Courtesy of UMC Plan B
Comparison of a portion of UMC Plan B with the Connectional Table restructure proposal.
With less than five weeks to go before the opening of the 2012 General Conference, critiques of both the Council of Bishops' Call to Action program and the radical restructure proposed by the Connectional Table are flying thick and fast around The United Methodist Church.
Within the past month, four major critiques or alternatives have appeared on the horizon, giving delegates to the 2012 General Conference even more to consider as they prepare to descend upon Tampa, FL, April 24-May 4 for the denomination's once-every-four-years global legislative assembly.
To date, major statements have been issued by:
- Bishop Minerva Carcaño on behalf of leaders of the Western Jurisdiction,
- The Wisconsin Annual Conference delegation,
- A task force of the General Council on Finance and Administration, and
- An ad hoc group that calls itself UMC Plan B.
The latter group supposedly is made up of leaders from 15 annual conferences, four jurisdictions and two Central Conferences. Although no annual conferences or individuals are listed on the Plan B website, the site is registered in the name of Joe Whittemore, former lay leader of the North Georgia Annual Conference.
United Methodist Insight submitted two email inquiries requesting the identities of Plan B drafters to the website address, but received no reply. However, the following statement was found on the UMC Plan B website:
"A good idea is a good idea — no matter its source. The attention should not be on the developers of the plan and the frequently resulting stereotyping, which discounts, discriminates against, and puts down these persons."
This statement stands in sharp contrast to other alternatives, especially that first proposed last November by the Methodist Federation for Social Action and the Inter-Ethnic Strategy Development Group, which represents the denomination's racial-ethnic caucuses.
The group has posted a side-by-side comparison of Plan B with the restructure proposed by the Connectional Table and its Interim Operations Team.
The Plan B website says that its primary motivation is to put more authority into the hands of lay leaders and local congregations, as opposed to the Connectional Table plan that would concentrate authority in a single 45-member coordinating board.
Meanwhile, Southwest Texas Annual Conference Lay Leader Jay Brim, serving as legislative coordinator for the Connectional Table, told United Methodist Insight that he and other CT members are consulting with various groups around the church, including those who've posted the latest critiques, in hopes of reaching some consensus on amending the CT proposal at General Conference.
Brim said that many of the proposed alternatives, such as the plan put forth last November by the Methodist Federation for Social Action, have worthwhile suggestions that could be incorporated into a compromise restructure plan. He added March 14 that he has discussed alternatives with Joe Whittemore of UMC Plan B and will meet March 17 with the Pacific Northwest Conference delegation.
"So far, I'm finding everybody ready to find common ground, because we all want to see some movement," Brim said.
Bishop Gregory Palmer, convenor of the Interim Operations Team, responded to UM Insight's invitation on behalf of the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table:
The several critiques and proposals that are in the hopper are the church at work. The conversation is more rigorous and robust because of them. That also means that it is not prudent to try to answer every objection or respond to every idea explicitly. There are no concerns and objections that have been raised that cannot be meaningfully and thoughtfully addressed by the delegates through the legislative process during the General Conference. We invite work that perfects the details rather than jettisons the key ideas that have been put forth by the work of the CTA-IOT.
We are still persuaded that the recommendations of the of the CTA-IOT that have moved forward as legislation prepared and submitted by the Connectional Table are the right place to dig in. The key is to embrace the “adaptive challenge” of directing sustained attention and resources to increasing the number of vital congregations which are essential for inviting, forming and sending disciples of Jesus Christ.
Our recommendations name several specific ways to sharpen our focus and press on key levers for change. The Call to Action is about taking steps in a 10 year commitment to create more vital congregations, requiring a no-nonsense increase in collaboration and learning to use metrics as we not only pursue the dreams God gives us but also measure our progress in reaching them. After all of the "yes, but" talk and debate of counter proposals -- what we need most is for the UMC to stay intently focused for at least a decade on creating more vital congregations, assure genuine and sustained alignment in that effort from all parts of the Connection and provide for greater accountability for both lay and ordained leaders.
