While the General Conference finally voted on issues related to The Call to Action late, this seems to be a good spot to discuss it at length.
There are some bishops who feel they are called to the ministry of reorganizing the denomination to fulfill their vision of the Church. If they were the retired ones, I could understand that impulse. And I would be tempted to take them seriously if for no other reason than they were more mature and experienced.
It appears some very bright “young bucks” caught the fever of simplification of structure that has been attempted across the United States but which the Judicial Council has invariably struck down because those plans took Disciplinary authority away from bodies and attempted to give it to others, contrary to the Discipline.
To be clear about what was involved, remember that bishops have been in charge of each board and agency since General Conference was persuaded that those groups needed monitoring to minimize turf fights, rampant expenses, and other bureaucratic problems. A bishop has been president of each and has had the pleasure of a half dozen or so episcopal colleagues on the board with them to help in the monitoring and governance of each body.
So now after all these years under their careful administration and watch, they joined with the heads of those boards and agencies and some others (successful pastors of mega-churches) to cut the expenses, the staffs, and the independence of those bodies. They called their plan, “The Call to Action.”
It was intended to revitalize local churches and make the denomination leaner but more efficient.
I don’t know whether they were covering up their ineptness for not fulfilling their responsibilities as the presidents of those bodies or whether they actually saw where changes could be made or were just wishing to continue experimenting with structure (often called re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic) or offering something else to save money rather than their own financial packages, or seeking something more Calvinist in our structures so eventually it will be easier to merge with the Southern Baptists. (I’ve been warned that I sometimes say things in cutting ways. That happens when one cannot get a word in edgewise.)
Simply described, The Call to Action sought to eliminate the guaranteed appointment, reshuffle the boards and agencies to make them smaller and compacting their functions, and to gain a set-aside bishop who could help coordinate the ministries of the Church and the Council of Bishops, and to speak on behalf of the Church. It would save lots of money and “we’d all be happy and gay,” to quote an old camp song.
And it would finally break the back of those darned kingdoms known as boards and agencies.
If you are following me on this, you are hearing me right if you see I am saying that the Council of Bishops is tired of having their own programming compete for authority and resources with the programming boards and agencies.
There was a challenge to The Call to Action which really was only a little different, called Plan B. It was rolled out early so that the two were the focus of presentations to the press last February.
Both plans were attacked quite widely from within the boards and agencies and from outside. An alternative that had substance needed to be developed and one was, finally getting to the table younger ministers and representatives of the regional (central) conferences outside the US (none of whom knew the Discipline nor the Judicial Council decisions related to the issue).
It was finally passed . . . in pieces.
The first to be passed was the guaranteed appointment. More on that below.
The set-aside bishop proposal was not passed. More on that below.
Something of a merger (Plan UMC) was passed only to be struck down by the Judicial Council on the last day of the conference who said the plan violated the Discipline’s constitution by allowing decisions to be made by others than the ones given that authority.
It is a subtle thing but it is my opinion that the Council of Bishops felt it would have more influence over programming if they could influence a group they wanted to make the decisions rather than the ones to whom the Discipline gave that authority. I do not see in JCD 1210 a warning to the bishops to stop taking authority where they didn’t have it. Maybe it is only in the eye of this beholder.
At numerous times over the years, I have warned the Church about bishops wanting more authority all the time in every way they could get it. To me “The Call to Action” was the biggest such incursion I’ve seen yet. I warn you, gentle reader. Wait till you see what they come up with for 2016!
In summary, then, the United Methodist Church – 2, the Council of Bishops -1* at the end of the General Conference.
*The guaranteed appointment “score” may be taken away because the Judicial Council has accepted a request to test the constitutionality of its removal and will rule on it in late October.