PlanUMC: Process or Product? #GC2012

Better than the Devil We Know?

A recap for those of us just tuning in: The General Conference of the United Methodist Church is in session and considering a major restructure plan. No, not that one. And no, not that one. Another one.

How We Got Here

On Saturday night, the Committee tasked with this Restructure voted down the measure that had been debated and agreed upon after 3 days of work (due mainly to sabotage by the IOT/PlanB folks who wanted to take their balls and go home). They then voted down the pure unedited forms of PlanB, MFSA, and the IOT plans. Everything. Nothing left the committee as a recommended path.

So on Sunday, members of the IOT and the PlanB people got together in a marathon meeting starting at 4pm and still without a compromise measure by 9pm. The groups’ participants included Don Underwood (who supported the CT plan) and Christine Dodson (who supported the PlanB plan) and Central Conference delegates and…oh yeah, no one from MFSA even though they could have easily been invited. Sam Hodges’ article at UMReporter says “while no MFSA representative participated, there were negotiators who had backed the MFSA plan.” In other words, they wrote the ‘compromise’ measure including 3/4 of the active groups (only one of which wrote actual legislation in the ADCA) and they excluded the young adults who were the majority of MFSA representatives. So calling it a compromise is a bit loose.

On Monday, apparently a plan had been brokered and was given to the General Conference for printing in the daily publication of legislation. Then no copies were distributed. No delegates or press or bishops or anyone was able to have an additional 12 hours to read. This conference is full of back-room deals and exclusion of the young adults and central conferences from the adults table. It is just ridiculous.

But let’s stop grousing about the past (though we will return to this) and look at the plan ahead of us.

The Plan

Above the text is the plan for the governing body of the UMC (mobile users click here), called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight.

Some thoughts on the Executive Board:

  • It is a 45 member executive board with a focus on vital congregations (meaning that their primary mission would be to ensure that all activities benefit the local church). That is the expressed acrostic for how the local churches are doing. I wonder how UMCOR would fare under that consideration, given their disaster-response focus…
  • There will be seven seats for the Central Conferences, far less (numerically and proportionally) than the MFSA plan or the amended PlanB plan which was hashed out in committee.
  • There is only one bishop but the potential for eight bishops (as the Central Conference reps could all be bishops, under this plan…and the Council of Bishops could also appoint a CC bishop).
  • The “influence” of MFSA is seen in the inclusion of the five ethnic caucuses all having a seat and vote at the table. Yea team!
  • Six votes for the SEJ is an inbalance of power and proportionality unseen yet in the United Methodist Church. I know the SEJ is always annoyed that they have to “give up a delegate or two” to the lowly mission fields, but seriously. This reflects Whittemore’s statement in the General Administration subcommittee that “competence should be represented” but negates the need for the mission fields of United Methodism to have any voice of consequence at the tale.
Changes to the General Agencies
  • We see what happens when IOT and PlanB get together on the one thing they agree with: the women and people of color get the shaft. From Sam Hodges’ UMReporter article: “Coming under the council, in a new United Methodist Committee on Inclusiveness, would be would be the Commission on Religion and Race and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women.” So GCORR and COSROW would be under one board even though they perform very different functions other than simply monitoring. Sigh. [EDIT] Their job description looks great. However, they also become a committee and not a board and thus lose their voice on a LOT of committees, boards, and agencies. Look at all the cross-outs. Seriously amazing.
  • As well, one phenomenal change is that under this plan, the GCSO would be the one hiring and firing the General Secretaries of the Program Agencies (GBCS, GBOD, GBGM, GBHEM), not the Agency boards themselves (the others can).
  • It keeps a low Central Conference influence on the GCF&A (who handle the money). One required Central Conference bishop is removed, one at-large CC member is removed, and three CC voting members are added. While this raises CC participation percentage on the C0uncil, it is still not proportional (3 voting members out of 14 proportional reps is 21%, far lower than the current 36.4% UMC membership). This reflects the question posed by a member of the IOT in the committee: “If USA is contributing 99% of the money, why should we get 50% of the vote?” ( the percentage in the debated plan). So we are still leery of Central Conferences having proportional influence on the money when they contribute minimally to the finances of the general church. Not making that argument, just reporting it.
The Rest of the Plan
  • A lot is said about the “freedom” that Annual Conferences would get under the plan to reorganize. This mostly consists of ensuring that the local Boards of Church and Society, financial audit, discipleship, historical preservation, religion and race, etc would be optional rather than required. Often, it is only by pointing to the Discipline that an AC is forced to allow for these agencies presently. Removing this requirement removes any reason to have these local agencies who are mostly focused on monitoring and advocacy.
  • Several sections remove “special consideration given to equitable representation” on the boards (ie. page 2256, lines 627-628) so that pesky minorities don’t have a bylaw to remind the boards to be equitable in their board membership.
  • Unless I’m reading this wrong, does it delete the GCCUIC? Page 2282? Like, the whole agency and relegate its work to the Council of Bishops? Really? [EDIT] Okay it moves it to an Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships under the Bishops. All staff members will serve at the pleasure of the Executive staff person, chosen by the Council of Bishops. This is all to be funded by the Episcopal Fund (about time, the fund never is used for anything except bishop fun stuff).

