The opening worship for General Conference is always exciting. The size and diversity of the crowd, the formal procession of our Bishops, the high quality of the music, the grandeur of the space – all of that never disappoints. Sadly though, as one person observed, the constant references to God as male was hard to take. In fact, EVERY reference to God was male. Added to that, the two main Bishops leading worship were male – Bishop Brown and Bishop Ough. Of course, as outgoing and incoming Presidents of the Council of Bishops, that makes sense, but as a result of leadership and language, the service felt very masculine.
As a result, in Bishop Greg Palmer’s sermon, when he referred to people as “daughters and sons of God,” it literally felt like a cool breeze on a hot day. Not only did he specifically name girls and women as daughters of God, but he named them first. It was actually jarring. For that, we’d like to lift up Bishop Palmer as our first “Star of Inclusion.” Following in his light, let’s make sure to actively acknowledge everyone here by using inclusive language for both people and for God, every chance we get. It honestly makes a big difference.
Because our job is to follow the process and make sure everyone is included, we have been interested in the debate over the rules – specifically as it relates to full participation by everyone. We found one delegate’s comments particularly intriguing. Her concern was about the iPads on which delegates indicate their desire to speak. She noted that because the body cannot see who is in the queue to speak, they do not know whether or not they TOO should speak. That is, if someone knows that another delegate who shares his/her opinion is going to speak to an issue, s/he may decide NOT to speak so that the other person might be recognized. Or perhaps a white delegate would see that a person of color is trying to be recognized, and if the debate had been dominated by white people to that point, s/he might stand aside to let another voice into the mix.
Basically, in a well-intended attempt to help the Bishops see people better, especially those in the far back or in their peripheral vision, the unintended consequence is that the delegates themselves can no longer monitor their participation as a body. They are now more a collection of individuals, lining up in a virtual queue that only the chair can see. So, in a request for more and not less self-monitoring, we suggest that either the old process be restored, using cards to be recognized, or the screen that is visible to the Bishop be projected for all to see. That way, the delegates can feel and act more as agents in the meeting, controlling not just their own ideas and contributions, but also sensing how and when they fit into the larger discussion.