General Board of Silly Walks, Part Deux

For those within United Methodism (or even on the periphery) THAT time of year has come. Slightly more exciting than the extra day bestowed upon us every leap year is the Olympics of UMC-dom: General Conference.

I know, it’s the awkward moment when you missed out on getting tickets to an event unrivaled in suspense, action and scope. But never fear, it’ll happen again in 2016.

Anyway, I generally try to maintain a safe distance from these types of things, as anything that even potentially involves Robert’s Rules of Order has the high likelihood of rendering me comatose. The world could be caught in the event horizon of a passing black hole, and no doubt some delegate would move to pass rules that any resolution should avoid language that could be construed as non-inclusive of black holes, quasars, strings, quantum fields or any other cosmological phenomenon. Even in the multiverse (which no doubt will be assigned a paragraph in the Discipline) there would more than likely be no deviation, even granting infinite possibilities.

However, this year promises to raise the bar of fervency to near cooling-ember levels as restructuring is on the docket.

One might be forgiven for expecting the typical hot-button issues that splatter themselves across every news outlet, twitter feed and blog. One might also be absolved for anticipating wider-ranging topics to seat themselves smack dab in the middle, performing the role of the slightly eccentric, annoying yet positively entertaining weird uncle.

Not so here. In United Methodism nothing stokes the fires of ardor more rapaciously than restructuring. When logistics, structure and procedures are at stake, people take action. It starts with about 2 to 3 hours of deciding rules. It’s so absorbing that they even live stream this stuff over the internets. How could that not be amazing!

Naturally, most of what I just said is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. I wouldn’t even bother to say so, but my general experience on the inter webs is that most people seem to have a hard time distinguishing between someone being serious and someone being satirical. If you don’t believe me, simply stroll through the intellectual wastelands of any combox of your favorite, well, whatever.

I AM NOW MOVING INTO SERIOUS MODE. (The CAPS should NOT indicate to you that I am being sarcastic. Seriously.)

One of my favorite general agencies is the General Board of Church and Society, more affectionately know as the General Board of Silly Walks. Like the Ministry of Silly Walks of Monty Python fame, this agency seems to have no meaningful purpose and thus ends up engaging in a lot of silliness. I took a look at some of this silliness here.

Every General Conference the GBCS brings in resolutions and such to change language in the Discipline, modify statements in the Social Principles and so on and so forth. 2012 General Conference is no exception.

There are numerous proposals issuing forth from the GBCS; thus fisking them all would simply consume far too much of my time. One proposal in particular, however, leapt out at me like a spark from a flame, like a rabbit from a cabbage patch, like a polar bear from a disintegrating ice floe to secure a tasty seal within its caressing jaws.

(Since the actual petition includes both additions and deletions, I am going to consolidate the fisking by rendering the text as it is proposed to be, while being careful not to be non-inclusive towards cosmological phenomenon…)

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Petition Number 20133: World’s Population

The population of the world was about 300 million at the time of Christ and changed very little in the next thousand years.

Estimates of ancient populations are partially guesswork, so it’s fairly difficult to come to any firm number of population sizes, as estimates range anywhere from 231 million to 400 million. But even assuming 300 million is the number we’re going with, around the turn of the millennium (near the ‘next thousand years’) the population was probably somewhere near 400-450 million.

While compared to billions an increase of 100+ million may seem to be ‘very little,’ relatively speaking it is significant, as the human population increased by 1/3 or more. The more surprising thing is that it didn’t increase more rapidly, given the technological development that occurred in that time frame. (Both the Western Empire and Byzantium suffered horrendous setbacks due to plague, among other things.)


The population of the world reached one billion in 1804, three billion in 1960, and rose to about 6.8 billion in 2010. It is expected to reach about 9.2 billion by 2050 (U. S. Bureau of the Census, Population Division).

The 9.2 billion number is debatable, as this estimate is derived using the medium variant, even though the low variant is generally more historically accurate. According to the low-variant estimate, by 2050 the world’s population will reach 8.1 billion and then begin to decline.

From a finite globe, each human being consumes air, water, food, shelter and energy, and leaves behind waste to accommodate.

