The key to shrinking the Book of Discipline

The United Methodist Reporter has an interesting look at ongoing work to revise the administrative law in the Book of Discipline to reflect the global nature of the church.

At the end of the story, Bishop Patrick Streiff touched on what strikes me as a key goal:

Streiff hopes that one outcome of the committee’s years of work will be a more stable Book of Discipline that will invite fewer legislative revisions each General Conference.

“If we are right about the essentials,” he said, “they do not need to be changed every four years.”

The unspoken word here is “trust.” The reason why the Discipline keeps growing in length and complexity every four years has to do with trust. It is when we do not trust the structures that in place to oversee the denomination that we spawn more and more rules to try and force behaviors we want.

Worried that the church will not pay enough attention to diversity? Write rules about board membership to ensure it happens. Worried that the boards of ordained ministry will not do their jobs? Put in hard and fast rules about who cannot be ordained. Worried that bishops will run rough shod over clergy? Write rules that restrict bishop’s powers and expand clergy rights.

Rules rush to fill the vacuum created by an absence of trust.

As we all know, of course, trust cannot be decreed. It is the by-product of experience.