The Detroit Annual Conference met this last weekend (May 17-20) at Adrian College, Adrian. It was a combination of worship, celebration, memorial, reports, and legislation. Unlike some years, there were very few pieces of legislation and even the most controversial were adopted or not adopted with little fanfare.
The weather was sunny and the breezes gentle. The same could be said about the Conference. While the dark clouds of continued attendance and membership decline in our churches rumbled on the horizon, there was no specific consideration of facing the coming storms. While issues of human sexuality threatened to create an overcast atmosphere, even those tensions were low key.
The theme was "health" and members heard about United Methodist efforts in global health. There were also reports on UM health ministries in Michigan and a the health of clergy was addressed.
The Conference reaffirmed its commitment to assist with salary support for Liberian pastors. I'll admit that while have done my personal share (clergy are asked to contribute 1/5 of 1% of their salaries), I have not done so in a few years. I learned this weekend that clergy contributions have dropped significantly since 10 years ago when the program started. I'll be making my contribution this year.
Members of the Conference also voted to urge parishioners to oppose a change to state law that would allow concealed weapons to be carried in churches. In addition, a motion passed that each congregation identify someone to be the Restorative Justice Coordinator, working with victims, offenders, families and communities to promote restorative justice.
Restorative justice, when individuals and communities do the hard work to achieve it, is truly spirit-led experience. I know, however, that it will take much more than a resolution passed at the Detroit Annual Conference to make this a reality. It would be worthwhile to have congregation members trained in restorative justice. Another project for Brighton FUMC.
The Conference urged members of the church to call our Michigan senators to speak against being involved in a war in Iran. In addition, the Conference passed legislation that included questions to ask elected officials as we approach the 2012 fall elections.
One of these resolutions which involved advocating for peace and non-proliferation was considered in the legislative section that I attended. One member stood up and asked why the church was involved in politics at all; we are too be about the business of making disciples for Jesus Christ. I stood and offered a brief history lesson concerning our Wesley heritage. John Wesley was at the center of a movement that brought people to Jesus Christ and then expected a response in how believers interacted with their entire world. Wesley openly opposed slavery and worked to improve conditions for the imprisoned and mentally ill. In other words, a result of his faithfulness was a stand that would be considered political today.
As Methodists we work in the tension between working on our personal faithfulness and on social justice. It is a hard place for our large and diverse church to be, but it is one of the most compelling reasons that I am a United Methodist. During the women's movement of the 1970's there was a saying, "The personal is political." Borrowing that logic, I would say that personal faith lived out completely is political. If we're doing the work of transforming the world, then our government is included in that.