Rule 44 is SUCH a hugely complex and insanely cumbersome proposal for General Conference. Or is it? Clarity and Commentary on a (willfully) misunderstood process.
All the rage in the Methodist blogs this past month has been to discredit Rule 44, one of the proposals coming to General Conference in May.
In reading the essay, it struck me that one of the more subtle ways to kill a proposal is to make it more complex than it actually is. Given most of the bloggers writing on Rule 44 spend paragraph after paragraph “breaking down” this “cumbersome” process and pointing out “44 points of complexity,” this seems to be the strategy of those opposed to the proposal.
So, instead of focusing on the contorted points made by others, lets focus on what the proposal actually is, and how it isn’t that nefarious of a process.
Rule 44, Explained
The reality is that Rule 44’s proper name (which is not “Rule 44,” a moniker that is also effective to make it tedious) spells out exactly what it is: an Alternative Process for Group Discernment.
- Alternative: This is a different process to the usual way of doing General Conference discernment through Robert’s Rules. If passed, it will be used for a tiny minority of petitions (likely less than 200 out of 1400). The rest of the petitions would be handled normally by Robert’s Rules processing.
- Process: Just as the 1400 items of legislation are sent to about 12 committees for Robert’s Rules processing (which are discerned initially by only 1/12th of the full 864 delegates), these 200 would be sent to the alternative process for discernment–but by the entire group of 864 delegates–likely in 4-6 sessions.
- Group: Delegates will sit in small group tables of 15 delegates, which include a facilitator and a scribe (both delegates) and a trained monitor (not a delegate, with no voice or vote). They discuss the petition around the circle and send their table votes–along with any amendments offered–to a small group of elected delegates which compiles all the feedback through quantitative and qualitative analysis into a single petition or set of petitions.
- Discernment: The group and Facilitation group are not final votes. Just as Legislative Committees discern and recommend votes to General Conference floor, this alternative process would do the same and result in petitions to be amended and voted up or down by the General Conference Floor, just like they always are.
Rule 44, Graphed
To see it in action compared to the Robert’s Rules method (which we would still use for 90% of the petitions), here’s a handy graphic. Reading from bottom to top, the circles are groups of delegates, the white arrows are what are sent from one group to the next, and the descriptors are what happens there:
For more details, here’s the actual petition. As you can see, the Alternative Process is far more participatory, reports more data than simply majority votes, and still ends up as petitions for consideration on the Floor of General Conference. It’s really not complex, but those who oppose it certainly benefit from making it so. Don’t be fooled.
Rule 44, The Sticking Points
The three points that are most often mentioned in critiques are the Facilitation Group, the Monitors, and Transparency.
- The Facilitation Group is only 6 people elected from a pool of 18. While this seems small, we entrust the University Senate and the Judicial Council to small expert groups, so there’s no reason to distrust that this small expert group could be as professional and fair as other bodies.
- The Monitors are there because, even though we are all adults and mature, hateful language was said in 2012, and in 2008 homosexuality was compared to bestiality on the floor of General Conference. If we called them Reporters instead of Monitors, they wouldn’t be seen as challenging to our egos.
- Transparency is needed to be made explicit, both quantitatively (how many small group members voted FOR the petition) and qualitatively (how did Facilitators come up with that amended language?). There’s nothing in the actual rules that make it secret, and indeed at the Pre-GC briefing, the numbers were reported. So I’m unsure where this belief that everything will be secret is coming from…at least authentically. Regardless, it would be nice for transparency to be more explicit.
Clearing up the rhetoric and the fear around this simple structure will do a lot for our honest engagement of it.
Commentary: In My Name…Conquer
The vitriol and rhetoric surrounding Rule 44 seem to indicate that the process strikes to the heart of the majority culture in The United Methodist Church. And I think it’s easy enough to see what it is.
Sue Monk Kidd, writes in her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter:
“The core symbols we use for God represent what we take to be the highest good….These symbols or images shape our worldview, our ethical system, and our social practice–how we relate to one another. For instance, [Elizabeth A.] Johnson suggests that if a religion speaks about God as warrior, using militaristic language such as how “he crushes his enemies” and summoning people to become soldiers in God’s army, then the people tend to become militaristic and aggressive.”
Since Constantine, our image of God has always been Triumphant, wrapped up in conquest, and that is reflected in our social policies and practices. From Manifest Destiny, to the Doctrine of Discovery, to the Salem Witch Trials, to the Moral Majority of the 1990s-2000s, conquering physical and political terrain has been part of who we believe the Church to be.
And I believe this conquest mentality is part and parcel of The UMC.
The majority culture has conquered Robert’s Rules and made it work to prop up conservative/traditional beliefs. To move away from a conquered process into a new Rule 44 one is extremely uncomfortable and unsettling.
Conquering Institutions, not Lands
Most of the writers against Rule 44 come from the majority culture that has mastered and benefitted from Robert’s Rules. Its serpentine rules allow those who have mastered it to silence voices (mostly non-native English speakers) and defeat new ideas without actually talking about them face-to-face.
The majority conservative/traditional culture benefits the most from keeping things the way they are, and each of the writers has authored/supported legislation to make The UMC even more hostile to progressive brothers and sisters:
- Dr. Christopher Ritter posted four blogs on the subject (1,2,3,4) that began in cautious engagement and ended in full-out opposition. Ritter has based his own jurisdictional proposal for progressives on the racist Central Jurisdiction that placed African-Americans in a separate-but-equal jurisdiction.
- Dr. Rob Renfroe, President of Good News, posted a video opposing Rule 44. Good News has a whole page of their legislation sent in to General Conference, each one more anti-progressive than the last.
- Mr. Joel Watts, layperson and Doctoral Candidate, wrote two blogs (1,2).
- Dr. David Watson, Dean at United Theological Seminary, wrote a long article on Rule 44 for UM Reporter. Watson is the originator of the anti-progressive A&W Plan and the CUP Plan.
There are two voices that offer engagement beyond the majority culture warriors:
- Dr. Kevin Watson, Professor at Candler Theological Seminary, wrote two articles (1,2) on why Rule 44 is not Christian Conferencing. That is valid, although neither are Robert’s Rules. So we aren’t replacing a Wesleyan practice with a non-Wesleyan one–we are discerning how best as a Church to made decisions and have conversations. If–as Watson proposes–we start with Holy Conferencing at the local and district level and let it trickle up, that’s great consideration for 2020 and beyond.
- Dr. Dorothee Benz, both here on my blog previously and here on Reconciling Ministries, has written on her concerns about Rule 44 from the perspective of the LGBTQ community.
Rule 44, The Hope
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein (alleged)
The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Our processes for General Conference are not sacrosanct but are voted on every year to determine the rules by which we will communicate by. The past General Conferences have led to the same divided church. Do we want to keep living by the same process and ending up with the same result? For those who benefit from a divided and weak Church, they do.
But I don’t, and I don’t think you do either. My hope is that instead of voting down Rule 44, that we perfect it and answer the lingering questions. And then practice it in its limited, specific form. I don’t have high hopes of big turnabouts, but perhaps in the process we’ll be able to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ again, and maybe the Spirit will shine in an undiscovered land that has yet to be conquered by the powers and principalities.