Why, yes, this DOES look a lot like Square One. That's what often happens when one experiences what we call an "epic fail."
Those who've been following the 2012 General Conference Follies – for so I've come to think of this year's legislative wave attempting to manipulate The United Methodist Church's future – now know it appears that the one trumpeted achievement of this year's session, eliminating guaranteed clergy appointments, has also failed. The General Conference secretary, the Rev L. Fitzgerald "Gere" Reist, has informed the Council of Bishops that the mandate to appoint all elders in good standing appears in TWO places in the Book of Discipline, and only ONE of those instances was changed by General Conference.
Can we all say, "uh-oh?" Or maybe that should be "sloppy."
More experienced General Conference veterans take this latest tempest from Tampa with a large boulder of salt in the teapot. As with a proposed change adopted back in 1996 that was ruled unconstitutional thanks to the analysis of two sharp-eyed "policy wonks" from Minnesota, Gere Reist has done the denomination a tremendous favor. By his methodical comparison of the relevant Discipline paragraphs regarding clergy appointment, Reist has brought to light the failure of General Conference to amend both necessary references, rendering the one legislative action null and void.
Reist's interpretation likely will have enormous influence on the fall session of the Judicial Council when the question of "security in appointment for clergy," as it's officially known, will be decided. This revelation has denominational leaders, especially bishops, pulling out what's left of their hair. The 2012 session has been labeled the Do-Nothing General Conference in many an online rant discussion.
Yet at least one wise soul has pointed out an equally valid perspective: Rather than "doing nothing," the 2012 General Conference averted making fear-motivated changes that could have had devastating effects on the entire denomination. These changes were crafted by a small group of insiders who, alas, are more out of touch with the culture both inside and outside the UMC than they know. In particular, the change agents failed to secure the participation of United Methodists beyond the United States in crafting adaptations, thereby ensuring their political demise at the first global assembly in which non-U.S. delegates made up 40 percent of the total legislators.
In short, one might even say that the 2012 General Conference was "occupied" by representatives of the entire people called United Methodist. Their motives may have been self-serving in flexing their political muscles, but what about politics isn't self-serving?
So here we are, back at Square One. What have we learned from this roundabout journey?