On to Junaluska!

Episcopal elections are less than a week away and everyone is making their selections for their top 5 nominees for bishop. It is an interesting time as a nominee, and I desire your prayers for me and all the other nominees. Please pray also for all of the annual conferences that will receive new episcopal leadership and the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy that does the assignments. Pray for our current bishops who may or may not be assigned elsewhere, too. Good matches make for good ministry!

I have no doubt about my call, but our system wisely confirms the calls of everyone from local church candidates for ministry all the way to bishops. You can’t self-proclaim God’s call in the United Methodist Church without holy conferencing and group affirmation! This year the process of voting will be different in the SEJ. We will have electronic balloting that hopefully will shave off a day from our schedule. There will be time to take breaks and conference/discern together, but, no doubt, things will be at a faster pace than we’ve ever seen before. The plan is for 16 ballots to take place next Wednesday and 16 next Thursday. Whew! Then next Thursday evening at 8:45 p.m. assignments will be announced by the Committee on Episcopacy and at 9 p.m. all the bishops will meet with members of their new/old annual conference at selected locations. Friday morning, July 20, will be the Consecration Service for the new bishops at 10 a.m.

My prayer is that we provide enough time and space in the process to listen to the Holy Spirit and each other. There’s the temptation to go to Junaluska with a slate of 5 based solely upon the election materials that have been sent out, nominee’s websites, mailings, their presentations at the SEJ D.S. meeting and at General Conference in Tampa. At Junaluska the nominees have 4 minutes to speak to the conference, then spend 10 minutes each with the delegations. We also have an opportunity next Tuesday night to speak to the SEJ racial/ethnic delegates.

The issue of discernment is very important. Very often I base my decisions on pre-conceived notions or the limited exposure I’ve had with people. That can be misleading and lead to wrong decisions. So what I’m seeking is God’s will and looking for grace in the whole process. We, after all, are judging people! Is this person someone we want to elect, or is it another? Impartiality and fairness are often all that we ask from those who judge us. When we want someone to help assess our plans or point of view we hope they will be thoroughly objective. If we really want advice and not just someone who readily agrees with us, we must demand that we be given the truth, as much as it hurts.

But, who is without bias? From one culture to the next, we have different and often opposing standards of what is acceptable. These opinions vary as much as families, schools, colleges, and churches do. Indeed, every institution, by its very nature, has its own set of prejudices. Every annual conference has its own character and culture, too.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s reality. In some sense of the word, prejudices can be helpful. A pre-judged framework of values and customs sets the course of civilization and protects much that we hold sacred. One writer said it aptly, “Without the aid of prejudice and custom, I should not be able to find my way across the room.” An annual conference’s clarity about episcopal expectations can make transitions and expanded ministries more facile and attainable.

But, as helpful as prejudices and customs are, should we Christians be that set in our ways? Shouldn’t we hate the word “prejudice?” It reminds us of past sin and pain in the separate and unequal prejudicial mistreatment of people. Someone has said that the older the prejudice, the hardier, so hardy that some can be considered perennials. Some prejudices keep coming back year after year, perpetuating ill will.

So, how do we separate good prejudice from bad bias whether it be in an episcopal election or a civic one? Maybe the answer lies in the way we judge, open-mindedness, and how much objectivity we have. Perhaps another way to foster good prejudice is by tempering our bias with compassion, “Except for the grace of God, there go I.”

The judge glared down from his bench at the prospective juror. “And just why is it,” he asked, “that you don’t want to serve on this jury?” The man replied, “Well, judge, I’m biased. One look at that man convinced me that he is guilty.” The judge scowled and replied, “That man is not the defendant, he’s the district attorney.”

To judge appropriately, whatever we do, we need to be very careful. So let’s be careful with one another next week. I trust the Lord and our means of conferring with the Body of Christ in our decision-making. This will be my last post before the balloting starts. May Jesus’ wisdom inform us so that we share the Mind of Christ. Thanks for your prayers and for a united bias for God’s will to be done.