The covenant by which we live
"In the name of God, Amen!"-Opening line of the Mayflower Compact
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
As the Mayflower was about to anchor at Cape Cod on Nov. 11, 1620, the loyal subjects of King James huddled together to put into writing the laws that would govern their lives in the New World.
The document became known as the Mayflower Compact, and for more than 386 years it has stood as proof that human beings can develop sound rules and principles by which to live. Of that document, John Quincy Adams said in 1802: "Here was a unanimous and personal assent by all the individuals of a community to the association, by which they became a nation."
For many years, I have tried to picture those people gathered on that ship, imagining the conversation as they wrestled with the words of this covenant agreement.
History doesn't record the name of the person who suggested what the very first line should say. I believe the one who coined those first six words had insight and wisdom for the ages: "In the name of God, Amen!"
What better place for a nation or an individual to begin?
Whenever God is placed at the beginning of any undertaking or endeavor, whether building a nation or a life, it will become very clear in the process that the most important factor has been included: God!
My most memorable life lessons are rooted in that fact. When I place God at the beginning of everything I do as a minister, a bishop, a husband, and a father, I find God is present with me all the way to the end!
How intuitive of those pilgrims to understand that the most essential building block for their new nation was the God who delivered them across the turbulent Atlantic waters to a new land, filled with freedom and hope.
I share this history with you today because I am about to step into some rough waters of my own by initiating a new compact-one to govern the way we relate to one another and the way we treat each other in the weeks and months to come.
A new compact
As many United Methodists know, every four years a ritual of sorts plays itself out on the stages of our denomination's Annual Conferences. It is the election of clergy and lay delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
The 2007 Oklahoma Annual Conference in May will include this ritual.
In too many instances across the denomination, these elections have become divisive, contentious, and, in some places, downright mean-spirited. Any time people engage in a voting process that draws a distinct line between winners and losers, it can and often does lead to hurt feelings, anger, and mistrust.
I know we've employed this system of voting in our denomination for more than 200 years. I ask: Have we ever sought a better way to treat each other throughout the process?
You need to know: By creating a new compact, I am determined as your bishop to change the way we relate to one another during the election process. I ask every lay person and clergy member of this annual conference to prayerfully consider this before we gather the last week of May.
* The first principle of the compact is this: Thinking as one is not mandatory, but living as one within the body of Christ is essential!
Since the world began, people's worldviews and opinions have differed. They always will. We don't all think alike or see out of the same lenses, nor should we.
Let us acknowledge and honor our differences. However, let us conclude that, as people of faith, representing the body of Christ, it is essential we all put God first throughout this process. Further, let us conduct ourselves as brothers and sisters who must live together in unity.
This will require us to always keep in focus that we are not gathering to elect people who think only one way. Instead, we are leaving the doors wide open-to allow God's Spirit to lead and direct us so our delegation will be as inclusive as the world God created!
* The second principle of the compact is: We will be civil toward one another, treating each other with respect while being tolerant of our differing opinions.
Already, groups are meeting and formulating strategies to secure the election of "our candidate" over another. Battle lines are being drawn, caucuses have chosen their respective corners, and in a few months everyone will come out "fighting."
Have you ever considered what would happen if we took off the boxing gloves and invited one another to share in open, honest discussion? Not for the purpose of changing minds, but for the sake of civility?
Indeed, what would happen if we decided to talk to each other? What would happen if we stopped seeing people who don't think "like us" as our enemies and instead embraced them as our brothers and sisters?
* The final principle of the compact is: We will not allow the celebration of our worship to suffer because of our political aspirations!
By now you know worship and celebration form the centerpiece for me in each year's Annual Conference. We assemble to "lift high the cross" and proclaim God's presence with us through another year.
That is the main thing, and I am resolute to keep the main thing the main thing.
There will be great preaching, magnificent singing, and testimonies of what God has done across the breadth and width and length of this annual conference. We will not let the politics of a season destroy the blessings of our year-long journey.
I want you to think about what I have shared with you today. If you are so moved to respond by writing me, feel free to do so.
I know in advance that keeping these principles before us will be a tremendous challenge. People simply don't change habits overnight.
However, you also should know I am resolved to conduct this Annual Conference-as well as every Annual Conference -in the name of God, Amen!"