The odd framing of the Young People’s Convocation #GYPCLA

gypcla2014

The Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly (GYPCLA for you Methodist nerds) is an every-four-years gathering of young adults (clergy and laity) from United Methodist regions across the world. It was recently held last month in the Philippines during a hurricane.

From reading stories and having conversations with folks who went, it seems to have been a terrific experience.

The reporting, however, has had two odd frameworks that both bear correction to more accurately evaluate how this Convocation went and what it means for all of United Methodism.

#1: Reversing the Trend of LGBT Inclusion support?

The first odd framework comes from a familiar source of odd frameworks. The Institute on Religion and Democracy covered the Convocation in-person and on the way home breathlessly claimed that young United Methodists reject gay marriage petitions:

Three of these very clearly and directly addressed the question of church approval of homosexual practice…all three of these were considered, debated, and rejected…

This reverses the trend of the first two GYPCLAs, which both adopted homosexual-practice-affirming petitions. The first GYPCLA was held in South Africa in 2006 and the second was in Germany in 2010. The quadrennial event is organized by the Division on Ministries with Young People of the UMC’S General Board of Discipleship.

These recent votes also rebut the rather unnuanced claims some (generally older) people frequently make about how the church “has to” divorce itself from biblical and historic Christian teachings in order to pander to what “young adults” or “our young people” believe.

The problem with this framework is twofold:

  1. First, the fact is that the vote wasn’t nearly as one-sided as one might think. In fact, the vote for the primary legislation failed because it tied: 54 votes for, 54 votes against (source: UM & Global). A tied vote doesn’t “rebut” anything other than assumptions that it would have passed or failed easily.
  2. Second, “reversing the trend” of the previous two GYPCLAs is also deceptive.
    • In 2010, the LGBT affirming petition passed by 52% (per a legislative coordinator’s notes) while a generic petition affirming the 2008 majority report of the C&S (which didn’t mention LGBT issues explicitly) passed overwhelmingly.
    • In 2006, a lukewarm petition (which made no mention of LGBT just “equality in ordination”) passed by a super-majority (per an attendee’s copious notes). Like most things, when we are not explicit about LGBT inclusion, the conversation fares better.

The framework that the GYPCLA rejected gay marriage and reversed previous endorsements is faulty. A more honest framework would state that like previous Convocations, the question is a 50/50 split among young people delegates from United Methodist regions across the world and that mirrors their age brackets (GenX and Millenials). And that how legislation is written influences how it is voted on.

Update from the comments: The IRD corrects some of the numbers above in the comments, while Zzyzx reflects on the temperament before 2006.

#2: Who Bears Responsibility?

The second odd framework is that the tactics and behaviors of young adults at the Convocation mean that we need to look to GC2016 for a better model, rather than hold ourselves accountable for our sins in the past.

The Northwest Texas Annual Conference made a video about their GYPCLA experience. It is a very odd video in that half of it is enlivening video, and half of it is big block scary letters across the screen. Here it is and watch especially the section after :48


There’s little dispute that such negative conferencing tactics were present. From two attendees that went and allowed me to anonymously use their quotes:

#1: I found the way that the group that kept trying to bog down procedure with stupid “questions” instead of proper questions toward the procedure was a little childish. Also there were three times people could go have conversation about the pieces of legislation and from what i could tell those where not as well as attended. The issue about translation was a little sketchy. they brought it up at that the 11th hour and not the two days we sat around waiting.

#2: [The] legislation was meant to neutralize or remove discriminatory language allowing all UMCs to practice what their clergy and congregations chose to. Nevertheless, questions and statements about how [the legislation] was trying to force people and churches who don’t believe in gay marriage to accept and perform them kept coming.

Finally, one of the allegations in the video was that “a pastor was influencing the presiding Bishop.” I found out who it was and contacted that accused pastor and he said he was simply providing his iPad to the Bishop which had a digital version of Robert’s Rules on it. I would definitely call him a church nerd, but not anything deceptive–and if you are still reading at this point, you are likely a church nerd as well.

