one person thought I was treating that apology too lightly. I spoke with those who had made the previous apology, and they had not been offended. I also spoke with another clergy colleague who had expressed disappointment in my attempt at humor, and he let me have it – anger – both barrels. I had put myself in that place by my imprudent attempt at humor and had no one to blame by myself. I had created a leg cramp in the body of Christ and needed to hear from my hurting brother.
The Bible is full of wise words about words. “Fools are like leaky faucets, dripping nonsense” (Proverbs 15:2b, The Message). I was learning the truth of this again. “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.” (James 3:5-6). The writer of James, who is so articulate about the power of the tongue, in that same chapter also speaks a truth I don’t much like to hear, but know only too well. “For all of us make many mistakes” (3:2). I had made one yet again.
But as my colleague's anger spilled out, its focus moved from my lame attempt at humor to something else. Earlier I had been the point person in explaining a policy of our Board of Ordained Ministry dealing with clergy who had given up their ministerial credentials when accused of sexual misconduct. That was not an easy place to be, but I had been the primary writer of the policy, though by no means the sole source the ideas it contained. In our statement we wrote that we felt it inappropriate for a clergy person who had left ministry under accusations of sexual misconduct to come before the clergy and make a public confession or public statement of apology. Those of us who worked on this policy came to that place with some difficulty, but I think it is where we needed to be. Would it be fair to a person who had been the other party in an incident of sexual misconduct to have the clergy person share their side of the story and ask forgiveness without hearing from the other person involved? Is there too great a risk in victimizing someone who has already been involved in an abuse of power by a clergy person were we to allow that clergy person to make a public apology? Those kind of questions loom large, and so we formulated the policy we formulated.
I realize that disagreement, too, causes pain in the body of Christ. These hard learned lessons are important right now as I prepare to be a part of the United Methodist General Conference in 2008. There will be disagreement, and therefore pain. We, as a part of the body of Christ, will experience leg cramps and headaches and muscle spasms because we will disagree about important issues. Some of this pain is unavoidable, until we are able to reach consensus on difficult issues – and I don’t see that happening within the next year. And while I hate to be the cause of pain for anyone, there will be times when I need to stand on principle and disagree with a sister and brother in Christ. And they will do the same.
How we disagree matters. We can minimize some of the inevitable pain by disagreeing in love rather than rancor. I will continue to work on that. It will also serve me well if I can watch how I try to be funny. Sometimes I need to let the laugh go by so as not to create more pain in the body of Christ. I am working on that as well.
Trying to be more like Jesus than Don Rickles,
With Faith and With Feathers,