Breaking UMC news and commentary: General Conference is again delayed due to the COVID-19 epidemic, delayed exactly a year later to August 29 – September 6th 2022, and a Special Session of GC for limited legislative items is on May 8th, 2021. Read on for Commentary.
What’s up with the Delayed General Conference to 2022?
If you recall, back when COVID-19 began, the May 2020 General Conference was delayed to the end of August 2021. Now, it is delayed again one year later to the end of August 2022. Here’s the article and here’s some immediate responses with more informed commentary coming later.
- The General Conference Commission acknowledges that virtual conferencing has too many barriers to participation. It was interesting that a mail-in ballot for critical votes was the best practice recommended, as we’ll see it in use in the next announcement. I’m glad the tech team found that a distributed, asynchronous, and COVID-safe method for voting could be found, though they didn’t recommend one for actual conferencing.
- This is a rejection of the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s repeated lobbying efforts to hold a virtual General Conference to pass the Protocol so they could have received $25 million and not have to pay pension share as they leave. I fear they will revert back to sabotaging the denomination for the next year, or there’s something else coming. Stay tuned.
- This delay and an anticipated special jurisdictional conference (unannounced but expected in July 2021) to retire bishops means that 15 bishops positions will go unfilled until 2023 at the earliest. So interim positions and shared oversight and retirees will serve some areas for 1-2 years. We’ll have more details later, but there’s no way to elect new bishops until after GC, so now we know. Looks like the Bishops get their 15 member reduction without a vote by the people, even though their constant narrative (prior to this decision by the General Commission on General Conference) was it was to be a vote by the people. Sigh.
- The Commission names this, but ughhhh it again is the beginning of the school year and again is disempowering to young adults and educators who are delegates or participants. Money > inclusion.
- Finally, but most importantly, this delay continues the harm against LGBTQ+ persons who see their hope for inclusion deferred another year. Justice delayed is justice denied. The only way this works is for the bishops to immediately publicly pledge to hold complaints in abeyance, and for churches that want to continue to prosecute LGBTQ+ persons to use the GC2019 process that they voted in to leave.
More commentary later, these are just responses.
What’s up with the Special General Conference in May 2021?
- This will have a very limited agenda to vote on whether to do mail-in consideration of 12 legislative items that are up for a vote by this Special General Conference. These deal with logistics and barriers to the UMC’s operations with a delayed General Conference, so passing them allows the UMC to continue to function. More commentary later on these specifics, this is not an endorsement of their contents. (However, item #1 has nothing to do with the delayed conference, so I’m not sure of the agenda behind it)
- If approved by this special GC, Voting on those 12 items will be by mail-in ballot (remember the above?). Since mail-in ballots work for presidential elections in the USA, they can work for the General Conference on matters of limited impact but necessary flexibility. This lacks the heart of what General Conference is about, but serves an institutional purpose, which I guess is the best we can do in these conditions.
- The Protocol is NOT on the list of legislative items for consideration. A mail-in ballot for a matter of such substance is hugely problematic, so even supporters of the Protocol would probably be glad to not have to deal with the emotions of this vote in a mail-in process.
- Will amendments and matters be debated? Unsure how that will work. The timing and placement will be barriers to participation by folks in nighttime time zones and educators and students who are in finals weeks for colleges and seminaries.
- Finally, I admit I was surprised that there were no enabling motions to delegate General Conference authority to other entities in this interim time. I would expect that sort of executive authority in time of legislative inability, so I’m pleasantly surprised to not see it here. *shrug*
More commentary later, these are just responses.
The United Methodist Church has always been a church of conferences and of getting together to invoke the Holy Spirit that guides us in collective decision-making, or that laments when our human sin get in the way of opening the Church up to the Spirit’s guidance. Either way, it requires us to gather, and this time in human history is unprecedented and a shock to our processes. These actions help correct some things, but they also delay chances to reverse the self-harm the UMC is doing to its own LGBTQ+ clergy and laity and to keep us from committing to anti-racism work as a collective. An awful choice to make.
We should be in prayer that the UMC leadership (elected by you and me, directly or representatively) is balancing these necessary gatherings with the public health concerns of our day, with shifting concerns each week as COVID variants and vaccines are in a race to either take or save lives. I’m glad we are not standing in the way of that, though I lament the impact of these delays on a more just church. We have a lot of work to do, and a more difficult church and society to do it in.
For your local church, I hope you share these announcements (and this commentary!) so that laity see the UMC is taking seriously the global pandemic and taking steps to save lives, even at great expense of other values and concerns. May that transform and support your local ministry efforts that seeks to do the same things!
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