General Board of Church and Society Seminar

As I wrote in my last post, we attended a seminar at the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) in Washington, D.C. last week. Here are a few reflections on the seminar experience which took place on Capitol Hill.

GBCS, which addresses social issues, began as The Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals. It is housed in the United Methodist Building, which was built in 1923. It is the only non-governmental building located on Capitol Hill (how cool is that?).

The focus of this seminar was economic justice with specific sessions devoted to connecting mercy and justice, biblical engagement on civil and human rights, biblical and theological reflections on health care, as well as racism.

A major focus of the program involved preparing participants for visits to the offices of the two Senators from Pennsylvania. Our group of 17 pastors visited Senator Casey‘s office on Tuesday afternoon and Senator Specter’s office Wednesday morning. In each visit, we focused on advocating for the poor (on various issues), who many times, do not have a voice or advocate in places of power. It was a new experience for Joleen and me, but a very good one.

Going in to this seminar, I was particularly interested in what exactly GBCS does. Susan quoted one GBCS staff member who describes their purpose this way …

We are the ones responsible for making sure what General Conference decides doesn’t sit on shelves and collect dust.

I also like the description of the difference between lobbyists and advocates that Susan Burton, Director for Seminar Design, gave. Lobbyists may support politicians financially. Since GBCS is a non-profit organization, as part of the UMC, it cannot support specific candidates (financially or otherwise), so staff members of GBCS are not lobbyists. But they are advocates, advocating values more than specific political positions.

One of the things I appreciate most about this seminar is that it was not political in nature. It wasn’t about political parties or even specific legislative bills; it was more about the theological values that serve as a foundation for our opinions and actions.

Bill Mefford offered a question to ask ourselves when approaching social issues, especially ones that the Scriptures do not specifically address …

How do we as people of faith, shaped and formed by the entirety of Scripture, begin now to approach this issue?

I must say that I was extra-interested in this seminar in light of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s words of thanks to The United Methodist Church, during her closing arguments just before the House voted on the health care reform bill. But even though we had a session on health care there was hardly any discussion of what GBCS did to earn Pelosi’s gratitude. I appreciate the humility (but I still would’ve liked to have heard more about the events leading up to the vote! :-)).

So, it was a good experience. We were challenged to think about some issues. And I left with a heightened sense that I need to be a stronger voice for the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely!

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