By the time the Roman Empire began its decline, the limits of technological, economical and agricultural realities put tremendous strain on the population of its time, even at such a seemingly low figure of 300+ million. Yet as the population grew by 1/3 or more over the next thousand years new technologies and such led to developments that actually brought about higher nutritional levels through the ‘Dark Ages’ well into the Middle Ages. Resource management is as related to technology, social and political situations as it is to population.

Though there is no agreement on what earth’s capacity is, simple mathematics assert that at some point a growing population must reach the capacity of that finite globe.  

We’ll keep this statement in mind further on.

Our scriptures contain both continuous and time-limited commandments. The Great Commandment to love God and our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 25:27) is continuous; it persists forever and its validity has no beginning or ending. By contrast, God’s commandment to the newly created man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth …” (Genesis 1:28) is a time-limited commandment that ends when it has been fulfilled. For the first time in human history, humanity is faced with the challenge of determining if the commandment has been fulfilled, and if it has, whether human fruitfulness and multiplication is no longer mandated in the same way.  

The attempt at exegesis here is interesting; amusing, even. I essentially agree with the idea that the command to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” is time-limited. After all, Jesus tells the Sadducees in Matthew 22 that at the resurrection there will be no more marrying or giving in marriage.

Hmm… perhaps this petition wants to hurry along the eschaton?

In Genesis 1:28, God goes on to command man and woman to “have dominion,” meaning to exercise stewardship responsibility on behalf of God, the world’s creator and owner. As stewards of the earth, we now have the responsibility of identifying how our stewardship of human reproduction is fulfilling God’s will, and how it may be thwarting it.

A cynical person might be forgiven for wondering what prevents one from applying the ‘time-limited’ principle to this. In one breath the command is limited, but in the very next it is perpetual? (In all actuality, it is one command, since the whole point of multiplying is for the purpose of subduing the earth.) If there is a time when the earth is ‘filled’ and the command to be fruitful no longer applies, why would there not also be a point where ‘having dominion’ occurs and thus acting as a steward of the Earth would no longer apply?

The whole essence of stewardship is to take something entrusted to one’s care and manage, grow or oversee it. In the parable of the talents the master gives stewardship of talents to different servants, and as we discover that very stewardship implied hat something was to be done with the talents. The evil servant was the one who buried them in the ground, preserving in amber a static version of what he was given.

In the same way, responsibility over creation is wide-ranging, dynamic and can be evidenced in myriad ways. Responsibility towards creation or its mismanagement are endemic to us as humans irrespective of the number of us. One might argue that since there is no way of knowing the earth’s capacity, (as has been admitted) the better route might be to explore how we can creatively employ the resources the earth contains.

To assist us in this stewardship, God has provided humans with methods of contraception previously unknown. In clear distinction from faiths that reject use of such methods, The United Methodist Church believes effective, safe contraception is indeed responsible stewardship.  

God has provided? Oh yes, ahem:

On the eighth day the Lord didst grin, and didst bring forth the Pill and lubricated condoms, and the people didst rejoice. (yay.)

Sweet! Based on this logic, I can take any use of any technological advancement and cloak it under the mantel of ‘The good Lord provides!’ Hallelujah! THANK GOD we’re not as backwards as those naval-gazing Catholic bishops!

On a more serious note though, the canard of contraception being either ‘safe’ or ‘effective’ is only peddled by the credulous. (Please see my previous post.)


Our stewardship responsibility for human reproduction in the context of the population challenges of the world is in the service of God’s ongoing creative and re-creative concern for the universe as expressed through Jesus Christ, who has called us to find the meaning of our lives in dual love of God and neighbor. In our exercise of stewardship, we live responsibly before God, writing history by the actions of our lives. The imperative for the individual Christian and the Christian community is to seek patterns of life, shape the structures of society, and foster those values that will dignify human life for all in a world in which God’s love is infinite but the earth’s resources are finite.

The obvious question, of course, is what exactly shaping the structures of society entails. Let’s be honest- irrespective of which euphemism is applied to it, the population control/limiting/stewardship program has an absolutely horrendous track record in regards to fostering values that will dignify human life. Rather, it has wreaked tremendous damage on both human life and societies wherever is has been implemented. We’ll get to more of this in a minute.

