General Conference matters… One I get, and a couple I don’t

600px-Globe.svgThe Committee on General Conference met recently. Its members made some decisions that seem to be of considerable significance going forward. For example, they decided to move the GC out of the USA in 2024 (Manila, Philippines) and 2028 (Harare, Zimbabwe). Great idea! The North American church will almost assuredly represent a minority voice in the denomination by then. I’m glad to see our denomination dealing realistically and proactively with the global nature of the UMC.

Another matter they took up, not surprisingly, was the upcoming debate around human sexuality. According to UMCOM, “The Commission on the General Conference gave the go-ahead for an alternative process of discernment for dealing with legislative petitions that may benefit from discussion in small groups.”

The primary issue for which this process will be used is human sexuality. It would have to be approved by the delegates at the conference. The article continues:

The Commission adopted a tentative process and authorized the executive committee to further refine the specifics of the plan, whereby General Conference delegates will have the opportunity to discuss selected legislation in small groups. The small groups will give reports of their discussions to a facilitation team of delegates, who would be elected near the start of General Conference. The facilitation team would compile the information, look for trends and directions, develop a report to the plenary and craft a petition or petitions which will then come to the plenary for consideration according to the current rules of the General Conference. The full plan will be shared once it is fully developed.

Okay, I guess….

The rationale behind this proposed change of process, however, is unclear. Apparently this is in response to a request from the 2012 GC to “look at possible ways to move the General Conference debate from issues of governance towards building consensus on ministry.” Hey, I’m all for building consensus on ministry. But let’s be clear: over the last quadrennium, we have experienced a breakdown in our system of denominational governance, and we need to address these matters.

Now, here’s the part that is most confusing to me: “In addition, the Connectional Table requested a change in the process and rules for dealing with all legislation regarding homosexuality in small groups –instead of in legislative committees – to be discerned ‘through the lens of the values of centrality of mission, unity for the sake of mission, and our identity as Christians and as United Methodists.'”

Okay… as opposed to what? Ideally, shouldn’t these values come to bear in important ways on every decision that we make?

Is there a subtext I’m not seeing? What am I missing here?

18 thoughts on “General Conference matters… One I get, and a couple I don’t

  1. Phil Hilliard’s remarks are a bulls’ eye: what will play out via a thicket of rules and prestidigitation will be a weird ballet that “only a select few of the clergy can manipulate.” For the rest, especially those watching at home, the ritual will be as incomprehensible and infuriating as the proverbial shell game.

  2. Thanks for this, David. From my own experiences in General Conference and other venues, I would say the Connectional Table and like-minded groups will do just about anything to maneuver their agenda as far as they can through the mechanics of GC. They will talk about “discernment” and unity in mission, or try to divide the US from other parts of the world, or manipulate parliamentary procedure, or…. Those who support and lead the gay agenda are relentless, and they know that secular politics and the courts are with them. Nothing will resolve are problems with governance or our manifest disunity except a decisive victory for one or the other parties in this irreconcilable confrontation. – Greg Van Dussen

  3. Couple this with
    1. The connectional table planning to bring legislative proposals on human sexuality to General Conference after “discerning” that’s what they were to do.
    2. The proposal to rewrite the social principles in order to make the more culturally relevant to the world wide church
    3. the revival of the concept of central conferences with an umbrella of a General Conference

    Substitute the word plan with the word strategy. I may be wrong but I feel a bit queasy.

  4. The reason you are missing something is because layers upon layers have been added with each subsequent layer ceding more and more control to a small handful of carefully selected people who will be under the thumbs of the bishops. Since there is a huge trust gap between the people and The UMC leadership you can bet that there will be some folks seriously questioning what is going on. This process is designed to give the appearance that everyone has a voice but in actuality only the chosen few will speak for all and they are under no obligation to represent the majority view.
    Let’s break this down. The delegates will be divided into groups. The groups will not choose their own group leaders. The group leaders will be nominated by the conferences. Layer number 1.
    The GC Executive Committee will appoint the group leaders from among the carefully selected nominees. Layer number 2.
    After the group discussions the recommendations are forwarded to the Facilitation Group of 24 hand-picked people chosen by the Bishops’ Leadership Discernment Committee. This is where the democratic process ends and the Politburo process begins. There will be one man and one woman from each jurisdiction so the Facilitation Group will not in any way be proportional to membership and since they are appointed not elected they are not responsive to the group consensus. Layer number 3.
    From this Group of 24 six will be carefully selected by the GC Executive Committee and presented for election by GC. Layer 4. This sham election will give the appearance of GC approval.
    GC will then have 24 hours to review their work.

    • Kevin has it right. Of course most in the UMC aren’t involved and don’t really care, but for those who do, we see what’s happening and how unfair it is, not to mention unrepresentative of the body at large. I wonder if this lack of concern for the true feelings of the laity is one of the reasons for the precipitous drop in our membership and attendance.

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