But here’s the odd framing. Check out this screenshot from the end of the video:

holy-conferencing-gypcla

Which is followed by the words:

“Who will be brave enough to give us a better example? GC2016, we will wait for you.”

Woah. Not so fast. We need to sit longer with that first slide a bit longer.

Hacking Christianity has previously articulated situations at other General Conferences that are perfectly in line with the rhetoric and tactics in the video.

  • The conservative caucus groups gave free cell phones to the African delegations, inciting an ethics review. (Blog Post: Trust and Abeyance)
  • An active bishop called for a recess, gave an emphatic speech to a caucus of delegates, and from the sidelines made motions to vote up or down during the vote. (Blog Post: Who Do Bishops Think They Are?)
  • General Conference elections and delegations are more secular politics wrapped in prayer than holy conferencing (Blog Post: General Conference is Basically Congress)

Young people learn their tactics from the “real” adults. They aren’t needing guidance from a future group: they have already been guided how to act.

The framework that we need a better model from GC2016 is only half the story (or 1/11th of the story). The more honest framework is that young people learned these behaviors from annual conferences and General Conferences–and maybe from their local church meetings. If we are looking to change behavior, we need to look in a mirror, not at General Conference 2016.

Towards Better Frameworks

As I soon begin my final year of being a Young Adult in the UMC (which is 35yo and younger, I’m told), I take frameworks of young adults and young clergy seriously. We write a lot about young clergy issues here at Hacking Christianity. Thus:

  • A framework that claims Young Adults reject LGBT inclusion and that we are mean people that need guidance from GC2016 is faulty.
  • Frameworks that show we are as divided as our demographic outside the church and that we act out what we see from our elders are more accurate.

May we all be aware of frameworks and of drawing ever-more-closely to the truth of situations whenever we reflect on them for the general public.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Jon Altman says

    Does anyone think that IRD represents honest reporting? The same folks must “think” that Faux News is “Fair and Balanced.”

    • John says

      I wouldn’t trust ANY single news source to give a pure, unadulterated account of what is happening in the world… whether it be Fox News, MSNBC, CBS, CNN, or NPR. Journalism’s ideal of “impartiality” is an idealistic goal at best and little more than a myth in practice. If you’re not taking care to look at multiple news outlets (Fox included), take them all with a healthy dash of salt, and search for the truth somewhere in between, you’re allowing yourself to be seriously misled.

  2. says

    I came away from GYPCLA frustrated. Not so much about certain topics that will remain controversial, but rather about the whole model, the framework of so called “holy conferencing”. To me it looked more like holy Robert’s Rules model. I kept thinking: is this for real? (No, I have never been to General Conference, nor to GYPCLA before.) Is this really how we want our young people to do business? (Again, I am not talking about any heated debates that happened. I am talking about the whole model, the system, the framework.) Are we really intent on passing on to our young people a model of decision-making that is already dysfunctional among adults?! Surely there are more creative and helpful decision making processes. And, is it not usually the young of the world who do things differently in order to get things done? I talked to some young people who know their way around parliamentary procedure much better than I do, and I asked them what they thought of this model of decision making. I was careful not to influence their thinking beforehand. I generally wanted to hear if they felt that this legislative system was working and that it would serve us well. Every single one of them answered no. They knew it wasn’t working, but they did not know what else to do. They had nothing to replace it. This saddened me.

    I struggle with this current way of doing business not only because I believe it is dysfunctional, but for another important reason. I believe the current framework disadvantages non US-delegates. The model is a US-model. The delegates are from all over the world. The current model underestimates the huge role that cultural differences play. For example, why Africans seemed to be making ‘statements’ when they were only allowed to posit questions. In my humble opinion, the Africans were not playing politics here. The problem was a cultural one.

    The system is broke. Let’s try to come up with a better one. Not easy, I know, but what have we to lose? If the new model doesn’t function, we can always go back to old one that didn’t function either.

    • Levi says

      I think the young people have overwhelmingly decided to move forward and determine a new system, with or without the support/example of our elders. We will make changes before our next convocation, whether GC decides to act first or follow our example.

