This week I am heading to Des Moines, Iowa, to participate in the North Central Jurisdiction UMW gathering. We bishops are voting members of the NCJ UMW, and so I will be helping to vote and elect the women who serve as national/international leaders for our United Methodist Women. That event occurs once every four years, and it is one of the very few places where I have a vote. We bishops are not voting members of the Annual Conferences where we preside (not even to break a tie), and we don’t have voice or vote at General Conference. The institutions where I serve as a Trustee or Director (like DePauw University, University of Evansville, University of Indianapolis, and IU Health) are places where I have a vote, but I do not have a vote on any Annual Conference committees. So it is actually kind of nice to have a “vote” at the NCJ UMW event.
On a similar theme, I could not help but notice that the voting at our Indiana Conference Session earlier in June was almost entirely unanimous. By my count, I asked for the Conference or the Clergy Session to take over 80 separate votes, and I cannot remember ever seeing any voting cards casted for “no” votes. It is possible I missed a couple of cards due to the bright lights on stage, but I have never before seen so much voting without any serious divisions. Some have commented on their Annual Conference evaluations that “we didn’t vote or discuss much” – even though we did actually vote on lots of things. I suppose those evaluations mean that we did not have lengthy discussions, floor fights, or closely-contested votes. I wonder: Is that a bad thing?
Shouldn’t most of our decisions as a church be nearly unanimous? Shouldn’t we work to build a consensus, to trust our leadership, and to find ways to “be in one accord” on most issues? That is the model from the Book of Acts, where it says that the followers of Jesus “were in one accord” in their decisions. Having differing opinions is fine, and hearing a diversity of thoughts on any issues is important, but ultimately to “vote like Christians” means that we work, pray, discuss, think, share, and come to a consensus as a body. One of my mentors as a young pastor told me, “You never take a vote in a church meeting until you are pretty sure the vote will be 90% positive. Otherwise you have not done your homework in praying, discerning, and seeking God’s guidance.” I think he was right. And I believe that is why most church meetings have very few divided votes.
I heard about a local congregation a few years ago where the vote to build a new addition on their facility passed by 55%. The District Superintendent wisely declared, “Technically the motion passed, but it sounds like you folks need to talk about this some more. 55% is not enough support to go forward on a major project like this.” The congregation took a few more weeks, held listening sessions for people to express their concerns and to get answers, and the subsequent Church Conference vote for approval was about 90%. They did not just rely upon “Roberts Rules of Order”; they voted like Christians.
There is a lot of polarization in our society, especially in our American politics. Many people are used to seeing meetings include arguments, name-calling, and divisions. Isn’t it wonderful when the church can model another style of voting and decision-making?
I am sure in other years we will have issues to decide at Annual Conference which will prompt more discussion, some disagreements, and maybe even some close votes. But I also trust that if we are open to the guidance of God’s Spirit then most of the time we will be “in one accord” on most major issues.
Meanwhile, I will do my best this coming week to vote like a Christian.