Process or Product?

There’s a lot I like above. It reduces board size while keeping us from too much centralization. It merges GCORR and COSROW (which I’m told is what GCORR wants to happen EDIT: bad info sorry, that is not true). It raises Central Conference voice (in everything but fiscal matters) in many ways. It includes the ethnic caucuses with voice and vote.

The thing is, even if I 100% liked the product, I am appalled at the process it went through. The original Call To Action process was flawed, with questionable voting and discussion of voting from the start. At General Conference, the IOT members checked out of the perfecting of the church proposal so they could swoop in and try to get their original amended proposal done. The PlanB folks checked out when they were being outvoted by MFSA and Central Conference delegates. And when this whole shebang was put together, the young adults were completely excluded from the conversation. As I’ve said before, this process shows that we want to be in ministry TO young people, not WITH. Finally, the utter lack of Central Conference voices or participation in analysis of the issue is deafening and disheartening

I refuse to give consent to a product that had a flawed process. Like any local church, the process of determining decisions is just as important as the product. The Global church should be the same way. The “ends justify the means” mentality has never worked for me, and indeed I criticize my own issue-advocacy friends for that tendency as well.

I hate to say it (because I supported a plan that was rejected and now I risk sounding petulant), but I’m now firmly on the side of “no reform this year.” The process was too flawed, the people too pigheaded, and the politics too whitewashing for this plan to be acceptable to the conduct and polity of the United Methodist Church. We have scared the General Agencies who are inefficient that they have a ticking clock to clean house or get taken out. We have an emerging young adult voice who have gotten involved and will not be disenfranchised. We have a renewed energy for the church to be better, and the tools to do it right next tme. And even Lovett Weems says we can wait for years before we are really in trouble…is it worth risking the 2 cents of every dollar that goes in the church offering plates to do the process right?

I’ve always been a champion of an equitable plan to reorganize the UMC. I believed in that plan and I believed that the structure needed to be changed. But not like this. Not in this way. And even if my plan had won out to be considered in its entirety, if done in this process…I would be voting against it. And you can ask my friends and congregation if they believe I would be consistent like that. I am just not in that place after seeing the Sausage Factory in its rawest form (and this is my third GC), and I doubt I’ll ever be the same.

Process > Product is a renewed mantra of this Elder in the United Methodist Church.

Final Recommendations

Who may choose to support PlanUMC:

  • people in favor of random change. I’m serious, it may be okay to have a different model of governance and representation just to see what happens.
  • people who appreciate processes that exclude young adults from the bargaining table and hold back information so that debate and analysis would be minimal.
  • people who are honestly concerned about the fiscal state of the UMC and will do anything to lower the costs.
  • and, honestly, people who so buy into the Call To Action’s insistence that the church will fall apart unless these things pass.
  • And many others who honestly believe restructure is necessary and that this, though imperfect, is a good start. I have met many young adults who fall into this category, and I do not critique their decisions, though I find them myopic of the process.

Who may choose not to support PlanUMC

  • people who are fearful of an executive board who can hire and fire program agency heads rather than their own evaluative boards.
  • people who appreciate the independent boards without a central authority who controls the purse strings.
  • people who appreciate the truly independent monitoring functions of GCORR/COSROW (though that is not all they do).
  • Mostly, people who appreciate that the United Methodist Church is about the method not just the results, the process not just the product. Any process that excludes voices, ramrods reforms, and limits information and debate to actual General Conference delegates, no matter how great it is, is not a good product. And it should be voted down to send a message to the leadership: this is not the United Methodist way.