A review of today’s major problems, such as hunger, poverty, disease, lack of potable water, denial of human rights, economic and environmental exploitation, overconsumption, technologies that are inadequate or inappropriate, and rapid depletion of resources, suggests that all are affected by continuing growth of population, which is estimated to reach 9.2 billion persons by 2050.

What!?! Societal problems occur where there are humans? I’m Shocked! SHOCKED!!!

The GBCS has always had a penchant for the non-sequitur, and does not disappoint in its latest foray. All of the issues may indeed be affected by continued growth of the population, but that these major problems exist in and of itself does not suggest that population growth is even related.

Every single one of the issues mentioned was a reality at the time of Jesus and over the next thousand years, during which we have been reminded that the population grew ‘very little.’ Indeed, that a far greater proportion of the world lives with greater wealth than those of Jesus’ time, that diseases which ravaged populations are now treatable, that more water than ever is fit for human consumption, etc., could just as easily (and perhpas even more accurately) be correlated to population growth.

Population Growth and Resources. While hunger, poverty, disease, injustice, and violence in the world cannot be simplistically blamed only on population growth, each is exacerbated by population increases, and rapidly swelling numbers of people makes addressing these issues more challenging. With each passing day we are discovering more and more connections between population and with sustainable development.

It is good to see the GBCS backtrack from the previous paragraph. However, that these problems are necessarily exacerbated by population increases no more follows than that population increases alleviate these problems.

As the population growths, it has an obvious impact on land use, water consumption, and air quality. Communities are called to be responsible stewards of all these resources. How can we protect God’s gift of the natural environment and at the same time provide a place of sustainability for humans?

I am curious what the obvious impact is. Given the pejorative understanding of population growth within this petition, it seems that we are meant to assume that this impact is negative. One might expect that given the previous caveat about there being no simplistic link to population growth and societal and environmental ills this sort of statement would be more nuanced.

One would be wrong.

Population Growth and Climate Change.

Numerous world bodies, — including the International Conference on Population & Development and the United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, as expressed in the Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document — have affirmed the interrelationship of population growth and climate change. Environmental degradation, resource depletion, and climate change result from poverty and lack of access to resources, and also from excessive consumption and wasteful production patterns. Mountaintop removal for coal mining in Appalachia, destruction of the rain forest in Brazil, or fires to clear land in Borneo all result from population pressures, degrade the environment, and affect global climate. Slowing population growth can give countries more time to meet human needs while protecting the environment.

The GBCS once again reaches for its trump card- the non sequitur- and frosts the cake with anecdotes! (Yes, like my drinks, I like to mix my metaphors.)

Our planet experiences climate change despite the GBCS wringing its hands in worry. As much as we might wish to put on the God hat and control it, we are, for the most part, at its mercy. While there may indeed be some relationship between carbon emissions and climate, (even though the field of climatology is nowhere near even understanding the complex systems that drive climate change) there is little evidence that the human population affects the global climate in more significant ways than what occurs naturally. The correlation between climate change and population growth could just as easily be argued in the other direction- human population trends ebb and flow with the changing of climate.

As should be obvious, data is not the plural of anecdote. Humans and the societies they create are imperfect and thus liable (read: prone) to inefficiency, stupidity and even evil. But they are also capable of efficiency, intelligence and good. Excessive consumption, wasteful production, resource depletion- all of these have occurred at all times in human history regardless of the population. Given that we were told at the beginning of this petition that there is no consensus on the earth’s capacity, statements such as these are platitudinous at best, disingenuous at worst.

Population and Aging.

Population growth combined with improved health results in growing numbers of elderly, many in the world’s population. Many of them are among the world’s most poor. It is estimated that the number of people over 60 years old is expected to outnumber children by 2040 for the first time in history.

Hence the low variant estimate being a far more accurate representation of population growth into the foreseeable future. If there are more people over 60 than children, this signals population decline. Higher levels of longevity has a tendency to mask population decline as the death rate takes slightly longer to make its impact than the birth rate.