  3. Holly Boardman says

    I wonder when Methodists began using Robert’s Rules of Order. It certainly ISN’T what Wesley had in mind when he advocated for holy conferencing. Dropping Robert’s Rules for church business is quite a good idea in my opinion.

    • John says

      We could not have begun using it before 1876, when Robert’s Rules was first published. Interestingly, the next few decades was a period when the ME church began striving for social and cultural “respectability” at the expense of remaining a set-apart, holiness people. Why being a “peculiar people” should become a scarlet letter instead of a badge of honor escapes me. How better to be seen as “respectable” than to be governed by orderly, deliberative proceedings instead of “enthusiastic” promptings by the Holy Spirit (as is clearly documented in the minutes of the early conferences).

      In any event, Robert’s Rules is ill-suited for holy conferencing… its procedural requirements stifle the work of the Holy Spirit… and it ensures that there will be winners as well as losers on every single question brought up for debate.

      If we cannot find a means for seeking consensus after prayer-filled discussion instead of a 50.01% majority after lobbying efforts and shouting matches, we have no hope of being salt and light to a lost world.

  4. Creed Pogue says

    It is a little amusing that it isn’t a big deal when GYPCLA 2014 votes down endorsing a change to the Social Principles when the petition that was presented to the plenary of General Conference was the petition from GYPCLA 2010. One can only imagine Jeremy’s headlines if the Legislative Assembly had passed something calling for gay ordination.

    It is also a little amusing for Jeremy to be concerned about “big, scary” graphics when Jeremy’s favorite tool is the big, scary headline. But, those graphics weren’t friendly to Jeremy’s cause.

    It might be helpful for us to actually ask if “Model General Conference” is truly a wise use of apportionment dollars. Can we bring 300 young leaders together for a more productive purpose? Since they didn’t do as they were supposed to do, perhaps that idea would get a hearing.

  5. Zzyzx says

    I attended Student Forum in Billings, Montana. 2003, if I remember correctly. When pro-LGBT legislation was voted down, by a narrow vote, there was loud cheering throughout the convention hall. I found it rather shameful at the time. Who does the cheering and who is speaking hypocritically with scare videos?

    Also, as the other comments say, Robert’s Rules are more problem than solution. Even fundamentally, with the idea that there are two sides to be argued. Or, to say more clearly, ONLY two sides…

  6. says

    A couple of factual corrections:
    1. You claim that the motion passed by GYPCLA 2010 “didn’t mention LGBT issues explicitly.” That motion can be read here: http://backup.calms2012.umc.org/Text.aspx?mode=Petition&Number=1032
    Like the 2008 committee-majority report, it actually would have replaced the UMC’s current teaching on sexual morality with one that spent six sentences to say why the UMC should start “refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices.” And it also would have removed clear opposition to premarital sex.
    2. The two motions from Miranda Luster that explicitly liberalized our standards on “gay marriage” were both rejected by 58% of voting delegates. The Wilbourn motion to much more modestly, partially liberalize the Social Principles, without directly touching marriage, was the one that failed more narrowly. Not sure why you call that last one “the main motion” while ignoring the other two.

    In any case, the GYPCLA switched from “overwhelmingly” (as you report) passing a proposal to delete opposition to homosexual practice (and premarital sex) in 2010 to in 2014 rejecting marriage redefinition by 58% and same-sex civil unions (see my last article) overwhelmingly. If that’s not a reversal, I don’t know what is.
    I understand that you don’t have a habit of bearing false witness against fellow United Methodists that don’t share your progressive worldview (indicating not much sincere interest of church “unity” with us). But the next time someone sneaks an awkward-angle picture of me for your blog, you could at least have some fun with it, like photoshopping my apparently ominous presence into a gargoyle!
    But seriously, thanks for admitting that this latest GYPCLA development indeed rebuts assumptions that “young United Methodists” are a liberal monolith who would have easily passed such motions.
    Thanks also for not being afraid to link to my original article, which in turn links to my more comprehensive, fourth GYPCLA article, so that your readers can see for themselves what all I ACTUALLY said. Of course, that will apply when your link is fixed so that it actually works! :)

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