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. I maintain it is a way to allow the caucus groups more control, to remove actual governance, and to slide things by the GC easier. I could be wrong, of course, but I have never been so I don’t know what that feels like.

  2. Seems to me to give a lot of power to the small group leaders and even more to the facilitation team. The jockeying to get “the right people” elected as facilitators at the beginning of conference could be as politically charged and divisive as anything we’ve seen in the past.

  3. Good questions, David, especially the last one. Should not all our governance decisions at GC be driven by conversations about mission? I’m guessing this proposal is perceived as the way to avoid the worst of the wounds that come from open floor debate. I find myself wanting to applaud the intention, but I’m very unsure of the action. It seems to me that the bishop presiding over the session could guide a reasonable debate and use existing conference rules to accomplish the same end.

    • Steve, if the intention is as you describe, then I can certainly understand why folks would want to move in this direction. Like many people, though, I am simply cautious, maybe even suspicious. There is a lot of distrust in our system. “Just resolutions,” the attempts to remove the African voting bloc from the North American church, the acquiescence to the demands of Love Prevails by the Connectional Table, and other actions over the last three years have created a high level of distrust on the part of many conservatives, and probably some people who would even self-identify as “moderate.” That’s why I’m asking these questions–to help to bring these matters into the realm of public discussion for purposes of examination and transparency.

  4. This looks and smells like deals taking place in back rooms. We did not get to “see” the affordable care act until it was passed, and we don’t get to “see” the current trade deal being worked out. Why not? If we cannot work with the elected delegates to General Conference, how can we work with “unseen” small groups? Why are we acting like politicians? By the way, I support the Affordable Care Act. This should not be about one side or another gaining advantage; it should be about a transparent way to pass legislation. This should be about how do we love one another as Christ has loves us when we disagree? Anything less is beneath the Church.

  5. That is always the problem with a highly political system which few of the laity understand and only a select few of the clergy can manipulate; sides vying for advantage leading to ethical lines crossed. Despite the best of intentions by good Christians, opening meetings with prayer, etc., the object is to win and if that means violating stated tenets, so be it.
    Phil Hilliard

    • And it’s dumb too because using manipulation and dishonesty does not win anything in the church. I don’t know what progressives/liberals are trying to win. The UMC is the same thing as a voluntary organization. People can walk away and are walking away. Who wants to waste all their time, energy, and effort on this garbage – having to defend something basic as sexual ethics; sexual ethics that have been with us for over 2,000 years now. It’s ridiculous.

      Conferences in the earlier Methodist groups were all about a bunch of like-minded people meeting together and discussing how to best carry out God’s mission and make disciples. That’s not what’s happening at General Conference. As a young UM pastor, I don’t even want to go. I would rather go to the New Room Conference (in which I am going) or an Aldersgate Renewal event.

      General Conference looks like a big waste of time and money. Good Lord, how many missionaries and pastor’s salaries could be supported by the money spent on that one event? How many souls are poisoned and shriveled by the hostility, conspiracy, politics, people taking indirect shots at others and saying things out of the sides of their mouths? Forget that crap. I would rather spend time in places where I can experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and be spiritually nourished so that I can go out and nourish others. Life is tough enough in a world that is hostile towards Christ and my faith in him.

      The apostle Paul instructs us to not associate with those who love to go to war with words and possess a perverse love for conflict. What are doing at GC? Apparently, not listening to Paul; that’s for sure.

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