News Analysis: Who is the “We” at General Conference?

The Rev. Jason Valendy is a reserve delegate on the Central Texas Conference delegation. This is his first General Conference.Wes Magruder, UMR

The Rev. Jason Valendy is a reserve delegate on the Central Texas Conference delegation. He’s attending General Conference for the first time.

“We are winning!”

“We are losing.”

Rev. Jason Valendy, reserve delegate to General Conference stood outside a legislative committee room. He had hoped to observe the election of officers inside, but seating space for non-members was limited, and fire marshals ordered him out of the space. One woman slipped out briefly, and as she came back in, she noticed Valendy and said with a smile, “We’re winning.” A moment later, a disturbed looking man emerged and said, “We are losing. The other side is too organized.”

Both assumed Valendy was on their side.

Perhaps above all, this demonstrates our problem.

It seems that the General Conference, representing the large and painfully divided UMC, has degenerated into an “us and them” battle rather than the more personal, “I/Thou” Martin Buber understanding.

Earlier, Valendy and the Rev. Mary Spradlin, also a reserve delegate, had attended a breakfast at a hotel near the Oregon Convention in downtown Portland, OR. Valendy was invited to the meal, hosted by Good News. The group defines itself as “a voice for repentance, an agent for reform, and a catalyst for renewal within our denomination….to lead all people within The United Methodist Church to the faithful and vibrant practice of orthodox Wesleyan Christianity.”

Neither Valendy nor Spradlin considers themselves particularly aligned with Good News, but they decided to attend and learn more. They both noticed that no donation was requested to help with meal costs. “They are well funded,” said Spradlin.

Signs with the names of legislative committees sat on tables. When Spradlin and Velandy entered the rapidly filling hotel ballroom, they were asked which legislative committee they served on and directed to the designated table.

The Rev. Rob Renfroe quoted Civil Rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune in his remarks to attendees: “I cannot live without a battle to fight,” he said. “I cannot live for peace when I know I was made for glory.”

Renfroe then outlined his arguments against Rule 44, a controversial group discernment process that was not approved earlier today by 122 votes.

Breakfast organizers also outlined strategies to increase the presence of Good News members in key leadership roles in each legislative committee. A two-page document sat on each table with recommended candidates for each position.

According to Spradlin, Renfroe has a genuine concern about the souls of many United Methodists. In his mind, they have moved too far from Wesleyan orthodoxy. Both observers noted the deep passion, conviction and even compassion in his voice, all around this idea of “glory.”

During the interview, both Spradlin and Valendy reverted to the “we/they” narrative that appears to have taken over General Conference. Spradlin attended a pre-conference meeting for female delegates and observed the same assumption made: If you are present, you are one of us, part of the “we.”

So whose “we” will get the glory here? And what does the “glory” look like? And is this a winner-take-all strategy? These questions came up and were left unanswered in the conversation. But maybe we need to start asking them–except can we when our discussion is limited to “three arguments for and three against?”

I’m a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church, the place I finally discovered grace after a lifelong search. I love writing, gardening, reading, asking questions and making connections between political and religious practices.

My husband and I jointly claim eleven children (as he says, “mostly by mergers and acquisitions!”) and twelve grandchildren. In between our own travels, we love to have them and many others come and stay with us a bit. We see so much of the heavenly grace in the offering of earthly hospitality.

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11 Comments on "News Analysis: Who is the “We” at General Conference?"

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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I was gay in my teens and it was by choice. When I turned 19, I acknowledged I was a sinner, believed Jesus died for all of my sins, and came to Christ in full repentance and surrender to make Him Lord of my life. After that Jesus took over and transformed my life and turned me in a new direction away from past sins. The claim that some are “born that way” is false. The truth be known, most love their sexual behavior. I speak from experience. Come to Christ on His terms, and find how He will transform… Read more »
Rob Renfroe

I appreciate the publicity for Good News, but there are so many errors in what you reported that it’s hard to know where to begin.

I am not sure it was meant to do so, but this article seemed to trivialize the debate and dismiss the polarizing magnitude of the subject matter. On any and all propositions there will be yeas and nays, (unless there’s a consensus) but even if lifelong BFF’s are simply deciding on chicken or beef, there will be “us” beef eaters and “them” chicken chompers. We are all members of the United Methodist Church and it is heavy hearted that any of us reject the hopes of “they” for “we”. I am a Christian and I believe in Holy Scripture and… Read more »
Steven H. Zinser

As if the General Conference doesn’t take votes. To lament decisions being made is to lament the very existence of a decision making body.
Here’s an idea, since we/they is too tough: just let every local church decide for itself whether they want to be a part or not. Let them come and go as much as they like as they change their mind from one generation to the next. Let them go with property, pastor, and money.
We make this way too hard.
Just let choosing be the rule.

Rev. Mary Powell

I am confused by the headers at the top of this blog/news page. I had to look closely at each one to see they were about GC2012. Why don’t we have articles about GC2016 in this space? Surely there is more to tell after this period of time!

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

Mary, we are very confused by your comment as we’re not seeing any reference of GC2012. Can you provide more information?


I feel like you missed the nuance behind that comment, Jay.


Clarification on this line “Valendy attended a pre-conference meeting for female delegates and observed the same assumption made: If you are present, you are one of us, part of the “we.”

It was Rev. Spradlin who attended that meeting not Valendy.

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

Thanks Jason. We’re a little tired and that slipped past us. It’s fixed now.

Richard F Hicks

From reading this piece, I gather that some delegates are like the sons in the musical Shenandoah which goes “. . . Next to lovin’ I like fightin’. I like fightin’ it’s excitin’. . . . ” Why didn’t the people just stay home and go to a local bar? What a bunch of losers! Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

Charles Harrison

Richard, as you have been warned in the past, please do not attack individuals or groups. Try to be kind to people. Thank you for your consideration.

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