Why the #UMC Alternative Plan is still about Executive Power
In the 2009 Movie “Pelham 123,” good guy Denzel Washington asks bad guy John Travolta how he is going to get away with hijacking a subway train. Here’s their edited-for-language exchange:
Denzel: You gotta understand that the circumstances they’re different now for you. You gotta rethink this, you… you gotta adapt.
John: No, I gave you instructions and you know the consequences.
Denzel: I mean don’t you have a plan B?
John: No, plan B is enforcing plan A… and the minute you stop believing me ****, that’s it!
While “Plan B” is usually referred to as the humorous or less-than-stellar backup to plan A, Travolta says that Plan B is merely to reinforce Plan A. And that’s just the way it is going to be.
This is relevant because a Plan B has entered the conversation with the United Methodist Church: a group of discontent Methodists, most of whom are on the highest executive committee in the UMC (the Connectional Table), have published an alternative to the Call To Action that we love so fondly here at HackingChristianity.net. And in many ways, like the movie, Plan B is only a more palatable version of Plan A’s goal: greater executive authority in the UMC.
Comparing Plan B with the MFSA Plan
Let’s compare the two plans before us that are alternatives to the Call To Action (most specifically the IOT legislation).
The Plan B and the MFSA plan (of which I’m a co-signatory of) have two different proposals of what should constitute the highest executive committee in the UMC. Please click on the chart below to make it more readable and then we have some analysis. Update: the thumbnail below didn’t update when I updated the chart. So you have to click it to get the accurate numbers. Silly thumbnails…
When you compare the two plans, there are many similarities but many points of contention.
- Plan B has fewer members than the MFSA plan and, indeed, the current executive committee. It looks the same, but with 11 non-voting members, there’s much fewer votes at the table.
- Plan B seeks to limit the “non-voting” membership to voice on only topics where they have direct affiliation. MFSA’s plan allows for non-voting representatives from each General Agency and from 10 of the ethnic and advocacy caucus groups (UMRF, Good News, Confessing, MFSA, and RMN) to have voice but no vote.
- Plan B seems to obfuscate that there would actually be six bishops on the executive committee, as the Agency Heads would all be Bishops.
- The MFSA plan calls for a rather-high number of 40% of the Jurisdictional reps to the Executive Committee to be racial ethnic. While this is higher than the actual percentages of the UMC, a commitment to this percentage is an avenue of growth within the USA as racial/ethnic communities are growing while Caucasian communities are shrinking–and the church needs to reflect this reality to remain relevant.
It is without irony that the Plan B people state that one of their guiding principles is to create a coordinating body “without a concentration of general church power.” Ha! When compared to the MFSA plan, those six bishops and smaller number of people certainly concentrates power in fewer people with greater power. In addition, with the lower mandates (of racial ethnic members, young adults, and gender), there would be fewer representatives of those classifications than the general population.
Numbers are great, but what are their purposes?
More than the numbers and the statistics, MFSA has a completely different understanding of what this executive body’s responsibilities and purposes should look like.
- MFSA envisions the CT as a coordinating body and thus renames it the Coordinating Council.
- MFSA seeks to give this body a clearer purpose than the current CT, “to serve as a forum for coordination of the mission, ministries and resources of The United Methodist Church.”
- The responsibilities of the CC flow from this purpose and include providing a forum for understanding and implementing the vision, ministries and mission of the global church; providing a forum for inter-agency conversation; enabling flow of information; reviewing and evaluating missional effectiveness of agencies, in collaboration with their governance boards; making proposals to General Conference; leading general church planning and research; and collaborating in the preparation and review of the general church budget.
- In short, the Coordinating Council is a forum for conversation and visioning, rather than a micro-managerial group of the entire church and the church budget.
- Plan B envisions the CT as a strong executive body (like the Call To Action proposal)
- Plan B gives the CT oversight responsibility for all program agencies. MFSA reserves this kind of responsibility for the respective governance boards.
- Plan B gives the CT responsibility for evaluating program and operational audits of the agencies, with the power to withhold approval of programs or activities and the power to direct GCFA to withhold funding in relation to unnecessary duplication or failure to achieve established outcomes. MFSA reserves this kind of responsibility for the respective governance boards.
- Plan B gives the CT authority for the annual evaluation of the strategic planning, goals, objectives and quantitative commitments made by general church agencies. With this, the CT would be given the power to withhold funding if the CT determines that an agency has not achieved established outcomes. MFSA seems to assign the CC to have a role in creating the proposed quadrennial budget, and they would receive and approve agency budget reviews. But that does not translate to authority to withhold funding, reserving this for the respective governance boards.
- Plan B gives the CT a pot of funds, called the “Connectional Table Adaptive Challenge Fund,” to be distributed to the agencies in accord with the evaluation and review of their measurable outcomes and facilitation of initiatives to increase vital congregations. MFSA calls for utilization of both quantitative and qualitative standards of measurement rather than just ‘measurable outcomes’ which are, for the most part, quantitative: butts in the pews, dollars in the plates.
