April 30, 2012

The General Administration legislative committee of the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church failed to agree on a plan for re-structuring at the conclusion of their work Saturday night. Four different proposals were presented, considered and defeated after hours of deliberation and debate, amendments and substitute motions. The following comments are offered as one who observed all these proceedings from his seat on the third row of the committee.

The chairman of our committee made a conscientious attempt to be fair and impartial to all committee members, perhaps to a fault. He accommodated every point of order, point of clarification, point of parliamentary procedure, etc., allowing the body to dictate the pace of our process. No member of the General Administration Committee should feel slighted or that he/she was not given ample opportunity to express his/her opinion. As with every committee, we had 23 hours to complete our work with a strong emphasis from the chairman that we maintain an atmosphere of “holy conferencing.” That was our charge, but it also was where we failed.

As we began to consider the Call to Action petition (Petition #20980, DCA page 920), a substitute motion was made to replace the original petition with Plan B. By a vote of 56-27, Plan B became our working plan. With the consent of members of the Interim Operations Team who had developed the Call to Action proposal, proponents of the Methodist Federation of Social Action proposal (Petition #21091, DCA page 952) and the Plan B presenters, a “re-structuring” subcommittee was formed. Three representatives from each of these groups, along with three representatives from the Central Conferences and three persons representing ethnic groups from the United States, completed this committee. Over the course of two days, this subcommittee worked diligently at perfecting Plan B. Saturday, the last day designated for legislative committee work, the schedule for the entire committee was arranged so this group could complete its task.

We expected a presentation that came as the result of collaboration and input from all 18 of the representatives at that table. However, it became obvious the three delegates from the Call to Action team decided not to participate in perfecting Plan B, choosing to abstain on every motion that offered an amendment. The final product presented to the whole committee less than 2 hours before the 9:30 p.m. deadline for legislative committee work was primarily redesigned by amendments offered and passed by delegates from MFSA. This proposal was defeated by the whole committee after an attempt by proponents of Plan B to 'strip' the revised Plan B (the work of subcommittee) of all amendments.

Without a plan approved by the General Administration Committee, the CTA group then offered a plan revised from the original petition presented in the DCA. It was their intention to present this proposal at the plenary session as a minority report (requires 10 signatures of delegates voting against the majority report) if a majority motion had passed. A point of order was raised by a delegate regarding Rule 26.3 of the General Conference regarding substitute motions and the re-introduction of the previous petition that had been replaced by the substitute. The Bishop mistakenly ruled that the original CTA petition could be brought back to the body. Regardless, the committee rejected this plan as well. Since the committee was still in session after the required time for adjournment, the General Conference secretary, General Administration Committee chairman, and the Bishop conferred on what could be a possible next step. The chairman announced that the Secretary of the General Conference declared that the committee could vote but not debate on the one plan that had not been considered by the body: the MFSA petition (# 21091). An affirmative vote would have given the plenary session of General Conference a plan to consider and would have allowed minority reports to be introduced. However, this petition, too, was rejected. The chairman thanked the delegates on the committee for their work, and announced adjournment.

Personal reflections
My four days as a member of the General Administration legislative committee confirmed several of my frustrations with the present state of the UMC.

I am not impressed with our so-called commitment to “holy conferencing.” The emphasis on respect and active listening is well-received and appreciated, and I genuinely hope that I am growing more able to understand as I listen more deeply to others. I wonder, though, why so little emphasis is placed on respect and actively listening to God at the beginning and during these holy conversations. It seems to me that is the “holy” part that creates the atmosphere for us to meet at the center, our life in Christ. I fear we have deferred to a pragmatic agnosticism characterized by one speaker this week, "If it's meant to be, it's up to me." Someone even wrote us a song with that thought.

The decision by the CTA team not to participate with others in the perfecting of Plan B also is indicative that holy conferencing is not a serious part of our DNA. I applaud and stand in awe of clever politicians, those who are able to work the crowds and process in such a way that brings about preferred results. Similarly, we pastors must be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” as our business is people business. Our standard, however, is much higher and - dare I say it? - holier than ordinary clever politics. Yes, there are procedures and strategies, but we also have a responsibility that transcends the ordinary...relationships built on TRUST.

This is where, in my opinion, the CTA group (and others) blew it. FYI - I really liked their revised plan. In my opinion, it was more radical, creative and inclusive than all the others. I felt it showed a plan that would help us move into a 21st century model of being a connectional church. One reason I admired it is that is very close to a model we are developing at 1st UMC, Lexington, where I am serving.

Yet, what I find so disturbing is that the CTA group expected the General Administration committee to accept their 11th hour revision, trusting their research, collaboration, conversations with others, when they chose not to mutually help others of our team/committee work on a document that, in the realm of holy conversation, could have resulted in what was intended and what we anticipated - a plan to present to the General Conference. The CTA group severely misunderstood that the issue was/is TRUST. By disregarding the charge they were given to collaborate in the subcommittee, they exacerbated an atmosphere of mis-trust that undermined the whole process. To frame it in a few well-known words, we reaped what we sowed.

So, where to from here? Many are asking if we delegates will have any proposal for re-structuring/right-sizing the UMC to consider this week. I have no idea what is even possible at this point. I am sure somewhere, somehow the political wheels are turning, strategies are being devised, coalitions are being formed - and the DISCIPLINE is being researched to the letter to find a loophole so some plan can make it to the floor (FYI - the signatures of 20 delegates can bring a petition to the plenary session). I also am sure of this: a house, a church, a denomination built on the sands of mistrust cannot stand. We are fools to think otherwise.

Here is a quote from John Wesley I have not heard this week: “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” It is time for United Methodist to do some true holy conferencing with the Holy One.