I was called up last night to be seated on the floor. I felt like a minor league baseball player who received a call from a major league team. I substituted for another delegate who needed a break, but before you get too excited, I didn’t get to cast any votes. It was a worship service of repentance for the way we Euro-Americans have treated indigenous people. Today I went back to my minor league role as a reserve delegate.
From what I can tell, the big league is a mixed bag. Yesterday I observed a hair-splitting legislative session where negativity and cantankerous talk spread like a rash. A subcommittee spent close to an hour discussing the placement of commas in a petition, and a procedural point was debated for 90 minutes before the secretary of petitions could clarify. As it turns out, a delegate from the Congo had been correct in questioning the way the chair was handling the voting. I truly believe his concern was dismissed initially because he couldn’t articulate it in English. At the end of the day, this committee was so stuck that they had only addressed six of 96 petitions.
Now I am a rule-follower and a grammar queen (often to a fault), but I couldn’t help but wonder in a global church if this were the best way of doing things. We have very real issues before us about the structure, inclusion, shape, and future of our church, and we’re getting bogged down in this minutia. As Pastor Mike Slaughter tweeted from another session during this debacle, “Our theology is great but our methodology sucks.”
Yet one of my colleagues in a different legislative session had a completely opposite experience. He was incredibly grateful for the deeply thoughtful and respectful responses that delegates exchanged. Even while they were debating a very sensitive and emotional petition dealing with one aspect of our stance on homosexuality, delegates were very kind to one another. They prefaced their statements with phrases like, “I hear you, but from my perspective ...” or “I understand what you’re saying, but in my country we believe ...” Likewise, I sat in on two more sessions today where humor and kindness prevailed in the wake of really difficult issues.
It seems the difference between a positive, constructive experience and a negative, unproductive one in the big leagues may be as simple as a kind word, as gentle as a laugh, or as patient as listening to the other side. I’m not sure how we begin to heal the rash of negative talk in our denomination, but I trust that somehow, a joyful heart is good medicine.