general conference delegations: considerations of race, gender, and age

A couple of posts ago, I shared why I will not be voting according to age when we select the delegation for the UMC’s General Conference (GC) this year at our Annual Conference meeting. I care deeply about the issue of younger clergy leadership and I am a younger clergyperson (age 33)–for now, at least. I even think it could be good to have younger clergy in the delegation. But I don’t think selecting a delegate because they are younger is a good idea. There are much more pertinent considerations first. So, I wrote about them here. Then, graciously, Andrew C. Thompson linked me here and echoed some of the same sentiments from his own perspective.

At this point, I’d like to address an issue related to my original post. I offered the following principle considerations roughly like this, in question form here:

1. Do I like/approve of the direction a candidate for GC would have the UMC go doctrinally, morally/ethically, and missionally?
2. Do I think they possess the leadership qualities to help move us in that direction?

Those are paramount. After these criteria are met, I said, belong concerns for who I’d like to consciously include. In the present discussion, the category of folks up for discussion is younger clergy leadership, say, folks under 40 or so. The logic I use may be easily followed, however, to press issues of race and gender representation into the background. Perhaps, one might reasonably argue, too far into the background.

Let me go on record as saying that I do not think race and gender considerations belong in the background of this conversation. I don’t think they dominate the foreground, only that they should not be pressed into the background. My primary criteria may be properly considered numbers 1.a. and 1.b., with “race and gender” at number two.

I had a sense that was the case as I wrote the first post, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why race and gender are different that age when it comes to delegate selection and the application of my principles outlined a week or so ago. Then I figured it out–for me at least.

The difference is simple: age is something temporary, race and gender are not. I will get older. And frankly, I will hope there are some folks who’d like me to go to GC or become their pastor or whatever, even though I’m “older” at that time. I’ve only got 2 more years as a “younger clergy,” demarcated at age 35 by the Weems study report. It’s a demographic that I will inhabit for only a certain period of time. Someday I will no longer be coveted by TV advertisement executives.

But race and gender are not temporary. “In our modern world, they can be!” you say, tongue partially in cheek. “Yes,” I respond, “but that is not typical and that particular deviation from the norm is really a subject for a different sort of blog post.”

I don’t see myself treating race and gender like token items to check off of a mental list: “Let’s see, have I voted for my black, my Latino/a, and my woman delegates? Ok, good. Now to continue voting for white males.” Tokenism strikes me as condescension writ large.

Instead, something more like self-awareness or conscientiousness is what I’m aiming for. More like: “Ok, I’ve got a pool of X number of folks who seem to align with my delegate criteria. Now, am I subconsciously leaning toward all white guys when I should be deliberate about diversity in the delegation after my essentials are met?” Listening to myself trying to articulate the difference here, I find it hard to do at one level. What I’m getting at here is a posture, an attitude.

Should we approach inclusion of younger delegates in a like manner? Should we raise our personal awareness while we are voting to ask ourselves who we might vote for that is younger or in the middle or older in order to produce a more age-diverse delegation? Perhaps. More power to us if we do. Maybe I will; it depends on who I decide I’d like to see go and on how the voting goes from ballot to ballot. But my practical sense is that it will be more difficult to coalesce around one (or two?!?) younger clergy for the reasons I mentioned before than it is for folks with a longer resume to garner votes.

If we do select a younger clergy delegate (or two…), my prayer is that it will be the result of the natural ebb and flow of the balloting process, that our selection of delegates may show integrity, intentionality, and discernment rather than tokenism and artifical inclusivism.

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One thought on “general conference delegations: considerations of race, gender, and age

  1. Guy,

    Again…I like your thought process on this. I am sure that there are politics, both church, and actual political drivers for someone to vote for a particular person. My prayer is that the GC elects delegates based on 3a of your original post, focusing on scripture and the Discipline of the church (tradition).

    I have said this before, “Politics should NEVER influence our faith, but our faith should ALWAYS influence our politics.”

    PAX
    JD

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