"Holy Conferencing:" Speaking to One Another as Christians Despite Differing Views
Stamford, CT., October 7, 2007-- A set for guidelines for helping United Methodists talk among themselves about important, even controversial, matters without falling into acrimony and name calling has been developed for use as the denomination moves toward its 2008 legislating General Conference.
The one-page document, "Guidelines for Holy Conferencing -- What God Expects of Us," was presented to the directors and staff of the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, meeting in Stamford on October 5-8, by Bishop Sally Dyck of Minnesota.
The guidelines were issued by the United Methodist Council of Bishops and the church's Commission on the General Conference. They were adapted from similar guidelines used at the January, 2007 Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly in Johannesburg, South Africa, which in turn built on earlier literature on the conduct of dialogue.
The United Methodist General Conference, set to meet next Spring in Fort Worth, TX, speaks for the denomination on theological and social matters and social attends to organizational matters. United Methodism has a range of both progressive and conservative groupings that have differing perspectives on such issues as homosexuality, immigration policy, and funding priorities.
The dialogue guidelines are rooted in the concept of "holy conferencing," an early Methodist principle set forth by John Wesley, the 18th century British founder of Methodism. Bishop Dyck explained that Wesley believed that "holy conferencing" -- Christians conferring together for the sake of peace and truth seeking -- was a "means of grace," even as are Bible reading, prayer, and the sacraments.
"We believe the Holy Spirit leads in all things, especially as we make decisions," says a postscript to the guidelines' ten points. "We want to avoid making decisions in a fashion that leaves some feeling like winners and others like losers. We can change the world through honest conversation on matters about which we are passionate."
The first of the guidelines states: "Every person is a child of God. Always speak respectfully. One can disagree without being disagreeable."
Another says: "Avoid making generalizations about individuals and groups. Make your point with specific evidence and examples."
The guidelines began with five verses from the New Testament book of Colossians (3:12-16a, 17). The passage admonishes Christians to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, and continues: "ear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must love. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."
The full text of the guidelines and explanatory notes follow --
What God Expects of Us
Colossians 3:12-16a, 17
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
- Every person is a child of God. Always speak respectfully. One can disagree without being disagreeable.
- As you patiently listen and observe the behavior of others, be open to the possibility that God can change the views of any or all parties in the discussion.
- Listen patiently before formulating responses.
- Strive to understand the experience out of which others have arrived at their views.
- Be careful in how you express personal offense at differing opinions. Otherwise dialogue may be inhibited.
- Accurately reflect the views of others when speaking. This is especially important when you disagree with that position.
- Avoid making generalizations about individuals and groups. Make your point with specific evidence and examples.
- Make use of facilitators and mediators.
- Remember that people are defined, ultimately, by their relationship with God – not by the flaws we discover, or think we discover, in their views and actions.
We believe Christians can discuss important issues without the acrimonious debate and parliamentary maneuvering that can divide a group into contending factions. We see too many examples of that in secular society. We believe the Holy Spirit leads in all things, especially as we make decisions. We want to avoid making decisions in a fashion that leaves some feeling like winners and others like losers.
We can change the world through honest conversation on matters about which we are passionate.
We offer our thanks to the participants at The Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly, sponsored by the Division on Ministries with Young People, through the General Board of Discipleship, held in January, 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa, for inspiring the framework of these guidelines. They adopted similar guidelines for Christian Conferencing at the convocation. This work is based on guidelines for "Holy Conferencing" that emerged from the United Methodist "Dialogue on Theological Diversity" in February 1998.
Issued by the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church and the General Commission on the General Conference, 2007.