By the Rev. Jeffrey Raffauf
The NE Jurisdictional Conference was a unique experience for me. I understood going in the importance of this body and its most notable work of electing bishops. However, I still felt somewhat unprepared for the emotional and spiritual challenges I faced.
To set the stage, I was warned by many that General Conference would be a difficult experience. However, I found it to be uplifting and inspiring to find myself in the midst of a global assembly that represents the good work being done in the name of Jesus by The United Methodist Church. I loved meeting and talking with delegates from all over the world. I am delighted to have had that experience.
Annual Conference came next. Again, there is joy in gathering with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that I may see just once or a few times a year. While I may not agree with everything that we do as an annual conference, for the most part I feel my views are expressed well by others and my opinions are reflected in much of what we do there.
Jurisdictional Conference, however, provided me with quite a difference experience. As a self-described moderate with orthodox theological beliefs, I found myself in the minority on almost every matter. While I was honored to have even had my name mentioned at annual conference as a possible candidate for the episcopacy, I cannot see a scenario in which the NEJ would elect someone that reflects my theological beliefs and core values. Valuing local church experience and people who have actually led growing congregations seems to have no place in the consideration of episcopal candidates.
The numbers at NEJ were evident early on. Any left-leaning resolution could pass by a 60 to 40 percent vote. Still, I was amazed that the NEJ passed two resolutions that call for an open defiance of our Book of Discipline.
I was encouraged that the College of Bishops had prior conversation on these matters and ruled both resolutions out of order. But again I was amazed that in the case of a moratorium on church trials, the decision is still out on the fate of this resolution. The decision is still out because I requested at the Thursday evening session a bishop’s ruling of law on the validity of this now untitled resolution. Bishop Mark Webb has 30 days to respond in writing regarding that decision of law.
My final reflection on the NEJ Conference has more to do with relationship than with resolutions or law. It is one thing to find oneself in the minority on a topic. I’ve been there before. But I found the strong emotional response of some to be quite disturbing and wholly un-Christ-like.
Despite the calls for “holy conferencing,” there were repeated emotional outbursts from delegates that made it clear to me that I, and my beliefs, were really not welcome there. When one delegate stood to speak against referral of a resolution, and admittedly wandered into more of his personal testimony and beliefs, he was literally shouted down by other delegates.
I felt bad for him and sorry for others who share his beliefs but were so intimidated by the hostile environment that they chose not to speak up as well. Quite honestly, that specific situation, and the NEJ Conference experience as a whole, has left me with more concerns and doubts about the future of my beloved United Methodist Church.
On a positive note, I was delighted to learn on Friday morning that Bishop Peggy Johnson would be returning for another four years. This was a positive answer to many prayers. I, and the West Lawn UMC congregation, look forward to another four years with her as our episcopal leader.
The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey A. Raffauf is Lead Pastor of West Lawn UMC