Response: Scott Campbell – PlanUMC was Unconstitutional

HackingChristianity hosts exchange of responses to Judicial Council Smackdown

Moments after PlanUMC passed on the floor of General Conference 2012, Rev. Wm. Scott Campbell was recognized and called for a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council on its constitutionality.  The motion passed easily. A few days later, the Judicial Council issued Decision 1210 which voided the PlanUMC as unconstitutional. Boom!

As expected, after General Conference, lots of accusations of judicial activism and overreach of the ecclesial courts’ voiding of the restructure plan were bounced around. The main essay I’ve seen was the previous post by Lonnie Brooks, one of the architects of PlanB and PlanUMC.

The following is a counterpoint to the essay by Brooks, written by the same Rev. Wm. Scott Campbell (New England Elder, Pastor of Harvard-Epworth UMC in Cambridge, MA). He wrote it in response to HackingChristianity’s request, and we have Rev. Campbell’s permission to repost it below.

Though this exchange may be mostly interesting only to United Methodist polity nerds (you know who you are), it provides insight into the fundamental differences over the governance models that reflect Methodist doctrine…and the ones that do not.

Read and enjoy!


A Response to

by Rev. Wm. Scott Campbell

I appreciate the careful and thoughtful response to JC 1210 by Lonnie Brooks.  As one of the architects of both Plan B and Plan UMC, I know that he had a great deal of personal investment in each of these plans, and the fact that his response is so measured is a testimony to his love for the United Methodist Church and its polity.  I do, however, differ with his take on the decision at several key junctures.

The Process

Before I discuss the specifics of the decision, though, I would like to offer a few general observations about the process of creating the restructuring proposals that were put before the church.  Because the initial IOT (Call to Action) plan was developed the way it was, the entire church was put under enormous strain.  The legislation for the IOT plan was sprung on the church with less than a month to go before the General Conference deadline for submitting legislation.  This came after the plan was, according to some, railroaded through the Connectional Table in a July meeting.  MFSA attempted to hastily assemble a legislative response and, later, the Plan B folks offered an alternative of their own.  The last minute nature of the IOT plan, however, precluded what is absolutely necessary for any restructuring plan to be successful in the current environment—a broad-based collaboration and buy-in from many diverse constituencies.  All of the plans, including the MFSA plan, were developed by relatively small groups of people working under incredible time pressures.  Nowhere was this more apparent than in the shaping of Plan UMC.  The fact that none of the plans was ever submitted to the Judicial Council for constitutional review illustrates my point.

Second, the insistence of the developers of all of the plans (with the exception of the MFSA plan) on proportional representation in the composition of the governing structures creates trust issues.  It shifts the issue from what is best for the church to who will call the shots.  It is further interesting to me that proportional representation is always discussed in terms of membership and never in terms of per capita giving to the general church—where the Southeastern Jurisdiction ranks last in the US, trailing the Western Jurisdiction by some 33%.  This focus reinforces that idea that the primary issue is control rather than coordination.

Finally, Lonnie is technically correct when he asserts that Plan UMC incorporated MFSA’s concern that the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) and The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) report directly to the General Conference.  What he does not say is that MFSA wanted these bodies to continue to have their independent status.  While MFSA would not have opposed the combining of their functions into a common commission, MFSA believed it was critical for both bodies to maintain their autonomy.  Their incorporation within the General Council for Strategy and Oversight (GCSO) was never a part of MFSA’s vision.

The Decision

It seems to me that Lonnie is unclear about two fundamental problems with Plan UMC.  Let me address them one at a time.

First, he has not accurately stated the nature of the oversight that Plan UMC intended for the GCSO.  When he states that the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) has already been delegated the power to withhold funds from boards and agencies, he neglects to tell us under what conditions such withholding can occur.  His statement that … this is simply a restatement of authority already in place with the General Council on Finance and Administration is misleading at best.  GCFA can only withhold funding when an agency violates policies clearly articulated by the General Conference relating to discriminatory practices, financial impropriety, or specific policies and procedures adopted by the General Conference (e.g. expending funds that could be construed to be promoting the acceptance of homosexuality.)  The only other circumstance in which GCFA can withhold funding is if it determines that a particular initiative duplicates something already being done by another body in the church.