The Western Jurisdiction Critique
Bishop Minerva Carcaño outlined Western Jurisdiction concerns about both the Call to Action legislation and the Connectional Table restructure in a letter to Bishops Gregory Palmer and John Hopkins posted on the website of the General Commission on Religion and Race. Bishop Palmer is convenor of the Interim Operations Team and Bishop Hopkins chairs the Connectional Table.
In her letter, Bishop Carcaño notes that the change proposals took up a major portion of the February meeting of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, which also consulted with "a significant number of jurisdictional leaders, among them all of our conference cabinets, our jurisdictional Leadership Team, Committee on Episcopacy, representatives from our jurisdictional CFA, and the racial/ethnic leaders of the Western Jurisdiction.
"We are concerned that without further work on the alignment of agencies [prior to General Conference] we run the risk of setting up our new agency structure for failure and the kind of chaos that will not enable them to serve as a resource to our annual conferences and local churches," Bishop Carcaño wrote. "While we recognize that we do not know all that has already been attempted to get us to a better alignment of agencies, we would urge you to continue gathering our present agency general secretaries and perhaps a few others with them to continue the hard work of considering the function and purpose of each of the proposed newly aligned agencies."
Bishop Carcano's letter continues: "We have noted that several of the boards of our agencies have already spent a major part of the quadrennium reordering their work for the adaptive challenges of the Call to Action. Disregarding this solid work would be reckless on our part."
Western Jurisdiction leaders also expressed deep concerns about a lack of racial-ethnic diversity and inclusiveness in the proposed restructure. Among its specific recommendations:
- "Rather than moving to eliminate all agency boards, what if each of the 5 new proposed agencies were governed by a l5-member board for oversight and direction of the agencies including assisting the agencies in matters of transition and alignment?
- "From these agency boards, what if 3 members were then assigned to the 15 member oversight body for all of the agencies. This board could assume the responsibilities outlined for the recommended 15-member competency based board. We believe such a board might have a better opportunity to assist the new agencies in matters of effective collaboration.
- "We would also hope that whatever governance structure the General Conference would adopt, persons solicited to serve in leadership would have a wide range of competencies, including sensitivities and demonstrated effectiveness in working across generations, cultures and classes."
Western Jurisdiction leaders also were "greatly concerned" about diminishing the monitoring capacity of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the inclusion of Central Conference representatives in governance of the entire denomination, and "clear mission engagement with people of color in The United Methodist Church."
The Wisconsin Delegation Statement
Wisconsin delegates have issued objections to legislation regarding denominational restructure, the elimination of guaranteed appointment for clergy, and the values behind organizational change proposals, including measuring membership and resources.
First elected clergy member of the Wisconsin delegation is the Rev. Dan R. Dick, conference director of connectional ministries who has been an outspoken critic of both the Call to Action and the Connectional Table. Among Wisconsin delegates' objections to these plans listed on its website:
- "Decisions about structure should be based on missional priorities and outcomes: form must follow function and it is currently unclear what outcomes the proposed structure would enable us to achieve more effectively.
- "The absence of a spiritual center to the process of determining our future is troubling – we would encourage a greater emphasis on prayer, fasting, Christian conference, reflective discernment, and scriptural study.
- "There is not a clear explanation of how the proposed cuts will truly benefit the church in the long term, just an assumption that we can do more, better with less – we would like to see more strategy and less assumptions.
- "Core questions of identity and purpose are being ignored in favor of structure, policies and image; the assumption seems to be that systemic change isn’t necessary as long as we can rearrange parts of the existing system – we would encourage a clarity about our identity and purpose guiding our decisions about what to keep and what to eliminate.
- "A hierarchical, non-representative structure seems antithetical to the values and nature of The United Methodist Church – how we work must reflect who we truly are.
- "The issues of guaranteed appointment and ordination process are symptomatic of deeper dysfunction in our leadership credentialing and support system; creating conference level positions and a culture of call do not adequately address deeper issues – we must improve our processes of discernment and assessment rather than seek remedial solutions.
