Voter ID Laws and the Wesleyan Covenant Association

A couple of weeks ago, the Federal Court of Appeals 5th Circuit stuck down a 2011 voter ID law in Texas. The 5th circuit court is known to be a conservative court in case you may be thinking this is judicial activism. The Court agreed with the plaintiff that these laws disproportionally impacts minorities. It came close, but did not say discrimination was intentional on the part of the lawmakers, but it did send that part of the case back to the lower district court and said that Texas had to modify their laws to ensure greater access to IDs for people to vote. 

The 4th circuit of appeals also struck down major parts of a 2013 North Carolina law that had voter ID requirements, limited early voting and made it harder for new voters to register. Courts in Kansas and Wisconsin also struck down various voter ID laws. To my knowledge even if the courts struck down parts of these laws, the courts did not say that these laws were intentionally discriminatory. That is to say, the lawmakers may be within some version of the law but because the disproportion of affect on people of color and perhaps even unintended consequences of these laws, current versions of the laws need to change to be in compliance with the constitution. 

I say all this to point out that the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) may be within some version of the Book of Discipline. I don't know if such an association is illegal or not. I don't know what happens when this association meets to talk. I know that the association is quick to point out it is not creating a framework for a new denomination or a breakaway group from the UMC.

I am not saying it is the intention of the WCA to create a new denomination. It is argued by some in the association that it is within the Discipline to create such a association. And that may be true. What is frustrating to me is that while there is no "smoking gun" of a stated intentional desire to form a new denomination via this association, and that regardless of what is stated by the groups press releases, this action is just as divisive as stating non-compliance with the Discipline because of the way it affects the denomination as a whole. 

The creation of an association of UMC congregations and leaders that are bound together by a covenant that is separate from the covenant all UMC churches have with one another splits loyalties. Is a church in the WCA going to honor the covenant of the UMC or the WCA as primary? 

While there is not a stated intention of the WCA to break any laws, the creation of such a association disproportionally impacts the rest of the denomination in adverse ways. So it is appropriate for the Bishops to state that the election of a Rev. Karen Oliveto as bishop, declarations of non-compliance, and the creation of the WCA equally "opened deep wounds and fissures within The United Methodist Church and fanned fears of schism." 

Neither the voter ID laws or the WCA state language to be divisive, but they still are. I do not buy the argument that voter fraud is out of control and we need additional voter ID laws. I also do not buy the argument that the UMC connection is so out of control that we need additional covenants. Rather, just like voter ID laws restrict voter participation, the WCA may restrict UMC participation.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB100008723963...

Clashing Shepherds: Leadership in the UMC and a Way Forward

For some, leadership looks like the shepherd out in front of a flock. This shepherd carries with them a staff they use to defend the flock. The shepherd has a vision and is going in a direction that the sheep are to follow. Some sheep may wander away and that is okay to this shepherd because this shepherd has a vision of what a flock can look like and only has energy for those sheep that can keep up.

Others view this idea of leadership to be less than ideal because there are many sheep that are lost and left behind. This second view of leadership is like that shepherd that takes time to ensure that every sheep is in the flock. This might look like a a pastor making house calls to every member to ensure that everyone is okay and tended to. This "lead from the back" shepherd keeps an eye on every sheep and pushes them forward as best as the shepherd can. 

For most of my ministry these two versions of leadership have dominated. There is the pastor as CEO (lead from the front) and the pastor as caretaker (lead from the back). Both of these types of leadership are called for at times however, these forms of leadership are no longer as helpful in the current time we live in. When things like collaboration, vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency are values of the day, leading from the front or back creates more problems than they solve. 

The third way of leadership is not by leading from the front or the back but among.

This style of leadership is frustrating because you will loose sheep, you cannot protect them all, you are not totally in control of the direction or pace and you are among the smells and biting of the flock. However, it is this style of leadership that is called for in our time: leading among. 

The Bishops "A Way Forward" is, I believe, a leading from among. It is not perfect. It has the same weaknesses such as loosing some of the flock and not being completely in control. However, it also is an attempt to uphold the values of collaboration, vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency.

No one is surprised that there is disagreement in the UMC on the issues of human sexuality. What is a bit surprising to some is the disagreement on what sort of leadership is needed in our time.

The UMC has clashing shepherds.

#umcgc Twitter Feed and our Church

First of all I am sorry to anyone who was on the #UMCGC Twitter feed for a bit this day who saw images that were not appropriate. It was not too many (I think I saw 1/2 a dozen or so) but one is too many. These images were created and posted by spammers and no one from the General Conference.

When this happens on Twitter, there are a couple of options. 1) The people can decide to change the way they label (known as tagging) tweets so the inappropriate images do not appear or 2) people can clean up the current tag and report the spammers. 

What was interesting is there were those on Twitter who wanted to split from the original #UMCGC tag while there were others who asked people to report and block the spammers.

Cleaning up a Twitter feed takes time and it is not immediate, it takes about 30 minutes and it also requires individuals to stay on top of it to report every piece of spam that may show up. Additionally, once the feed is cleaned up, there must be a rebuilding of trust among the users to use the original tag. There is a hesitation to look/use that tag in the event that the inappropriate images appear again. 

The group that wanted to break away to start a new tag (#gc2016) forget to remember is that spammers will find that tag as well. Then they will have to create a new tag, only to be exposed to spammers again. 

Unless we are willing to do the hard and continuous work we will always be breaking off to start new Twitter tags. We will never able to have a pure and unified Twitter tag for users that is always safe and following the orthodox intent of creators of the hashtag. 

Rev. Dr. Maria Dixon Hall giving voice to feelings held by right/left at #UMCGC

The Rev. Dr. Maria Dixon Hall is an associate professor of organizational communication/Non-Profit studies at SMU in Dallas, Texas. She is a progressive and has a history that is longer than me. She is a Deacon, African American, professor, and theologian that gives me pause to think on a number of things. She has given voice to feelings that many people I have visited with at General Conference 2016 have stated. 

While Rev. Dixon Hall is a progressive and speaks from that position, I can tell you that I have heard conservatives and other progressives at the conference say similar things. Progressives have said to me, I am with the cause but these demonstrations nudge me away from the cause. Conservatives have said to me, the more I see these types of disruptive demonstrations the more I distance myself from the cause.

And so as a white, heterosexual male I have hesitated to share these personal feelings, however, I can only say "Amen" to the good Rev. Dixon Hall.

Read the whole thing here: Progressives Playing with Fire: Mad Methodists, Berners, & the Myth of Prophetic Arson