Yes, the General Conference does delegate the authority to GCFA to monitor compliance of the Boards and Agencies with particular policies and procedures clearly articulated by the General Conference.  It does not give GCFA the authority to make subjective judgments about the effectiveness of the agencies and to withhold funding on the basis of such opinions.  That is precisely the power that the GCSO would have under plan UMC.  This is a whole new level of authority that no body in the church has ever had before, save the General Conference.  It is this kind of control that the Judicial Council removed from the General Council on Ministries in Decision 364 in 1973.  Their ruling in the current situation is consistent with precedent.

Second, Lonnie’s insistence that “facilitate and coordinate” is synonymous with “oversight” strains credulity.  In fact, if either the Plan UMC designers or the Plan B authors had been willing to understand the role of the GCSO in terms of facilitating and coordinating, there would not have been a problem.  Instead, under Plan UMC, this body would have the right to hire and fire General Secretaries of agencies; it would be authorized to evaluate the work of the boards and agencies and to withhold funding based upon the results of their evaluation; and it would have the authority to assign duties to other bodies, in particular the General Secretaries Committee (see line 582).  This latter function is in direct contradiction to Lonnie’s insistence that No such authority was provided in Plan UMC to the GCSO.  The issue for the Judicial Council was not that the GCSO would facilitate and coordinate the work of the agencies.  It is already clear that the Connectional Table (CT) is authorized to do that, and there has been no constitutional issue with the CT.  The problem identified by the Judicial Council, correctly in my opinion, was that oversight in Plan UMC was a far more invasive concept than the plain use of the words “facilitate and coordinate” would convey.

A Final Thought

There are many lessons to be learned by what has transpired over the last eight months in relation to restructuring the church.  Perhaps none is more important than the need for any plan to be carefully developed by a broad constituency of diverse voices over a reasonable period of time.  Further, for any plan to be successful, it is going to have to be crystal clear to the church at large that the issue is coordination of ministry and not the consolidation of power.  One way to do that is to begin the conversation by asking what voices we need at the table, not by insisting on the right of certain constituencies to be over-represented.  We have four years to do this right.  Let’s learn from our mistakes and move forward together.

Scott Campbell
May 16, 2012



Thanks to Scott Campbell for allowing us to post this article!

Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Creed Pogue says

    If the US Supreme Court overturns all of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) because it finds the individual mandate unconstitutional, both Scott Campbell and I will be outraged because the Court overreached for at least two reasons. The first is that the mandate doesn’t kick in until 2014 so it is rather impossible to claim that someone’s rights have been abridged when nothing has happened yet. The second is that the rest of the law can stand on its own without the mandate. The same is true of Decision 1210. Reasonable people can reasonably differ about whether the General Council would be a violation of the UMC Constitution. There was no need for a quick decision and there was no need for a full overturning of a 60% vote of the General Conference.

    Process arguments often hide arguments on the merits that are very weak but appear stronger because style triumphs over substance. The same is true here. A lot of us like sausage but would not want to see it made.

  2. says

    I have a thought: BOOM.

    Scott is absolutely right (not that this surprises me), but what I love about this is the call to consider not only the content of how PlanUMC and its predecessors are in error, but the process that allowed us to get to this point. Such a consideration opens us up to new dialogue and process in the next four years, and invites us to create a transparent conversation and organization for the good of the whole church.


  3. John Lomperis says

    Thanks for your analysis, Scott. Sorry I missed seeing you in Tampa. I’ll confine my comment to your note about the relative representation of the Southeast and Western Jurisdiction (noting that the former is home to about eight times as many United Methodists as the latter).

    Could you please link to the source of the datum that the Western Jurisdiction gives 33% more per member than the SEJ? I’m not saying I don’t believe you, it would just be helpful for me to see where that’s from, especially given how most of the data I’ve seen has shown the Western Jurisdiction consistently lagging FAR beyond the other 4 jurisdictions in paying its allotted share of apportionments.

    As for your suggestion (if that’s how you meant it) about basing proportional representation on per-capita giving rather than actual number of members (or overall giving, for that matter), what is the exact logic of basing representation for different regions on how the average member in each region is graded according to some measure (financial or otherwise) and ignoring each region’s overall proportion within our denomination? Wouldn’t such a system essentially be saying that our structure should treat some members as more valued than others? In the case of your specific suggestion, wouldn’t this essential give greater privilege to those United Methodists who are financially in a better position to give money (measured in terms of absolute dollars rather than as a percentage of personal income)? Wouldn’t that same logic applied to US society mean replacing “one citizen, one vote” with a sliding scale in which some citizens can vote more often if they pay a higher (absolute, note percentage) amount of income taxes?

    Please correct me if I misunderstood you in anyway. Respectfully yours, ~John Lomperis


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *