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May 9, 2012

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Confession: Sometimes I feel like one of the things that United Methodists are best at is shallow optimism. In looking at the events of our most recent General Conference, I am not sure I am willing to put a positive spin on things, or accept the attempts some made in the immediate aftermath of General Conference to put it in a positive light. While I can certainly understand why delegates would want to find meaning in the way that they have poured themselves out over the last two weeks, I’m not sure we have much to be proud of. I’m not sure anybody won. And I’m pretty sure The United Methodist Church lost. And yet I sense that people are already putting a positive spin on things. Something about the catharsis of a stressful ten day meeting ending seems to make people feel better about the meeting itself, even in the face of the apparent evidence.

For my part, I wish we could be honest: we are sick and we do not appear to have the necessary resources to heal ourselves.

There were many ways our inability to heal ourselves was illustrated during the meeting in Tampa, FL, but none display the communal brokenness more clearly than efforts around restructuring the church. Coming into this General Conference, there seemed to be widespread recognition that the denomination was at a crossroads. We are in serious decline and the time to act is now, lest it be too late to make meaningful change. I may have missed it, but I do not recall hearing or reading any arguments that suggested that everything is great and there is no reason to worry. So, people of good will and gifted ability invested countless hours and resources in trying to identify ways forward and make the case for the necessity of the agreed upon way forward. The results are before us and they give us no grounds for having hope in ourselves.

The General Administration committee was so divided that it voted down every single substantive proposal that was before it and did not bring anything to the floor of General Conference.

A heroic effort was made to bring a compromise plan directly to the floor of General Conference. A compromise was hammered out and brought to the full conference. It passed, though few seemed very enthusiastic about it. The general idea, among those who voted for it, was that something was better than nothing.

And then, halfway through the last day, Judicial Council announced that the plan was unconstitutional and unsalvageable.

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May 9, 2012

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Restructuring?

I was at Gen Conf 2012 as an observer to the General Administration Committee and I read all of their assigned legislation and watched them through long, long days of hard work.

The first restructuring attempt, the Call to Action (CtA) proposal was immensely restrictive, having a church of 12 million very diverse people run by a Board of 15 individuals, almost all from the U.S. It attempted to reduce the boards and agencies to committees of that board, and it had almost no representation from the Central Conferences, which is where the church is growing. Out of this, mostly by CtA people who were unhappy came something called Plan B, somewhat more flexible and inclusive but not much. The Methodist Federation for Social Action also created a plan, much more inclusive, with a larger governing board and significant participation from the Central Conferences.

The Committee labored hard, but could not find any combination that had enough support to pass. This was largely because the committee was packed by a very large number of delegates from the Connectional Table, who had produced the CtA plan and were, finally, unwilling to be flexible enough to work with others.

So, the committee could find no full scale or even skeletal restructuring proposal to bring to the plenary floor.

Meanwhile, many of the Boards and Agencies, seeing the handwriting on the wall had spent a couple of years considering their own structures, reducing Boards for more efficiency, and generally doing what boards ought to do every decade; that legislation was seen but not acted on, except for a very impressive set of new governance resolutions from United Methodist Women which passed without amendment or negative vote, which meant they went onto the consent calendar and were passed by the Whole GC2012 without further debate.

When the CtA and PlanB people saw the situation, they worked up overnight something they called PlanUMC, and somehow, despite it not being even seen by any committee or sub committee, got all 76 pages of it into the
Daily Christian Advocate for the Plenary session. That hasty plan, an attempt to save the restrictive structures of CtA and Plan B, is what the Judicial Council declared hopelessly unconstitutional.

However, don’t forget all those Agency revisions. They were presented and passed as a group, allowing the various church parts to work on and revise their agencies in ways they know best and return a much revivified church to General Council 2016 with a much larger participation by the Central Conferences.

This is not to say that some terrible things did not happen at GC2012, particularly in matters of the open and inclusive church and in the unbelievable vote taken on whether God’s Grace is available to all at all times, which apparently only 56% of the GC2012 believes to be true.

However, the restructure issue was not an unmitigated disaster, and in fact came out a lot better than perhaps we deserved. I have never been so close

Anne Ewing more than 1 years ago

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