As communities engage in sustainable development, it will be important for the needs of the aging to be considered, such as economic sustenance, health care, housing, and nutrition. We must also insure the elimination of violence against older persons and provide support and care for the many elderly who are caring for their children and grandchildren, including those affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. These concerns for the challenges faced by persons of different ages remind us that in our stewardship of human reproduction, parents must be concerned not only with their capacity to nurture an infant, but with the world’s capacity to sustain fruitful, fulfilling lives of increasing length.

I agree that caring for the elderly is a growing concern, but the question many societies are facing (especially those who birth rates are under replacement rate) is exactly who will there be to care for an increasingly aging population when there are fewer and fewer children?


Injustice Contributes to Population Growth

Oppression of women is a significant driver of population growth. Gender inequality in parts of the world exacerbates these complex issues. We know that in many nations, women are considered property and lack basic human rights such as protection under the law and access to education, housing, and jobs. Women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor and many are captives (knowingly or unknowingly) within patriarchal structures, policies, and practices. Numerous studies have demonstrated that when women’s status is improved by the building blocks of equal rights — access to basic health care, adequate nutrition, proper sanitation, increased educational opportunities — fertility declines dramatically (See Nafis Sadik, Population Policies and Programmes: Lessons Learned From Two Decades of Experience, [New York: UN Family Planning Association, New York University Press, 1991] pp. 247, 267, 384). One of the most important building blocks of equal rights is women’s full partnership in marital decision-making, including their expressions of sexuality.

While oppression of women may be correlated to higher fertility, it could just as easily be correlated with the political and economical systems in which this oppression occurs. Notwithstanding this, oppression of women is also an inevitable consequence of attempts to limit or curb population growth, coercively causing fertility to decline. Even something as seemingly benign as exposure to modernism (at least in relation to more forthrightly coercive means…) may potentially betoken less obvious oppression.

Meeting women’s unmet need for family planning would result in 150,000 fewer maternal deaths a year (Singh, Susheela, Jacqueline E. Darroch, Lori S. Ashford and Michael Vlassoff [2009]. Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health. New York: Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA). Child mortality would decline by 13 percent if all women could delay their next pregnancy by at least 24 months. It would decline by 25 percent if women could delay their next pregnancy 36 months (United Nations [2009]. World population monitoring, focusing on the contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development to the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. Report of the Secretary-General. E/CN.9/2009/3).

The GBCS’s call for increased family planning and contraceptive distribution and use is generally clad in the guise of helping people or women’s health, and this petition continues this particular modus operandi. Child mortality and maternal fatality are more effectively solved by economic growth, medical advancement and the like, rather than greater access to contraception which has a poor track record especially among those in countries that are oppressive politically or underdeveloped economically.

In fact, the push for greater contraceptive distribution worldwide often has come at the expense of other medical services. As Dr. Stephen K. Karanja, a Kenyan gynecologist, indicated in a 2000 interview:

Our health sector is collapsed. Thousands of the Kenyan people will die of Malaria whose treatment costs a few cents, in health facilities whose stores are stalked to the roof with millions of dollars worth of pills, IUDS, Norplant, Depo-provera, most of which are supplied with American money…

Millions of dollars are used daily to deceive, manipulate and misinform the people through the media about the perceived good of a small family—while the infant mortality rate skyrockets. Some of this money is not used to educated people on basic hygiene, proper diet or good farming methods that would be useful development, but it appears that the aim of population controllers is to decimate the Kenyan people…

Malaria is epidemic in Kenya. Mothers die from this disease every day because there is no chloroquine, when instead we have huge stockpiles of contraceptives. These mothers come to me and I am helpless.

Hopefully the framers of this petition do not intend this sort of thing to occur, nor must one assume that their support for contraception or lower fertility betokens malice. However, the reality is that widespead distribution of contraception (which has been happening on a large scale for at least 40 years…) has not significantly bettered the lives of the people upon whom it is foisted, and often fails to even bring about the intended results.


As people of faith, we are called to educate ourselves about the interconnectedness of life’s critical concerns and live as responsible stewards. The church can address these complex population-related issues on several fronts.

I whole-heartedly agree that people should become educated in these matters. By doing so they would be aware that petitions such as these rest upon very shaky evidential ground.

