We begin again. For two years, this blog was a leading voice against a toxic consolidation of power in the United Methodist Church. Now that same consolidation has come forward again and it’s important for us to keep watch on it until General Conference decides what to do with it.
PlanUMC Lives Again
Recently it was reported that a group of individuals had edited PlanUMC, a global restructure plan, and submitted the legislation for General Conference to consider when it meets in May 2016 in Portland, Oregon.
Let’s explain what this is: The United Methodist Church has some global ministry groups that handle specific tasks. One coordinates missionaries and missions around the world. One provides worship and educational resources. One handles the money and another handles the pension. One facilitates communication of all that the other ministry groups and local churches are doing. And so on. In their current forms, all of their tasks are governed by independent representative boards from across United Methodism. That’s it: there’s no administrative group above them other than General Conference which meets every four years.
PlanUMC is a drastic overhaul of these ministry groups and a consolidation of some of their governing powers under a single board, or in some cases, a single individual. This is done under the auspices of fairness, proportionality, right-sizing, and other business terms that justify removing voices from the table and governing ability from dedicated boards.
This blog finds serious, significant weaknesses with this reorganization of the United Methodist Church in this way. We were a vocal opponent of it from 2010-2012, a whistleblower to the erroneous process that lead to its creation, a defender of its unconstitutionality in the aftermath…and lest you think this blog is just a hapless critic, it championed an alternative plan as well that became the primary alternative to the majority plans.
This time around, the plan is a shadow of its old self, with a bare minimum number of (unfortunately very powerful) advocates. It would be almost sad if it weren’t likely to be taken seriously.
How did we get from 2012 to 2016?
It’s helpful to begin our 2015-2016 coverage of this story with some sunshine on the power players and why that matters. We’ll do analysis of the actual proposal in due time, but it’s important to point out some glaring differences between 2012 and 2016.
- For 2012, the originators were the Connectional Table (about 40 diverse elected representatives in the worldwide UMC) and it had serious star power with Rev. Adam Hamilton lending production videos and his voice to the advocacy.
- For 2016, the originators are SIX guys, according to their own press release to GC 2016 delegates. That’s it. I’ll let you decide if they have other demographics in common.
- Lonnie D. Brooks, Lay Leader, Alaska
- Don House, Lay Member, Texas
- Morris Matthis, District Superintendent, Texas
- Clayton Oliphint, Pastor in Charge, First UMC, Richardson TX
- Don Underwood, Pastor in Charge, Christ UMC, Plano TX
- Joe M. Whittemore, Lay Member, North Georgia
- Conclusion: The 2016 group is significantly smaller, more homogenous, and has less official church backing, relying on the significant power that individuals in their group have in their elected and pastoral positions.
2. Creation process
- For 2012, it’s important to note that PlanUMC wasn’t actually created by any official group in an open forum. The original Call to Action came from the Connectional Table and it was debated alongside PlanB and the MFSA plan. When all three failed to pass the committee vote because of parliamentary shenanigans, two men pleaded with General Conference to allow them to form a plan. The resulting “PlanUMC” was formed in secret closed session by CT and PlanB folks (no representatives from MFSA were invited), then the Conference was allowed 24 hours to read the 80 page document before the vote on it (even though the Bishops had an additional 12 hours to read it).
- For 2016, PlanSixGuys was made by…well, six guys who took the 2012 legislation, made significant changes to it, and have now submitted it for approval. The Bishops supporting the legislation are Bishop Scott Jones (Great Plains) and Bishop Mike McKee (North Texas)–coincidentally, one of the crafters (Don House) is the former chair of the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, to which both those bishops are accountable.
- Conclusion: From the beginning, PlanUMC has been crafted in secret, closed sessions where progressives were not allowed, and where central conference voices were similarly excluded–from PlanB at least (I have no idea how many Central Conference voices were in the closed, secret room debating PlanUMC at GC2012).
3. Treatment of minority voices
- For 2012, the PlanB and the official Plan from the Connectional Table both collapsed the agencies dedicated to minority voices (women, persons of color) and made them into one single agency. The MFSA plan did not do that and championed their necessarily-independent voices and agencies. 2012’s PlanUMC, in a tiny carrot to progressives, brought them back to two distinct boards, but kept them accountable to the executive board.
- For 2016, PlanFiveSouthernGuysAndAnAlaskan relegates the current independent agencies dedicated to minority voices as a single sub-committee of the main committee. Instead of being an independent voice, it reports to the Connectional Table, which also has oversight responsibilities over them, including in their evaluation, financial resources and selection of their chief staff…meaning not very independent, is it? Also: the legislation removes references to the need for young adults in multiple places (while leaving ethnic diversity in place), which is rather disturbing.
- Conclusion: Both of the first two points have been focused on the “who” and not the “what.” It’s important to articulate precisely who is behind these initiatives not to vilify them but to show the reality of the power structure. When the very people who call the UMC to accountability regarding ethnical, racial, age, and gender diversity are disempowered in the UMC, we see why the “who” matters.
There’s been a little bit of snark above, but I have serious concern about PlanSixPowerfulGuys this time around.
Last time there was a lot of scrutiny, a lot of conversation, and a lot of proper vetting of the plans. This time, it seems to be going unnoticed and I worry about such a far-reaching plan sliding in as the rest of the church is fixated on LGBT inclusion and Schism plans. To have such a wide-ranging plan be supported in this way is of serious concern.
You can count on this blog to be a (hopefully) knowledgable voice on the issues surrounding this plan, as well as explaining it as clearly as I can for Methodists who are elected delegates for General Conference 2016 and will make the final decision, with the Spirit’s leading.