- "Our current trends toward counting – worship attendance, professions of faith, numbers of small groups, etc. – provide an unbalanced approach to evaluation and confuse size with health. Qualitative metrics and holistic definitions of health and vitality are needed. Confusing “people who attend worship” with “disciples” is deeply problematic.
- “Discipleship” is lifted as our focus and goal, yet most of the recommendations do nothing to help define what we mean by discipleship or how the changes will equip our congregations to create sustainable and effective systems for disciple-cultivation.
Wisconsin delegates have pledged to seek alternatives to Call to Action and the Connectional Table restructure during General Conference.
General Council on Finance and Administration
The task force of the General Council on Finance and Administration lists four areas of concern in its report on the Connectional Table/Interim Operations Team proposal:
Balance of powers in budget recommendations, since the proposal would eliminate GCFA and put budgeting into the hands of the Council of Bishops. This would include oversight of the Episcopal Fund, one of the churchwide funds supported by local congregations and annual conferences. Unlike other churchwide boards and agencies, the Episcopal Fund has consistently run over budget for the past several four-year financial periods according to reports in the General Minutes, the compilation of statistical reports from all United Methodist congregations and conferences.
Increased legal liability resulting from the pooling of assets currently held by multiple boards and agencies. As a decentralized structure, The United Methodist Church has been protected from catastrophic liability lawsuits that would decimate the entire denomination. This decentralized standing has been upheld in numerous appellate court decisions over the past 40 years.
Loss of tax-exempt status for all United Methodist boards, agencies, conferences and congregations under Internal Revenue Service rules resulting from the dissolution of the General Council on Finance and Administration.
Disconnect of the CT/IOT plan with the "adaptive challenge" goals of the Council of Bishops' Call to Action report. The GCFA task force says the restructure exacerbates, rather than relieves, the level of mistrust across the denomination.
The GCFA report summarizes its critique:
"We believe that this IOT restructure plan fails to address many legitimate concerns relating to the work of GCFA and the legal structure of the denomination. The restructure plan will put the assets of the Church at risk and will fail to protect the Church from risk of loss if the Center of Connectional Mission and Ministry were named in a lawsuit and could imperil the non-profit status of many of our ministries.
"We believe that the IOT restructure plan as proposed will not accomplish the goals defined in the CTA. It will make significant changes in structure but will not put into place clear definitions of effectiveness and ways to move toward those defined goals. The plan places the voice of all clergy and laity into the hands of a small board that is not inclusive or representative of our Church.
"The Council is aware that other alternative plans for restructure will be proposed for consideration by the General Administration legislative committee of General Conference. In light of all plans and options that can be considered, we urge the delegates to the 2012 General Conference to devise a structure for our denomination that:
- Provides for an independent financial and administrative agency working on behalf of the General Conference to keep the general Church effective in its ministry and accountable to the people of The United Methodist Church
- Retains the separate legal structure that will protect as much as possible the assets of the Church from joint liability,
- Includes plans for retaining the tax-exempt ruling for the Church in the United States,
- Allows for inclusive representation in the decision-making of the Church,
- Clearly addresses the finding of the Call to Action, including enhancing the vitality of our congregations, decreasing distance and mistrust at all levels of the connection, of providing a clear path forward on how to improve the effectiveness of the ministries of our general agencies.
"A restructure plan that does not address these major areas of concern in full prior to implementation with complete and proper due diligence will have unintended consequence for the legal and administrative function of the Church. These unintended consequences will divert attention from the mission of the Church so that decision-makers will need to address undoing unintended negative results instead of proactive work in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
Correction 3-16-2012: Lay member and conference treasurer Lisa King chairs the Wisconsin delegation. An earlier version incorrectly gave Rev. Dick as chair; he is the first elected clergy member.
Correction 3-19-2012: Joe Whittemore of UMC Plan B denies past affiliation with Good News or the Confessing Movement, and the article has been corrected to reflect his assertion. Whittemore also declined to name the participants in UMC Plan B.
In addition, Plan B did not go before the Connectional Table meeting March 5-6. An alternative proposal came from Connectional Table members to the Interim Operations Team Plan.