Your Action Items

  • If you are a delegate, now is the time to get the 20 signatures to remove the specific board reorganizations that you were hoping for. Women’s Division, GBGM, everyone that wrote their own reorganizational plan…get it into discussion because change may not be likely this year..
  • If you are not a delegate, get this blog post and tomorrow’s Neighbor News (the GC publication by the Common Witness Coalition) into the hands of delegates. It’s important work and regardless of their leanings, helpful reading. So far as I can tell, it’s the only chart available as well.

This is not the United Methodist Way, even if the product is agreeable to you. I hope Delegates will join me in expressing their UMC values of equity and fairness in process as well as product by voting down the PlanUMC.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Jim Winkler says

    In many ways, this debate comes down to a question of our theological worldview. If you believe command and control should be concentrated in the hands of a few, then this plan is for you. As for me, I do not believe centralization of power is consistent with Gospel values.

    • Creed Pogue says

      Yes, by all means, let us continue with a staff-driven structure where apportionment dollars are spent on important theological questions like whether the American flag should be in church sanctuaries! You trivialize yourself and show disrespect to those of us who work to get our annual conferences to pay their full apportionment obligations.

      As is too often the case, Jeremy insists on getting his own way no matter what but expects everyone else to go along with him.

      • Creed Pogue says

        When those who are opposed to “centralization” and “control” stop accepting their paychecks that come based on a denominational polity, then perhaps I can treat their arguments with something other than derision.

        • says

          Creed – I can assure you that neither I, nor MFSA receives financial support from the UMC. We’re funded entirely from donations and grants. Our volunteers have traveled to General Conference with their own means, are giving of their time each day, and are members of congregations which also pay apportionments and yet, they are also opposed to Plan UMC because it’s not equitable nor does it create more disciples for Jesus Christ or extend ministry.

          As a layperson I understand the importance of good stewardship and have often questioned some of our denomination’s financial choices, too. I can’t equate funds spent on flag-displaying with an overall governance restructure, though.

          • Creed Pogue says

            I was talking about Mr. Winkler. Who do you think pays him???

            You and I know that you aren’t that naive.

  2. Amos Paul says

    But a serious question. If the changes are, overall, agreeable–should accepting the changes necessarily be seen as settling upon a product of a faulty process? Or, perhaps, as pushing forward in semi-agreeable ways that may potentially beneift the *future* of the process?

    If the system is messy and backwards right now, what hope is there that it will suddenly be non-messy and not backwards in the future if not change is made at all?

    • says

      I appreciate the question, Amos. I am torn. On the one hand, I would love to change the culture at the top of the church and giving the CT more power over the General Secretaries would do that. However, I cannot in good conscience accept even my own proposal in its 100% purest form if it was done in the way this whole yearlong process has been done.

      It’s not the system that is messy and backwards. It’s the hubris of the parties involved (MFSA too, let’s be fair). The IOT are good people with good ideas with a heart for the church, this is true. But theirs is too fixated on fixing things at all costs rather than trusting the process. I refuse to reward such behavior with a YES vote. IMO.

  3. @preacherrich says

    I appreciate Jeremy’s leadership and willingness to boldly put out his viewpoint, I deeply disagree with his analysis and conclusion. This, at least it seems to me, is highly influenced by the MFSA perspective and not objective at all. He lays fault for the breakdown mostly at the feet of the IOT folks, and slightly at the feet of the plan B folks, while ignoring the abosolute intransigence of the MSFA folks. All three groups came to the process with inflexibility, but only the MFSA continued to refuse any process of compromise. Had to be said. Planumc is actually a good one and more than a compromise.

    • says

      Rich, thanks for your comments. If you’ve spent any time on the internet, bloggers are not objective. I write it as I see it. MFSA shares some fault in this, and I definitely see the intransigence allegation, so thank you for seeking balance in the conversation. But I do not share your conclusions. Blessings.

      • Creed Pogue says

        I keep hoping you’ll rise above the “I’ve made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts” but all too often you don’t.

  4. says

    been around this mess for twenty years and have yet to see a robert’s rules process work other than to rubber stamp what comes out of committee. if you’re waiting for what’s behind door number three because you want a cleaner process, have fun. you’ll be waiting a long time.

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