1. First, the GC voted to change its structure to one General Superintendent (GS) with four Executive Directors. I could see both sides to this debate (former GS Lee Haines made a fine counter-speech) but, in the end, I think they made the right decision for two reasons:
- Our most gifted leaders are currently not at all attracted to enter denominational leadership. I think this is because, for good or ill, the idea of being part of a relatively weak three person pow-wow is not attractive to them. The down side is that the position might now be very appealing to megalomaniacs, the testosterony, and individuals who mistake their own personalities for God's. It's a trade off ;-)
- It shows "large organization" rather than "small church" thinking. Lee Haines mentioned that Roy Nicholson, a GS from the 1950s, thought the one GS model had been horrible. But I can't imagine he knew as much about leadership as even I do now (as a naturally-born leadership idiot), given the massive literature out there these last 50 years. In particular, I doubt he knew how to delegate and set up a support structure. He probably thought the GS needed to kiss every baby in every church.
3. We had a proposed memorial on sin to put in our Articles of Religion. I was so pleased that the denomination voted it down in order to come up with something better. Three reasons: 1) the other GCs of the Philippines and Caribbean were not consulted (if it had been passed, I was hoping those other conferences would vote it down to make it clear to the North American Conference that they are now our equals and can't be taken for granted on such important issues); 2) accidentally, it was written with no awareness that the article right before it already said half the same thing; and 3) it was poorly written, seemingly spliced together from various emails from key people... and in 1940s H. Orton Wiley language to boot. Thank you church for taking the time to do it right!
4. The church voted to include marital violence as a legitimate basis for divorce. Now, mind you, it makes our denomination look bad that we are even having to discuss this question. For one thing, although I'm not sure how to get around it, we are still operating with a "bounded set" mentality when it comes to membership, one that is overly preoccupied with who is "in" and who is "out." A "centered-set" approach is more concerned with our core values rather than about how individuals measure up to it.
In my opinion, however, large segments of our denomination remain legal-oriented, or fundamentalist, when it comes to the Bible. For example, if we think that a "biblical basis" for divorce can only be limited to a specific statement along the lines of "Divorce can be allowed when a husband beats his wife," then we not only are legal-oriented in our hermeneutic but we do not have the Wesleyan spirit of the 1800s on issues like slavery and women's rights.
Why was Jesus against divorce? Why was Malachi against divorce? Surely it was primarily because divorce was a form of (non-physical) violence against wives. By the way, ironically this is what Malachi 2:16 is talking about--not sure how that passage read in context does anything but support the proposal. God hated divorce in Malachi because it was a form of violence against wives!!!
I believe Jesus' prohibitions on divorce were, in the first instance, surely meant to protect women. If so, then it is then ironic in the extreme that we find ourselves hesitant to allow for divorce in a case where a woman's life may be in constant danger. Although it is complicated and a matter of debate, it is quite possible that the prohibitions on wives divorcing husbands related more to the expansion of Jesus' message to a broader Mediterranean context than to his original Galilean audiences.
In terms of our heritage, the "principle" approach to a biblical basis is exactly the approach Luther Lee took on slavery. While the "fundamentalist" hermeneutic of his day looked to specific Scriptures that allowed for slavery, he looked to the ideal values of the biblical text instead. In that sense, the "principled" approach to issues such as this one better fit the founding spirit of the denomination than the "legal" approach.
Yes, I realize there is the potential for slippery slopes. But I liked what one speaker was trying to say on the floor yesterday. Which side do we want to err on--the side of protecting the oppressed or worrying about whether someone is going to get by with something?
After all, I doubt God is fooled.