We call on:

1. all United Methodists to access educational opportunities that focus on the issue of population and its inter-relatedness to other critical issues such as poverty, disease, hunger, environment, injustice, and violence, and to promote these opportunities in the local church;

Not mentioned is that this inter-relatedness need not necessarily be negative.

2. United Methodist medical facilities around the world to provide a full range of reproductive health and family planning information and services;

Ah yes. Not only should UM’s give out information, but also do the dirty work. As the GBCS supports the contraceptive mandate as part of the PPACA here in the U.S., one would expect that this call gives a rat’s ass about any religious objections that might be proffered.

3. the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries Women’s Division to advocate for legislation around the world that can help in upgrading the social status of women and which includes women in development planning and processes. Specifically, we call on them to continue advocating for the United States to ratify the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and to encourage all countries to take action to ensure equal rights for women;
4. the General Board of Discipleship and the General Board of Global Ministries to develop and implement programs within The United Methodist Church that provide and/or enhance educational opportunities for girls and women, making it possible for them to achieve levels of self-sufficiency and well-being;
5. call upon governments around the world to give high priority to addressing the malaria crisis and HIV/AIDS pandemic and urge adequate funding to eradicate and prevent these diseases;

I have no difficulty with upgrading the social or economic status of women. However, doing good for women around the world is something that should be done in and of itself, irrespective of its potential affect on fertility. If the GBCS is truly concerned about raising the social status of women, it is curious that there is no mention in this petition whatsoever about the scourge of sex-selective abortion and how it disproportionally (to make an understatement…) affects unborn girls, or how the societal impact of having a disproportionate number of men adversely affects women, or how women become the target and bear the brunt of population control programs wherever they are implemented or pursued.

6. call on the U.S. Congress and legislative bodies of the developed nations to recognize the crucial nature of population growth and to give maximum feasible funding to programs of population, environment, health, agriculture, and other technological-assistance programs for developing nations. International assistance programs should be based on mutual cooperation, should recognize the diversities of culture, should encourage self-development and not dependency, and should not require “effective population programs” as a prerequisite for other developmental assistance;

The tacit admission that effective population programs should not be the prerequisite for developmental assistance belies the truth that this has been the modus operandi of population control agencies and organizations over the last 40 years. Programs of population can not help but take on a coercive nature, as ‘incentives’ and ‘disincentives’ in developing nations often take the form of limits to advancement, limits of access to food and aid, and more visceral arrangements.

The track record of population programs backed by international aid has left hundreds of millions of ruined lives; this stock protest against reality betokens either complete credulity or abject stupidity.

Of course, the GBCS playing the useful idiot is par for the course.

7. governments and private organizations to place a high priority on research aimed at developing a range of safe, inexpensive contraceptives that can be used in a variety of societies and medical situations. Promote greater understanding of attitudes, motivations, and social and economic factors affecting childbearing; and

A dirty little secret of the population control programs of the last 40 years is that contraceptives banned in developed countries due to being unsafe were exported to developing nations to be foisted upon their unsuspecting (or unwilling) populations. Naturally, the drug companies and manufacturers who were sitting on loads of unusable contraceptives were all too happy to recoup the investment.

I wonder if trying again- making sure they are ‘safe’- is enough this time around for atonement?


8. governments to implement systems of social insurance and support for older persons to ensure adequate economic sustenance and housing, and quality health care and nutrition.

Because once we get what we want, there won’t be enough children who can grow up and take care of their families. Your friendly neighborhood government is ready and willing to step in.

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About deviantmonk

Jason Watson is a designer, illustrator and animator who lives in the Kansas City area. He is married to the beautiful and amazing Megan and dispenses theology, philosophy and history at deviantmonk.com.


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2 comments, yay!

  • Andy http://www.thepulpiteer.com — May 01, 2012

    That was wonderful and so well deserved. It was a remedy for my mood after reading some of the GC goings ons. Thank you. As far as population control, I can only recommend that some of my colleagues who heartily write and support such petitions by all means practice them. Meanwhile, I think my family needs to grow…

    • deviantmonk — May 02, 2012

      Andy- thanks! I’m happy to have helped with your mood. :-)

      Thankfully, there is no lack of material, so hopefully I’ll have some more here in the near future.

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