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While General Conference 2016 is looking pretty thin compared to 2020, there’s still plenty in store for United Methodists in May 2016.
No, Not This One…the Other One.
At the end of the UMNS report on General Conference, we see a common refrain:
- The Connectional Table has presented guidelines for restructuring the UMC so a proposal can be made for the next General Conference in 2020.
- The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters will present a global Book of Discipline in 2020.
- The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, in 2012, was charged with categorizing part of the current Book of Discipline by 2016. They have made progress but will appeal to complete their work in 2020.
- The General Board of Church and Society will submit the first major revision to the Social Principles in 40 years in 2020.
- A Proposal to add five Bishops to Africa will be studied and presented in 2020.
- Discipleship Ministries (GBOD) proposes an exciting cloud-based hymnal to be studied for 4 years and presented for approval in 2020.
In short, there’s at least six new initiatives or major revisions to how United Methodists operate, and all are being delayed or proposed such that they will be decided by the 2020 General Conference.
Why 2020 instead of 2016?
While there’s a host of other reasons (logistics, communication considerations, and that we are a worldwide church), there’s three non-obvious reasons for the 2020 proposals:
- This is the Methodist Way. It’s the Methodist way to bring forth a topic, commission a study, then present a solution at the next General Conference. Hasty ideas take one General Conference (ie. PlanUMC, SuperBishop, Guaranteed Appointment) and fail, whereas good ideas seem to take at least two. So while it is a delaying tactic in justice topics to “study a topic” for 4 years, for big structural pieces it can make sense to delay…just not too much (see #3).
- Anticipation yields affection for delegates. For most of 2012-2016, the schismatic forces in the UMC have ran the narrative that we should break the UMC in two. By giving delegates so much to look forward to in 2020, the people who love the United Methodists re-seize the narrative that we are better together and look at what we can accomplish together. Not to mention that the delegates to General Conference end up on these very committees that will make these decisions, so there’s personal benefit to them to support them and work on them.
- Previous failures yield timidity. The global restructure movement was dealt a serious blow after the 2008 constitutional amendments were weirdly framed as pro-gay by the anti-gay caucus groups and defeated. So with plans only now emerging in 2016 and 2020 makes sense. As well, the Connectional Table expected to become an all-powerful administrative body with the 2012 PlanUMC, which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional, so their visioning work was understandably delayed.
So while I am really hesitant about putting so many big proposals into one year, since they are all good directions, I’m okay with the 2020 GC being filled with good ideas that will crowd out the bad ones.
But the Biggest Reason is…
The biggest consideration, though, is that many of these proposals deal with the worldwide church: global Book of Discipline, global structure, global social principles, etc. To have so many decisions about the worldwide nature of the church in one year is odd until you realize one particular timing consideration.
The last General Conference to be held in America for the next decade is in Minnesota in 2020. The 2024 General Conference is in the Philippines, and the 2028 General Conference is in Zimbabwe, so long as they make it legal for our LGBT delegates to attend without being killed. The 2032 hasn’t been decided yet, but regardless, for 12 years, only one GC will be held in America…in 2020.
As America’s Methodists see democratic power shifting from them to a worldwide church, there’s great impetus for the powerful to maintain power in structural changes, and the underpowered to make the structure less colonial and more equitable. Having a final GC in America may actually cause those two groups to finally get together and come up with a viable solution that better reflects our worldwide nature. While some changes may come in 2016, and some should, they will help set the stage for a 2020 major revision.
What’s left for 2016?
2016 is still a big year.
- Excluding Sexual Minorities. Debates on how the United Methodist Church will continue to exclude LGBT persons will be front and center at General Conference 2016. Since the UMC has a majority conservative/moderate flavor, it’s really a conversation over how they will exclude not only LGBT Methodists but also Progressive Methodists. Or will the Spirit overcome?
- Structural Proposals. These varied ideas are competing with the timeline proposed by the Connectional Table and offer changes to structure at all levels of United Methodism in 2016.
- Divestments from Fossil Fuels and Israel Occupation of Palestine. Divestment opportunities will be hot topics for fiscal and justice considerations.
- The Ministry Study proposals to change clergy credentialing and the Board of Laity’s proposals for the bishops will both be debated and take effect immediately after the 2016 GC.
- PlanUMC, though the Pre-GC forum obliterated it and its face was melted off like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, laying bare its naked power grab in glorious fashion…still has powerful voices behind it and it won’t go away anytime soon.
For this blog, we’ll continue to be a place of non-establishment commentary on The United Methodist Church, clarity and cutting through the rhetoric on the proposals to General Conference, and a reliable source of Star Wars-themed photos. Thanks for reading.