A one-post primer categorizing and commenting on “big picture” structural proposals to be considered for the United Methodist Church at General Conference 2016.
A High Expectation of Delegates
Delegates to General Conference 2016 this May have a lot of responsibility:
- They will talk about a huge global entity whose members speak dozens of languages, and operates schools, hospitals, non-profits, advocacy groups, and has outlets in all the countries of the world.
- They will talk about the billions of dollars in property this global entity owns, the billions of dollars in money that flows from a dozen countries into all the rest of them, and the hundreds of thousands of committees that make fiscal and operational decisions for each outlet and region.
- They will talk about the concentric circles of human resource management of thousands of employees and millions of unpaid volunteers, all under 66 regional heads and 13 multi-regional heads.
When you put the United Methodist Church in that language, you get a better sense of how big the Church is and how complex the church structure has to be to do mission and ministry together.
You also get a sense of how unreasonable it is that we expect about 400 clergy and 400 laity from across the world (a small percentage of whom have organizational management degrees or corporate management experience) to fully understand all the huge structural proposals in front of us at General Conference 2016.
To assist with the delegates’ discernment, this is a brief guide to the big structural proposals before us at General Conference 2016. This post seeks to categorize and cut through the proposals’ language to give an accessible framework for all that is before us.
Changes to Annual Conference Structure
Annual (regional) conferences have regional processes and powers that directly affect all local clergy and churches within their geographic boundaries. The following proposals offer significant changes to those powers and processes.
Proposal: The Connectional Table “A Third Way” Proposal (Elected delegates from worldwide UMC) removes language that prohibits Annual Conferences from ordaining LGBT persons, and removes language whereby Annual Conference clergy could be charged for performing marriages for LGBT persons. While the polity does not change, this structural change allows Annual Conferences to make these particular decisions themselves as they currently do already regarding ordination and marriages.
Proposal: The Covenantal Unity Plan (Two Asbury and United Seminary Professors) removes the ability of annual conferences to consider any response other than suspension against clergy accused of LGBT-related charges. It also removes the ability of the annual conference to retain the property of local churches who decide to leave the UMC.
Summary: The CT proposal gives more decision-making powers to the annual conference and local churches/clergy, whereas the CUP proposal removes powers from the annual conference. Since the Annual Conference is the primary connectional entity of the UMC, it is a study in contrasts.
Changes to Jurisdictional Structure
Groups of annual (regional) conferences are called jurisdictions, of which there are five located within the United States. Jurisdictions primarily have the responsibility for electing and managing bishops, along with cooperative missions and ministries for their unique geographic regions of the United States. The following proposals affect the way how jurisdictions function:
Proposal: The Elimination of the Western Jurisdiction Proposal (Texas Annual Conference) eliminates one-fifth of the jurisdictions and redistributes others in the name of numeric “fairness” without regard to the unique cultural/geographic situation that the West is in, and without changing the size of the dominant SouthEastern Jurisdiction which is 1.5 times larger than the others.
- HX Commentary: 1 (a must-read)
Proposal: The Jurisdictional Solution (Clergyperson in Illinois Great Rivers Conference) retrieves a model for the church that historically kept African-Americans in a separate-but-not-equal jurisdiction and finds value when applying that model to separate out progressives and LGBT Methodists from the rest of the UMC.
Summary: As is typical to our history whenever the UMC has dealt with a minority group, such structural changes are proposed to lessen the influence of a minority group within the UMC.
Changes to Global Structure
The United Methodist Church is a global church, and increasingly so as the church in North America and Europe shrinks, and the church in Africa and the Philippines grows. Does our global polity, relatively unchanged since the 1968 merger, reflect this new worldwide nature of the church? The following proposals addresses decision-making ability, power and processes at the global level:
Proposal: The Global Structure Proposal (Northeastern Jurisdiction Task Force) offers studied, large-scale changes to eradicate colonialism in our polity and practice and better spread out decision-making amidst a global church.
Proposal: The Place of Reason Proposal (North Texas, Central Texas Delegations) calls for a Central Conference in the United States. The United Methodist Central Movement also support this idea, though it hasn’t said it supports this specific legislation.
- HX Commentary: None (yet!)
Proposal (Anticipated): Paragraph 101 (added in 2012) requires that the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters propose the elements of a Global Book of Discipline to General Conference 2016. We haven’t seen that legislation yet, but it will affect the worldwide nature of the church.
Summary: Every worldwide nature of the church study for the last 25 years has made the same recommendation to create a central conference or regional conference for the US to deal with US-centric issues, but all have been defeated by, oddly, human sexuality conflicts.
Changes to General Agency Structure
The General Agencies are global departments that are tasked with managing missionaries, finances, pensions, discipling resources, and other designated responsibilities. They are the Executive Branch of the Church, meaning that they collectively put into practice what General Conference legislates and the Judicial Council advises. The following proposal dramatically reconfigures how these agencies operate and what powers lie vested in them:
Proposal: The PlanUMC (Five Southerners and an Alaskan) 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.
Summary: PlanUMC was rendered unconstitutional in 2012, but a small group of Texans made small changes to it and now propose it again. However, this time the situation doesn’t have the impetus of “we have an archaic general board structure” since most of them reconfigured in 2012.
This is my attempt to offer a substantive responses to the powers-that-be that are pushing through these structural changes with a “trust me, it will work” approach. These are also just the “known” big picture items up for consideration by General Conference 2016. The full list of proposals and legislation for our consideration is due out in the next month, so this post will be updated with links to direct legislation items.
Be sure to share this post with the General Conference delegates you are connected to. Thanks for spreading the word! Here’s the shortlink: http://hackingchristianity.net/?p=8421