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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.