GC2016 — Day Seven, Monday

Deja vu, all over again.  Informally polling people on their feelings about launching into week 2 of General Conference, I am encountering a great deal of ambivalence, frustration, and a “here we go again” vibe.  Expectations are very low, fear and anxiety very high, and a wariness that we may leave this Friday not much further along than when we arrived.  Three quotes:

“I am bummed.  Look at this room (plenary area).  There is so much potential.  There is so much deep caring for the church.  There is sincerity in people’s love of God.  What is wrong with us?  Why is it this way?  How on earth can you bring together this much knowledge, talent and faith and consistently come up with such dismal results?”

“We are naïve if we think we are going to change anything.  The agents opposing change are better organized than those trying to lead us somewhere better.  I don’t hear people talking about how to get things done.  I hear people talking about how to keep other people from getting things done.”

“I think God withdrew his Spirit when we voted down Rule 44.  I came here opposed to Rule 44, because I misunderstood it.  Our delegation head explained it in a very biased, very poor way.  I grew hopeful when I heard we were going to talk with each other instead of at or over each other.  When the will of the body was to actively silence the majority of individual voices, I lost heart.”

These are valid opinions, but not the best energy with which to launch into week 2.  Individual disappointments aside, I think we will make some progress.  I think we are already seeing it in some ways.  As I said before, many from our African conferences have found their voice.  I was heartened to see an African delegate stand up to a man from our South Central Jurisdiction and say, “No! That is not what we believe.  No.  We will vote for our people, and we do not need to be told how.  We know what we are doing.  We do not need your help.”  He was forceful, but kind; firm, but decent.  It made my heart glad!

I have been deeply impressed by the decorum of the last few days.  It was dicey at the beginning, with many people acting out their frustration.  But under the pressure and urgency of legislative deadlines, people mostly kept their cool in my committee, and we pulled together through some difficult work.  It feels good to be proud of our process accomplishments, even though the outcomes might not have been as pleasing.

Week 2 of General Conference is demanding, exhausting, and at times infuriating, but it is also the week we get to celebrate so many of the victories, successes, and effective ministries of our denomination.  It is a time for some excitement and joy.  In the quagmire of doing things poorly, it is so important that we be reminded of all the things we do really well as The United Methodist Church.  And the underlying message of our celebrations is critically important: none of them were accomplished by individuals.  Every one of our major successes has been synergistic — people pulling together in a way that we accomplish things we could never do alone.  This is a week to be reminded that we need each other.  Theological differences? Less important than our life together.  Moral disagreements.  Pale in comparison to the impact we make together.  Varying interpretations of scripture.  Less important than where we agree and act.  This is the week where, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will remember how much we need each other.  Cool.

15 replies

  1. If Rule 44 means that the Methodists are voting to accept LBGT clergy, I believe many will leave the church, and look for a Bible Based church. We know what the bible states…

    • No, Rule #44 has nothing to do with this. The basis of Rule 44 is:
      Rule 44. Group Discernment Process
      1109 The Commission on General Conference may identify a particular subject to be addressed
      1110 through a group discernment process leading to a plenary decision. In such case, the
      1111 Commission will make a recommendation to the Plenary and a simple majority would be
      1112 necessary for this alternative process to be utilized on the chosen subject.
      Some very biased, very scared people were afraid this could be used to make them address homosexuality. As you can see, this is unfounded.

  2. Dan, I appreciate your well-balanced look at things, but this news report is working at bit too hard to spin some good. The perpretation of excluding individuals minimizes and I might even say negates (at least in the eyes of many out there in the real world) that the church is bent on destroying any good that can be done on something that is basically a non-issue. The actions unfortunately speak louder than the good intentions and even the accomplishments. Most of your reports have been helpful, but this one feels insincere and patronizing. Sorry, I really do like your stuff.

