We need a better GC and free press

By Rebekah Miles, Special Contributor…

If we want a strong and vibrant church, we will need a strong and vibrant General Conference . . . and an independent press.

Anyone who claims our United Methodist leadership is ineffective need only point to the 2012 General Conference. Leading up to General Conference, certain powers in the United Methodist Church felt threatened by reform legislation; they set up rules, agenda and conference processes that were astonishingly effective at making General Conference ineffective. From a political point of view, their success at creating failure was impressive.

Rebekah Miles

Leaders urged us to slow down because we needed quality and not quantity of legislation; we slowed down and produced neither. Non-legislative programs and speeches were allowed to run long; legislative sessions were cut short. Inconsequential legislation made it to the floor, while the clock ran out on serious reform legislation. None of this was an accident; it took thoughtful, expert planning to create the do-nothing General Conference of 2012.

At General Conference, colleagues questioned my cynicism about the powers-that-be and insisted, “These are good people.” Of course, but what makes us think good people are immune from the realities of sin and self-deceit? We Wesleyans clearly need a generous dose of Reinhold Niebuhr. The sins of the good, religious people, including ourselves, are the most dangerous, because they are disguised by the language of goodness and faith. We succeed in deceiving not only the world around us but, more frighteningly still, we deceive ourselves.

Many have suggested we give up on General Conference and focus on ministries and mission of the local church. Here is the sobering news: If we want a strong and vibrant church, we will need a strong and vibrant General Conference. The rules and processes set up by General Conference 2016 will either launch us into vibrant ministry or hamstring us. The legislation passed by General Conference 2016 will either provide structures of accountability for effectiveness or it will fail to do so. I am convinced that our human nature is sufficiently redeemed that true legislative reform for justice is possible and that our human nature is sufficiently sinful that we need a strong legislative body to keep watch over one another at every step. To recast a famous line by Reinhold Niebuhr: Our human capacity for justice makes a strong United Methodist democracy possible; our human inclination to injustice makes a strong United Methodist democracy necessary.

Finally, at the heart of any strong democracy is a free and independent press. The loss of the United Methodist Reporter strikes a blow at United Methodist democracy. We will survive the do-nothing General Conference of 2012 but surviving without an independent press is going to be a much tougher challenge.

 The Rev. Miles is a three-time clergy delegate to General Conference from the Arkansas Conference and is Professor of Ethics at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Email rlmiles@smu.edu

An additional note from the author…
I wrote this commentary before anyone made the happy announcement that the UM Reporter would continue in a digital format.  A free and independent press is only as effective as the size and influence of its readership.  I hope and pray that conferences, churches, districts, any many other UM groups – formal and informal – will include links to and material from the new UM Reporter as they communicate with their membership.  It’s up to us to make sure that a wide array of views are heard. 

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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