It’s time to debunk a persistent one-liner that is used to dismiss the work of one of the the central bodies in the United Methodist Church as being biased towards one region. The story behind the numbers tells us something about United Methodism that seeks to balance quality of leadership with proportional voices, and to lead despite the online rhetoric.
By the numbers…
The Connectional Table is the body of the United Methodist Church charged with visioning the future of United Methodism. Each region of the Church sends delegates proportional to their membership in their regions and they meet between General Conferences.
There’s only one official representative from the Western Jurisdiction on the CT. So by the math, the WJ, which has 2.7% of United Methodism, has one seat out of the 28 proportional representatives (jurisdictions and central conferences). That’s 3.5% which is a bit higher than actual, but you can’t get less than one. The inequality is across the board: the Southeast Jurisdiction has 8 reps on the CT (28% of the proportional representatives represents their 23% of United Methodism–but no one seems to complain about that).
But that’s not what bothers groups paid to criticize the United Methodist Church like the IRD. What bothers them is there’s actually 8 people who come from the Western Jurisdiction who serve on the Connectional Table, giving them (when including all 47 voting members) 17% of the membership.
You see, in addition to the 28 proportional reps, the full membership of the Connectional Table includes the Agency Board Presidents, Ethnic Caucus Presidents, and some at-large members:
- 3 of the Agency Presidents are from the West
- 2 of the 5 ethnic caucus representatives are from the West
- The Young Person’s representative is from the West.
- Finally, the ecumenical officer from OCUIR is a Western retired Bishop.
So you add in the church leadership along with the proportional reps, and you end up with 8 Western Jurisdiction folks on the Connectional Table.
The structure of the Connectional Table includes representative as well as the elected executive leadership of the church. That seven executive leaders are from the West is a consequent of the exemplary leadership of those individuals, not an intentional bias by the Connectional Table.
How did we get here?
First, the jurisdictions decide who to send to what general agency committee. So they select and send their representatives to the Connectional Table.
Second, the Council of Bishops assigns bishops to serve on General Agencies. They send however many Bishops to those agencies–the agencies do not get to pick. The Council picks the most appropriate people in the episcopacy to serve in these specific capacities for 4-8 years.
Then, the General Agencies elect their board president. While it often is one of the Bishops assigned, nothing in their bylaws say it has to be. The Boards discern the best person to lead them and they elect them after General Conference (last time in 2012).
Finally, the members from the Ethnic caucuses and the Young People choose their own representative internally, not dictated by the Connectional Table.
As you can see, the Bishops, the ethnic caucuses, and the Young People elected the best people from their constituencies to lead their areas of United Methodism. And when it all shook out, they independently chose seven leaders from the Western Jurisdiction to lead them faithfully.
Far from being an intentional bias of the Connectional Table, a happy result of our polity and practices is that the peer-elected leaders of the denomination are on the Connectional Table–and they just happen to be mostly from the West at the moment.
Criticized instead of Paralyzed
The effect of this makeup is that any time the Connectional Table does anything related to human sexuality, they are shouted down online by paid advocacy groups like the IRD.
If these people were paid for solutions instead of criticism, I would wonder what their solution is. After all of the Church leadership was firmed up and they had 8 people identifying with the Western Jurisdiction on the Connectional Table, what options did the CT have?
- Could they have said to these Agencies that their President was unacceptable and they needed to pick someone else?
- Could they have gone to the ethnic caucuses or young people and told them that they needed to pick someone else only because their region was unacceptable?
- Or worse: could they have thrown up their hands and said they couldn’t achieve anything in 2013-2016 because of an over representation? Talk about violating the Discipline!
None of the above. Instead, they chose to lead and achieve the charge given by General Conference: to vision the future of United Methodism. They had people from every part of United Methodism and the authority to move forward.
The bias of the Connectional Table isn’t to the Western Jurisdiction, as any two regions could outvote the WJ, and the SEJ has 13 members total by itself. The bias is to visioning for the UMC with elected and appointed leadership together. The bias is to lead with the team they had, not the team they hoped for. The bias is towards the best of the UMC in all its demographic diversity and proficiency.
So instead of throwing up their hands and giving up to the online critics, they moved forward, accepting that the best people had been sent to them, and they needed to fulfill the task set before them.
Asking the Wrong Question
As usual when it comes from IRD talking points, it turns out we are asking the wrong question.
- Wrong question: Why are there so many Western jurisdiction voices on the Connectional Table?
- Right question: Why are there so many quality, elected visionaries leading the UMC who come from the Western Jurisdiction?
That shouldn’t be a surprise to those of us in the West. As lifted up earlier, the West has qualities of discipleship that are leading the UMC, even though it lags far behind in quantity. Who better to lead the UMC in various ways and guide the whole Church to greater discipleship that transcends borders and boundaries?
So the next time the IRD and their parrots squawk out the copy-and-pasted complaint about over-representation on the CT, you can respond with this post. Here’s the shortlink: http://hackingchristianity.net/?p=7529
May we be in prayer for a Connectional Table that is filled with the leaders of the UMC, elected by their constituencies, proportional representation as best they can have it, and they are leading the UMC forward while the parrots squawk from behind.