  3. I understand the “warm to a smaller group” concept. Used it for years. If I wanted discussion as a focal point, a group of 12 or fewer was wonderful. However, it also comes with a price. If I’m not part of the group discussing a certain item, my voice is not a part of the discussion except by proxy if – and I repeat if – someone is part of that small group who shares and represents my view. Moving that to a “World Church”, where decisions made effect not only the churches in my country, but in countries all over this wonderful globe, there is greater chance of one’s voice being left out of the discussion if it only takes place in the small group.

    When I first arrived in my conference, we were using the small group model to move legislation to a consent agenda which would then be presented to the floor. Unless there was significant desire by the body to remove an item from the consent agenda, whatever the small group decided was the result. We left this model when many items (yes, most of them controversial) were being pulled from the consent agenda and presented on the floor anyway because someone’s voice was not heard in the small group. The small group model was felt/believed to be a waste of time when so many items were being moved to the floor anyway. What would make it different at the General Conference level?

    • Luckily, Rule 44 wasn’t a decision-making process. It was a consensus building process where the decision would come back to the plenary body and be voted on, debated and discussed by Parliamentary procedure. No small group could move anything to any calendar or agenda. The process was designed for one purpose; to make sure everyone had a better opportunity to engage, share thinking and feelings, and to make recommendations on how they would like to see the petitions they discussed processed. The small groups have no authority, only the task of providing input and feedback to the larger body. I can see many ways your process would break down. I am glad that wasn’t what we proposed.

    • So, we end up with Robert’s Rules anyway! What is the point?

      The problem is that the underlying belief is that if enough people tell their stories that attitudes will change. That was attempted in 2012 and utterly failed because people on the other side have stories and perspectives of their own.

      Even if the current GCGC could actually manage to pull off the small groups in anything remotely resembling competence, then you have the six member Facilitation Group which will actually decide WHAT is presented to General Conference. Talk about a major withdrawal from the “trust bank” for that!

      There is no evidence that anything approaching a majority exists to revise our ordination standards and chargeable offenses. But, the revisionist side, as evidenced by today’s disruption and the threat that they will continue, is unable to accept that. So, any effort to create some grace-filled way to live together is doomed to failure.

    • While I won’t out the speaker or her head of delegation, I will share what she told me. She said, “We were told Rule #44 was a thinly veiled attempt by the liberal left to force their agenda down the throat of General Conference. When I got here, read what it was, and had the chance to experience it, I realized it wasn’t that at all. I have been mad most of the week.”

  4. There are two comments (Not Dan’s comments) that I wonder about –

    “How on earth can you bring together this much knowledge, talent and faith and consistently come up with such dismal results?”

    “When the will of the body was to actively silence the majority of individual voices, I lost heart.”

    The first one, I don’t know what this means. Does this mean that the hopes of change the person making the comment desired was denied and so all results become “dismal?” Does it mean that the person is looking for something creative, constructive, something that will bring new life to a dying denomination? (Others have declared that the UMC is dying) I just don’t know what is meant by this comment.

    The second comment is one, I think, out of frustration the person is experiencing. However, from a grammatical perspective it doesn’t make sense. How can the “body” silence a “majority”? When votes are taken, isn’t it the majority that gains the positive vote? I don’t understand how the “majority” can be silenced unless there is some sort of dictatorship rather than a democratic process.

    Speaking to both of these statements, it seems that they come from people who are highly discouraged about the direction this conference is moving, or appears to be moving. Maybe they came expecting that this would be THE year for major change and whatever stance they wanted would be affirmed. Maybe they came looking for even more time spent in powerful worship experiences and a move away from the wrangling of ideas and emotions of past GCs.

    In other places, I’m hearing stories of the powerful worship, the stance that some Bishops are taking that is powerful and positive, the voice (as you lifted Dan) of the African delegates taking their stand as equal rather than someone that needs our western assistance. I’m watching online when a young person told her story of missions (her story alone gives me hope for the future of our denomination). I’m seeing some very good things occur. And, as Bishop Ough spoke this morning, our method for working together is “messy.” So I would expect some to be happy and others to be frustrated and sad. But these stories certainly do not indicate “dismal results” to me.

