Recently the General Commission on General Conference (the group that is planning the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon) began a task force to offer judicial review of the petitions that will be sent for consideration to become or change the doctrine and polity of the United Methodist Church. Here’s a summary by UMNS’s Heather Hahn:
What if General Conference delegates could get a heads up that legislation might be in trouble without waiting for a Judicial Council ruling? That is one aim of the Advance Legislative Research Panel proposed by the Commission on General Conference, which met at Lake Junaluska last week.
The planned panel will include experts on United Methodist church law who are willing to volunteer significant time reading petitions submitted to the next General Conference in May 2016. The panel members’ task will be to review all petitions they are assigned. They will identify closely related Judicial Council decisions and memoranda as well as related paragraphs in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book. The Discipline includes the denomination’s constitution.
The information assembled by panel members would be strictly advisory, and panel members are not to include any editorial comments. Only the Judicial Council officially can answer the question of whether legislation passed by General Conference passes constitutional muster.
One of the reasons for this move is that several major pieces of legislation were struck down by the UMC’s Supreme Court (the Judicial Council) either during GC2012 or right after. The biggest one–and the one of most critique on this blog–was what would eventually be called PlanUMC.
PlanUMC (the offspring of two plans: the Call To Action and PlanB) was a church reorganization plan that would have significantly reduced the number of people at the top of the UMC’s General agencies (essentially the executive branch of the UMC). Here’s our critique and background.
PlanUMC was passed, but on the last day of GC2012 it was struck down as unconstitutional by the Judicial Council. Here’s one opinion why that was the right call and one opinion why it was the wrong call.
So with the advent of an unofficial judicial review process, the question before us is twofold:
- Would a judicial review have saved PlanUMC at GC2012?
- Will a judicial review save legislation like it at GC2016?
Would it have saved us then?
Rationale: There already was awareness of the unconstitutionality of PlanUMC that Rev. Scott Campbell articulates here. MFSA and others had already submitted an alternative plan that would have passed constitutional review, at least on this particular topic, and would have accomplished the goal of reduction of board member numbers. I’m clearly biased–having served on the team that wrote it–but the facts are there.
At General Conference, the legislative committee failed to pass any of the 3 measures. After that, a team of Call To Action proponents and PlanB proponents got together to craft PlanUMC and pass it without legislative committee review or discussion. MFSA was not invited to the conversation, and in the final legislation only a minor alteration was included from their proposed plan.
After PlanUMC passed without significant discussion, it was then a member of MFSA that called for judicial review of it because we already knew, had advocated against, and was out in the open about the major problem with it.
In short, the knowledge of its constitutional demise was already in the room. It was already there and available to help craft a helpful third way. However, because of the hubris of the PlanUMC team, it was not invited into a conversation where it could have had an effect. I don’t believe that a pre-review by a legislative group or individual would have stopped the freight train that was determined to pass PlanUMC at all costs and outside of our established processes.
Could it help us now?
Rationale: We are still in the early stages of what legislation will be going before General Conference 2016. Back in 2012 we lamented how the Call To Action was not made in an open-source way where lots of voices were invited in to offer feedback and help. Instead a proposal was made and everyone essentially was asked to accept it, with some tweaks eventually in the hustle and bustle of General Conference (tacked on at the end, not included in the framework).
The Open Source movement would have done it much differently by being open at the beginning, submitting a proposal, and then rewriting it based on the feedback. A PlanUMC could have been written and then simmered for a few months while people tried to make it better, rather than just force-feeding it to us with about 24 hours of review time.
We have the opportunity to implement Open Source practices now with open legislation tracking and with judicial pre-review. We can note the errors before they get made, and not waste people’s time and money for General Conference 2016. By having a voice with some authority or credibility, it might help us to avoid situations like the shameful waste of energy, time, and money that is known as PlanUMC.
My hope is that a spirit of collegiality permeates GC2016 at least as much as the spirit of hubris and fear permeated GC2012–along with the stink of abject failure. May we utilize this judicial review recommendation process, give thanks for the volunteers, and hope that more people will become more aware of what the people called Methodists find important.