By Patrick Scriven
My family recently purchased a fully electric car to replace our dying Toyota Prius. I remember being so impressed in 2007 with the Prius’s Hybrid technology that allowed for greater fuel efficiency and less harmful emissions. That purchase helped us to take a half-step away from fossil fuel dependence and, while we never got the promised 60+ MPG, we still saved money at the pump. Our new electric vehicle (EV) is like driving the future and makes that Prius feel like a dinosaur.
For several quadrennia now, The United Methodist Church (UMC) has shown itself to be neither a smart nor energy-efficient vehicle for navigating change in the world, particularly as it applies to LGBTQ+ inclusion. Its outdated and ill-conceived structure leaves few satisfied, requiring the expenditure of significant amounts of energy (both emotional and physical) with insufficient reward, or torque, in response.
Unlike our shiny new car, or the Prius we traded away, the UMC has been unable to improve its MPG. Every four years we get together to consider a new vehicle but leave the proverbial dealership in the same beat-up truck we arrived in. On good years, we may pull out of the lot with an air freshener, but more often our truck smells of an old lunch that we shoved under the seat to remove another day.
When I think ahead to General Conference 2020, I have two conflicting feelings which I’ve found many others share.
Some days, I imagine that things have finally gotten bad enough that we have arrived at a breaking point, a do-or-die moment. The mediated approach of the Protocol for Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation feels as if we may actually be talking to a car salesperson on this visit. It’s uncomfortable and high pressure and something about it doesn’t feel right, but there is a real chance that we’ll drive away with something new this time.
Other days, I get a feeling of déjà vu — that overwhelming sense that we’ve all been here before. I wonder if the beat-up truck we’ll drive to Minneapolis will make the return trip home if we can’t agree on a new vehicle, or vehicles, to purchase. I worry that we’ll actually buy a new car that is only marginally better, forced into the decision by exhaustion and a lack of good options.
Delegates have started the hard prayerful work of pouring through page after page of General Conference legislation. Very soon, the legislation for the Protocol will finally be public adding to the numerous plans they’ll have to consider — and it can receive more thorough analysis. A Special Session announced yesterday by the Michigan Conference should make it possible to bring that legislation before delegates in May, as the standard deadline is long past.
For some, the Protocol is disappointing, and maybe even a non-starter, because it is the product of compromise, regardless of how fairly negotiated it may have been. For them, the Church should never compromise on its beliefs or values. Such a message can be compelling whether one is conservative or progressive, even if less agreement can be found on beliefs and values.
For others though, the Protocol or some similar compromise is a small measure of hope after years of growing frustration. It may not be what they dream of, but it is ‘better’ and better isn’t something they’ve experienced in their denomination recently.
As we were considering our EV purchase, we wrestled with practical questions. An EV may be better for the environment but can we afford it? Is there sufficient infrastructure to support charging if we were to go on a road trip? Is it a safe car? These questions represent some of the big challenges facing the EV market, each requiring significant investments from companies pioneering the technology. Even five years ago, a Hybrid (or tiny) car would have been the only reasonable choice for someone looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
As I look at the options facing United Methodists, I’m inclined toward similar thoughts.
Even if we can agree to a way to bless those who feel that they need to leave, we’ll still be left with a Church poorly designed to navigate a world that is changing faster than ever. That is why delegates will need to consider more than just the one legislative fix to the problems we’ll bring to Minneapolis. It is also why we’ll all need to tap new reservoirs of patience and energy for the road ahead.
While some are eager to embrace the future today and leave Minneapolis in a shiny, zero-emissions EV, I hope we’ll consider whether we are truly ready for it. Given how energy inefficient our beat-up United Methodist truck is, a hybrid might be the perfect vehicle for us, and will still feel like an upgrade to most.
Hybrid cars like the Prius made it possible for people to imagine an energy-efficient future without compromising too many of the features we’ve all grown accustomed to from our vehicles. They also opened the doors to the investments that have made EVs possible.
If we are fortunate enough to leave Minneapolis with something more energy-efficient, where will we invest that energy we’ve grown use to wasting? What investments in infrastructure will we make toward the 21st Century Church we need to truly support the mission and ministry God calls us to? How can we make it safe, so it does no harm to our neighbors on the road ahead?
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.