    Thank you for the invitation to look and see that we “need each other” and, I would add, that we need God.

    • I probably shouldn’t explain what someone else meant, but as to the second comment in context, the woman felt that Rule 44 honored the right of each individual to be part of the conversation and to be heard in a radically different and inclusive way. She felt a “majority rule” vote took that possibility away, guaranteeing that only a few dominant voices from the extremes would drown out the voices from the middle and those less likely to get up and go to a microphone.

      • Ok – but that is pretty much an excuse. In a perfect world…

        How does Rule 44 enable more voices to be heard? It was supposed to be monitored for any “harmful language” deemed that way by monitors from three select groups. Couldn’t these groups impose their own understanding in a way that silenced a voice? Of course they could. We see that occurring in other venues already. If this rule actually allowed for us to converse with each other rather than over each other, that would be great. But when I believe that something I say is going to be monitored for anything that someone else may deem “harmful”, I get gun-shy saying anything.

        A friend, in another place, was talking about disagreement they had over some policies that President Obama has instituted. Her conversation was not about the President. Merely some of his policies. Yet, another person found what she said offensive and she was required to take sensitivity training or be fired from her job. I heard what she said. In no way did she use racist or sexist language to talk about the policies. She focused on what the policy said and why she disagreed with it. That is all it took.

        I would like to think that the church, our church, would not have such a knee jerk reaction, but I’ve seen that too many times. We are human beings, after all. Maybe I’m missing something in my understanding of Rule 44 but I don’t understand how it would have enabled more individual voices to be heard.

        And when a vote is taken, each voice has a right to vote the way they see fit. Their voice then joins the voice of others for the resulting outcome. The majority vote, whether for or against, becomes the majority voice.

      • Many people who are intimidated to speak out in front of hundreds of strangers warm to a smaller group where there is time taken to learn their name, talk with them at a personal level and where they are actively invited into dialogue. You are listening to a lot of the fears raised. We never got to clear up the misinformation and miscommunication passing as good information concerning the conversation process. We were never able to answer or address the concerns raised because we pulled the plug on Rule 44. In my experiences of our attempts to learn the process, it was far from perfect AND it was a lovely attempt at making sure no one felt they were not given a chance to share their opinion, belief or perspective. For many whose language is not English, they expressed a great appreciation for the smaller, more engaging environment and process. Said one woman to me from Mozambique, “We should do THIS instead of Rule 44.”. When I told her that this WAS Rule 44, she was shocked. She said, “I was told that Rule 44 was a way to find out who would vote which way to control our voting!”. I showed her the rule in the ADCA (Advance Daily Christian Advocate) and she was completely baffled. She loved the small group conversation, and wished we could do it more.

      • The Commission on the General Conference is now trying to bring Rule 44 back again! The small group process failed in 2012. The practice small group process this year went poorly. We have a major trust deficit and all they want to do is make yet another withdrawal.

        The fundamental question here is whether there is a majority to make any type of change to our ordination standards and chargeable offenses? There is not. There is not going to be one in 2020 either.

        The hard question that is left is whether we can create some sort of graceful exit mechanism or, thinking a little outside the box, whether openly gay non-celibate clergy would be willing to serve as local pastors without guaranteed appointment but with explicit congregational pre-approval before being appointed to a church? Rev. Ritter’s Love Alike Plan might make it but that is not going to make you, Amy DeLong or Dr. Benz happy either.

      • However, you are right that most LGBTQI people here do not feel safe sharing who they are in ANY context, and Rule 44 does not provide them the assurances and safeguards they desire. Sad.

  5. I haven’t done a tally of all of the legislative committees but it appears that the VAST majority of legislation was not considered by the full committees at all. At least that is my understanding based on the CALMS legislative tracking. Most petitions are “Committee Not Considered” so it isn’t that they weren’t approved, rejected, referred or even folded into another petition. But, that NOTHING was done with them in the full committee. They may have been considered in a subcommittee but it is very sad that the full committees were not able to do anything with so much that was submitted.

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