In short, Plan B gives the Executive Committee (the CT) the power to evaluate and withhold funds from everything in the Church. MFSA indicates that this kind of evaluative role is most appropriately placed with a given agency’s governing board. Such a board may at times request outside assistance in evaluating its agency, but it is bad management to formally task this to an outside group like the CT.
Downsizing or Right-Sizing of the General Agencies?
Finally, we need to comment on the rest of the reorganization plan: the “Right-Sizing” of the General Agencies
- Both the MFSA plan and Plan B call for a “right-sizing” of the denomination. Currently, there are 641 members of the General Agency boards.
- The Call To Action reduces that number down to roughly 153 (60 members of the two executive boards, plus the anticipated board memberships of UMM and UMW, and the Publishing House)
- Plan B reduces that number to 280 (40 member Connectional Table plus proposed 25-30 member boards at all other agencies)
- The MFSA plan lowers it only to 397 (includes the 67 members of the Coordinating Council, plus 33-member boards at each of ten different agency/centers)
- In every case, there is a significant reduction of the number of board members, but both MFSA and Plan B have larger boards than the CTA. I think it is appropriate to shoot for the middle ground somewhere between MFSA and Plan B rather than turning over the power of 641 people to barely 25% of that number. Again, it seems like too much executive power to me. I’m reasonably confident that between the backers of the MFSA and the Plan B plans, it will shake out to be somewhere close to these two.
- Both Plan B and IOT place these monitoring agencies under a General Agency, whereas MFSA keeps them separate. Their rationale is that in order to maintain the independence of their monitoring functions, they must report to an independent board rather than reporting to an agency of which they are also monitoring.We often choose impartial people to monitor the government and the monitoring and accountability-encouraging functions in the UMC are no different.
When you wade through all the particulars, Plan B’s proposed setup:
- concentrates power
- subjects the process to politicization
- overwhelms a staff that does not have the capacity or internal insight for this level of evaluation
- exclusively prejudices quantitative measurements over qualitative, with no account for ministries that produce great value yet are challenging to quantify with numbers or require a long-term commitment in order to yield results.
Where do we go from here?
I think the only way to end this post is to repost the end of my most recent piece for Ministry Matters:
Given all this, the question remains: which executive body both looks most like the United Methodist Church that we recognize, and which body is closest to what we need right now?
The key thing for me is to decide if the “Methodist” way of doing things has value. Every faith organization has this identity and structure. For example, when our Catholic friends have crisis in their communities, they turn to the monks. When Cardinal Law presided over the Boston Child Abuse scandal and stepped aside, the RCC went to the Capuchin (a monastic order) Cardinal O’Malley. O’Malley sold the opulent mansion and cleaned house, as far as I can tell. My worship professor at the time said that has been their process through the ages: when the priestly order falls short (I forget the proper term for Law’s vocational lineage), they turn to the monks whose order is more bottom-up than top-down.
That’s the Catholic way of handling crises. Criticize the results how you may want, but it’s the Catholic way. The Methodist way to handle crises is through representative democracy: elected executives, diversity of opinion, big-tent Methodism, social action in varied stratum of society, committees, boards, and mutual accountability. This has been the Methodist way ever since we lost our chief executive in John Wesley and we haven’t replaced him until, perhaps, now. It is through this unwieldy Methodist connectional system that we find both our bane of slow to respond and our strength of holding together diverse groups.
I’m a young clergyperson and my generation has not seen any segment of society become more centralized. For example, music distribution went from the Big Records to Napster to Gnutella to Limewire (becoming more decentralized at each step). I honestly cannot think of any other organization in the world that is movingtoward a “top-down” system rather than away from it . . . other than corporations and 20th century power bases. And yet this move towards centralization and negation of connectionalism is exactly the direction the UMC seems to be heading with the Call to Action movement.
To me, the Spirit is found in the back-and-forth, the struggle for consensus in groups, the diversity of belief and passion that larger more-representative groups bring. They are unwieldy, they are not uniform, they are slow, they are full of sinful humans…but they are Methodist. And it is exactly that quality which I fear is being lost if we choose a proposal that excises difference and consolidates power in the hands of the few. There’s trimming that needs to happen to our family Methodist tree, but I don’t think cutting off the taproot is the best way to go about it.
Thoughts? What kind of church do we need for the 21st century? One with a group of executives at our top (like the Plan B and IOT plans), or one with a forum for conversation and visioning (the MFSA plan). Which is best to guide the church faithfully in our increasingly post-Christian context? And more importantly…will you tell your delegate which you see as best? The power is yours, use it in the next week before it is too late.
Thoughts? Thanks for your comments.