Questions for General Conference Delegates (About the Global Church)

Dear General Conference Delegates:

While you are still in session in Tampa, there is still time to ask/answer questions about the nature of our global United Methodist Church. If the questions in this blog cannot be answered through the legislative process at this point, perhaps they can be discussed through informal “holy conferencing.”

I have questions about the nature of our global connection that, it seems to me, should be paramount for all of us.

First, as a twenty-year Elder in the Connection, it has been my deep honor to be in mission with persons all over the globe. In a previous appointment, I did mission work exclusively for almost six years, traveling many places, worldwide. To this day I am honored to have “brothers and sisters in Christ” across the globe who I call friends.

Having said this, if we are to be a truly global church, if we are to be in true and fair ministry partnership with the international church, then our Discipline should be applied equally to all areas of the global church.
I favor this. I favor a United Methodist Church where all parts of the global church function under the same disciplinary standards.

One of the most-used buzzwords at this year’s General Conference is “accountability.” Faithfulness to a truly global and worldwide church demands this kind of accountability.

Therefore, I have serious questions about our mutual covenant in two specific areas: financial accountability and administrative (Order) accountability.

Here are the basic questions:

Financial Accountability: Are all areas of the international church, represented by international delegates, contributing apportioned funds in a fair and proportional way?

Part of my accountability, as an Elder in the connection, is to challenge my church to pay 100 percent of its apportionment. I am pleased and proud to say that our church has done so every year. This, despite the fact that many of our members strongly disagree with certain social stands of the United Methodist Church. Nevertheless, we faithfully, and fully, participate in this system, because we understand the covenant demands it.

If the international church is not fully a part of the apportioned system, then why not? If we are to be a non-paternalistic global church, if we take seriously the idea that we are all equal ministry partners in “Making Disciples for Jesus Christ,” then how can we not but insist on full financial participation in our system from all?

Administrative Accountability: Are all areas of the international church, represented by international delegates, required to keep rigorous and documented paper membership records (drops/adds) for their local congregations? If not, why not? Are the membership rolls of the international church ever audited? If not, why not?

A part of my accountability, as an Elder in the connection, is responsibility for annual Charge Conference and “year end” reports that are filed with the Annual Conference. It is required that these accurately reflect our membership “adds/drops” for the year. This, I have always been told, is a part of my responsibility for “Order” within the local church.

What kind of rigorous record-keeping can be produced by the international church? Are they held to similar standards? Year-end reports? Charge Conference forms?

If not, how can we, in good faith, accept the statement that parts of the international church are experiencing explosive membership growth?
I am responsible to every member of the covenant in my Annual Conference for these forms. Is there not a similar global responsibility demanded of the all parts of the world-wide church? If not, why not? How can not demanding it be justified in any real and just way?
————————————-

I recognize that, to some, these are sensitive issues. For example, recently a colleague has accused me of asking “Jim Crow-like” questions, by raising these issues at all.

I am deeply offended, and totally reject, such assertions. Jim Crow laws were deeply harmful laws that placed unfair burdens on some in our society.

I am suggesting quite the opposite. Rather than new and unfair burdens, I am suggesting that a truly international church would be one that insists on mutual, covenantal accountability in all areas.
Again, “accountability” is the word. For all.

And, if it cannot be applied, then I call on the General Conference to take seriously the idea of regional areas of authority/autonomy.

 This is not an ideal solution, of course. But, if true fairness in these areas is somehow not possible, then regionalism is a good “fall back option,” until such time as fair and full participation is possible for all parties.

Quick answers to questions that might be raised here:

Isn’t this racist or showing a bias for the American Church?
Far from it! Nor is this some “fear” of the international church, or fear of learning from international peoples, or even a fear of humbling ourselves to learn from them how to do ministry and be disciples.

I fully expect to be changed by the global nature of the church. (I already have been, in countless ways, through my years in mission…) It’s a wonderful and blessed thing.

Having said that, if we are to all be subject to the church law of a truly international United Methodist Church, then the Discipline must be followed by all.

Our mutual mission is “Making disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world.” Our polity and doctrine is set forth by the General Conference itself. We have a good system. It should be followed by all. The demands of disciple-making, and the benefits of being a part of a global United Methodist Church, required nothing less.

These questions are, in fact anti-racial, and anti-paternalistic.

Why raise these issues now? Isn’t that just because the American Church is losing power, and you’re bitter about it? Isn’t that hypocritical?
Far from it! The reality is that shifts in the nature of the global UMC mean that now is the perfect time to begin asking, and answering, these tough questions.

Anybody who has ever been an observer of political systems will understand that this is the very nature of how they work. New “normals” bring up new questions. It’s not hypocritical that they’ve never come up before. But! The changing global nature of the church demands we ask and answer them now.

My prediction is this: over the next few years, many many people, from all parts of the political spectrum in the American Church –liberal, conservative moderate– will begin to ask these hard questions.

In fact, American liberals, conservatives and moderates might find themselves in surprising agreement, in some cases. Now is the perfect time.

And, even if it isn’t the perfect time, they’re still good questions. Fairness demands we answer them fully.

In conclusion: It seems to me that there are two paths before us, each fair in its own way:

Demand rigorous accountability of all parts of the global church in all areas of the Discipline, or
Be willing to accept some kind of regional governance system that would allow for regional differences to be maintained, and a fairness to be obtained
.

The mutual accountability for our mutual ministry in Christ demands that we all share in the blessing/burden of being faithful disciples. I hope we will hold ourselves accountable in these areas.

Eric Folkerth

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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