A biased judicial process awaits PlanUMC as it is presented to the Judicial Council this week.
Trust: Necessary…and Lacking in the UMC
Back before the 2012 General Conference, one of the results of the expensive APEX report was that there is a lack of trust in the United Methodist Church:
Trust was often mentioned as a leadership issue–particularly in the context of power and authority…often mentioned as the observation that leaders themselves frequently do not demonstrate trust behaviors.
General distrust is a significant cultural issue for the Church. Distrust is both a symptom and a causal factor in frustrating the Church’s ability to function more effectively.
A Biased Judicial Process…
When a decision of law or a question is presented to the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church, there’s usually two opposing sides: the Petitioner and the Respondent. They both have 20 minutes to present, the Council asks questions, the Petitioner has a 5-minute rebuttal, and the Council then issues a decision after an appropriate amount of time. A typical courtroom-style procedure, right?
However, as always when it comes to PlanUMC, the deck is stacked in its favor.
- The Council of Bishops were the ones who officially sent this legislation to Judicial Council; therefore, they are the Petitioner.
- And the Respondent? Instead of being an opposing side to the Petition, it is the PlanUMC presenters. The Respondents have indicated via email they will not share their Response time with any opposition voices.
This would make sense if the Council of Bishops was presenting an oppositional voice. However, the Council did not take a position on this PlanUMC:
“The action of the council is in no way intended as support or opposition to the proposed Plan UMC but an effort to facilitate the work of the 2016 General Conference,” [San Francisco Area Bishop Warner] Brown said.
And wouldn’t you know it: in 2012, they endorsed the predecessor to PlanUMC:
Back then, the bishops took the lead in pushing to restructure the 10 church agencies that receive general church funds. The previous legislation came out of the multiyear Call to Action process launched by the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table…The Council of Bishops endorsed the original Call to Action restructuring plan in November 2011.
In short, when the Judicial Council meets later this week, there’s two voices of support (or at least benevolent ambivalence from the Bishops) for PlanUMC–and no voices of opposition, as one would expect of a trustworthy process.
Legislative shenanigans in its past…
Looking back, the long road to PlanUMC had a questionable legislative process. There are two ways to present legislation to the General Conference floor without going through the legislative committee, and PlanUMC attempted both of them.
- Minority Report: When legislation is sent to the General Conference floor by a committee, people who voted against the legislation can present a minority report to the floor. This has been used successfully in the past to replace LGBT-affirming legislation with a new minority report that was not actually discussed in the legislative committee. In this case, the three competing plans in 2012 (the original Connectional Table, PlanB, and the MFSA plans) all failed to pass the committee because people voted against them so they could write a minority report–but with no majority report sent, there was no way to write the minority report. Whoops! 🙂
- Special Dispensation: After the Minority Report attempt failed, two men pleaded with General Conference to allow them to form a plan. The resulting “PlanUMC” was formed in a secret closed meeting 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. General Conference approved it, but it was ultimately thrown out as unconstitutional.
As we can see, PlanUMC was written in secret, outside of the legislative process in an echo-chamber without dissenting voices. Little wonder it was so error-filled it was found unconstitutional.
Executive overreach in its future…
Looking forward, as we’ve outlined here at HX, executive overreach is the overriding concern about PlanUMC if it is implemented as-written. Here’s two concerns:
- The PlanUMC team (see here) indicates that they altered the fiscal coercive power that crushed PlanUMC in 2012. Of course, they denied that power existed in their Judicial Council arguments for it in 2012, so it will be up to the Judicial Council to review whether it’s actually present. Basically, the executive board would share the (limited) coercive fiscal power that was previously reserved just for the financial board (GCFA).
- While the fiscal oversight might have been changed, the administrative coercive power still exists. The legislation (UMNS) shows that the executive board would approve nominated executives from the boards, and the CT would have the ability to remove those executives. Both of these powers historically have resided with the particular boards who are most aware of their missional needs and goals. This was a big push in 2012 because some Reformers wanted to force out the two longtime General Secretaries of Church and Society and the Board of Discipleship. It’s not such a big deal now in 2016 as both those GS’s have retired–so why is it being pushed?
There’s a reason why PlanUMC was unsalvageable in 2012: this form of coercive fiscal and staffing power that is severely limited and contextual across the rest of United Methodism is pervasive in PlanUMC–and sadly it continues to be present in the 2016 version. No amount of tweaking will change that the basic understanding of power in PlanUMC is antithetical to the UMC in today’s world.
Worst-Case Scenario: A Spirit-proofed Plan
In summary, it makes perfect sense for PlanUMC to complete the hat trick with its abuse of the legislative, executive, and now the judicial processes of the United Methodist Church.
We have no idea if the Judicial Council will say the plan is constitutionally-sound or not. However, if they do rule on its constitutionality pro-or-con, it’s the worst-case scenario. Because then in the legislative committee and on the floor of General Conference, the overriding narrative will be that we cannot make changes to the Proposal because those changes may render it unconstitutional. And that denies the Spirit’s ability to tweak and transform hearts and minds, as we believe the Spirit does in these holy conferences.
I hope for:
- The Judicial Council to give voice to the informed, dissenting perspective (who will be present at the meeting).
- The Judicial Council to refuse to rule on PlanUMC to allow the Spirit to guide the General Conference delegates..and take one small step to restore the trust in the United Methodist Church that we sorely need to weather all that is before us.
- Anyone in the Saint Louis area to attend in the gallery area at the time of the oral arguments: Wednesday, October 21st, at 11:00 a.m. at the St. Louis Airport Hilton.