Tuesday, May 8, 2012

General Conference 2012 Legislation Round-Up

OK, friends, it’s that time of the quadrennium: the time when those who attended General Conference return home and report what happened to everyone else. This year, there are many more reporters than usual. In 2008, live streaming was available, but not as many United Methodists were on Facebook and Twitter. Those who could watch did watch, but there was no one with whom to discuss what was going on. This time, folks interacted on social media while watching the live stream. Those who witnessed and processed what happened on the floor together have already been blogging about it, and I will now join the chorus of voices and the cloud of witnesses. One thing is for certain this time around: General Conference – and United Methodism – will never be the same again. You’ll see why in this series of blog posts.

First, I’ll post a brief legislation round-up so you know, in a nutshell, what changes or non-changes will affect your lives as United Methodists for the next four years. And then I’ll get to what happened off the floor of conference, both in committee and emotionally psychologically. Next, I’ll address the ways in which social media affected the way Methodists conferenced and project implications for forthcoming conferences.

2012 Legislation Round-Up

Many of you know that incredibly important, far-reaching changes were proposed this year. Most of them failed, but how that happened is a long story.

Changes to the Discipline 
  • Guaranteed appointments for Elders were eliminated. Emotions run high regarding this action and the way in which it was executed. The measure has been referred to Judicial Council to determine whether it violates the Constitution of the UMC; if it does, it will be thrown out. JC will deliberate in October. 
  • The United Methodist Women was made an autonomous organization rather than remaining a subsidiary of the General Board of Global Missions. This will allow more freedom for UMW members to decide how the money they raise will be spent.
Issues/ Miscellaneous
  • We did not divest from three companies whose products are used by the Israeli military in occupied Palestine. 
  • We repented of our complicity in acts perpetrated against Native Americans from the 1600’s to the present. 
  • We created a ministry plan for Pacific Islanders.
  • We did not change language in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. The bishops issued a statement acknowledging that the current language has been used to hurt LGBTQ persons. 
  • We lowered apportionments and passed a reduced budget of $603.1 million for the coming quadrennium. Two new funds were approved: one for theological education in the Central Conferences (outside the US), and one for recruitment and training of clergy in the US. 
  • The President of the Council of Bishops for the coming quadrennium is Rosemarie Wenner of Germany.
Failed Legislation 
  • The proposal to create a “set-aside bishop” assigned to administrative tasks, nicknamed #Superbishop on Twitter, failed. 
  • Proposed term limits for bishops failed. Bishops remain under lifetime appointment.
  • Church restructure failed. Instead, General Conference approved plans by all the General Boards and Agencies to voluntarily reduce in size.
So what was this church restructure about? How did it come about in the first place and how did it die? That is a very long story, so I will attempt to briefly summarize. First, one should note that the supposed motivation for restructure was to benefit the local churches and help reverse the trend of attrition that we have seen over the last 40 years. However, the restructure plan was not about the local churches or about discipleship (it was about money, but it was not really about saving money , as the plan’s proponent would have had us think… more about that later). The plan’s purpose was to restructure the way the General (worldwide) Church Boards and Agencies are run and the way power/ money is distributed among them. In the end, restructuring would only have saved each local church about $120-$180. So why was this plan such a huge deal to everyone? Well, the proponents of the plan have had a lot of people convinced that “the church is going to die” if this measure wasn’t passed because young people would not be attracted to the church. In many of the speeches given in favor of the plan, “the time is now” to “save the church” was the main idea. Many young people expressed their views on Twitter that this is just a band-aid and would not solve the underlying problems the UMC faces, but the Interim Operations Team (IOT) tokenized young people’s voices and didn’t really listen to their objections (except for Adam Hamilton, but more about that later). So how did this whole thing happen, anyway? Well, here’s as brief a summary as I can offer:
  1. GC 2008 commissioned a study on vital congregations. The Barna Group published a lot of stats about church decline. 
  2. The IOT, aka the Connectional Table, was formed and created the Call to Action report, which proposed a restructure plan.
  3. People objected, and there was a lot of conversation on social media and blogs about it. The MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action) wrote its own plan. Members of the Connectional Table who did not vote for the CTA (including young adults) created Plan B. 
  4. Plan A was proposed by Adam Hamilton on the floor of General Conference. He urged the church to pass it. This was wildly unpopular with young people, who felt “talked at” and “marketed to” rather than “talked with.”  They expressed their displeasure on Twitter and Hamilton met with them first thing the next morning to discuss their concerns. 
  5. The Committee on Administration met to decide which plan should be presented to the body. Plan A (CTA) people, Plan B people, and and MFSA people were deadlocked. No decision was made. 
  6. Some people (Plan A and B writers?) and Adam Hamilton came up with a so-called compromise through a series of backroom deals: PlanUMC (basically an iteration of Plan A). 
  7. PlanUMC was presented to the body and passed by a 60-40 majority. My pastor, Scott Campbell, requested that this plan be referred to Judicial Council because he was concerned that it was unconstitutional. It was referred. 
  8. PlanUMC was voided by Judicial Council for being unconstitutional on four counts.
  9. PlanUMC proponents had another backroom meeting and attempted to fix the plan. Its unconstitutional elements were so inextricably enmeshed with the rest of it that it could not be saved. 
  10. In an additional evening session of GC2012, PlanUMC proponents made a motion to refer it to committee to be studied and made constitutional over the next four years. Referral was defeated. 
  11. Someone made a motion to table PlanUMC indefinitely, and that motion passed. PlanUMC finally died.
It is clear that United Methodists know our system is too big and clumsy, and that it needs to change, but we will not accept a poorly conceived plan that has been hatched in secret by a few powerful people. Any restructure proposals made in the future will have to be created in the open by a group of people that reflects the diversity of the UMC long before General Conference. Formal legislation to make changes to our church structure will most likely be submitted to Judicial Council for review before the legislation even makes it to the floor of GC. There needs to be ongoing conversation among all Methodists in the next four years regarding, among other things, how our church is run.

Up next: how the extant political culture of power plays and backroom deals collided with the culture of transparency found in social media… and why General Conference will never be the same again.

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