Does Process Matter?

therefore-go-umc-gc2016The Commission on General Conference recently announced a new process for handling sexuality-related (and perhaps other) legislation at the 2016 General Conference.  The new process, patterned after one used by the United Church of Australia, gives an opportunity for more thorough discussion by all the delegates.  Breaking up into small groups of about 15, delegates will discuss the legislative proposals and channel feedback to a Facilitators group.  The Facilitators group will then compile the feedback, report to General Conference what it heard, and submit revised legislation based on the feedback.

This new process would provide more opportunity for all the delegates to speak with one another about the sensitive and emotional concerns we all have regarding sexuality and marriage.  The conversation in the small groups would not be directed toward a parliamentary process, but toward expressing opinions within a small group.  If properly implemented, this conversational approach holds promise for defusing the rancor that often besets our dealings about the church’s ministry with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons.

There are a number of concerns, however.  Just as at the 2012 General Conference, if not properly implemented, these conversations could prove to be a waste of time or even harmful to participants.  There are many logistical challenges, such as providing translation for over 50 small groups.

Most problematic is giving a group of six Facilitators the task of revising legislation that is usually carried out by a legislative committee of 60-80 delegates.  Even when carried out with the best of intentions, the process has the potential to distort the feedback of the small groups and unfairly influence the form the legislation takes as a result.  We listen and prioritize what we hear through our own theological and experiential filters, and that can have a dramatic effect upon what is heard and given importance.  The Facilitators group is supposed to consist of “impartial” delegates nominated by the Council of Bishops.  I wonder if there are any such delegates out there.

Once the listening and revising is finished, we will return to Roberts’ Rules of Order and deal with the revised legislation in the normal (adversarial?) manner.  After having had the conversations, will the atmosphere be different?  Perhaps.  This experiment is an effort to find out.

What the new process will not and cannot change is the underlying division within our church body.  There are committed people of conscience with various perspectives who will not be able to compromise on their principles.  At the end of the day, the General Conference will still need to deal with the ongoing tearing apart of our covenant through acts of disobedience.  It will still need to deal with the deep theological disagreements over marriage and sexuality, overlaying even deeper disagreements over our theology of church, the meaning, interpretation, and authority of Scripture, and even the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The General Conference will still need to make a decision: will we allow pastors to perform same-sex weddings or not?  Will we ordain persons to ministry who are active in a same-sex relationship or not?  There will still be persons of deep conscience who will not be able to abide by the decision of General Conference, no matter which way it goes.  How will General Conference provide for the dissenters?

The new process being proposed may help provide more talk time for the delegates, perhaps increase understanding and a feeling of participating in the decision.  On the other hand, it could end up causing harm or slanting the results.  Either way, however, no process (new or old) can be a “magic wand” that will somehow enable us all to give up our disagreements and sing “Kum Ba Yah.”  We can only prayerfully seek God’s will to the best of our ability as aided by the Holy Spirit and with an attitude of humility and love.  Hopefully, that will be enough to help guide our church to a faithful future.

Comments

  1. And the real reason General Conference becomes so angst ridden is progressive/liberals think they are right and everybody else is wrong; they are allowed freedom of belief and conscience, but nobody else is. I get it that they believe in what they are saying, and I allow them that. Problem is, they don’t allow me, as an orthodox Christian, freedom of belief and conscience. How else do you define discrimination?

  2. Mike Tupper says:

    Thanks for the helpful analysis. I’m hopeful that the Holy Spirit will lead the conversations we have with each other before we get to General Conference as well. Those could be the more important and most productive conversations.

  3. The article points out that the all important Facilitators group is supposed to consist of ‘impartial’ delegates nominated by the Council of Bishops. Given the track record of the Council of Bishops on the sexuality conflict, unless ironclad safeguards are in place and followed, the Facilitators group will be dominated by the progressives. This is troubling. What is most troubling is that the Council of Bishops cannot be trusted to be impartial. But, if the Facilitators group should end up as actually ibeing mpartial, then how will its six members be vetted and chosen in order to achieve that — by majority vote of the Council of Bishops on each one? And, once seated, will the Facilitators group vote by majority vote, that is four to two to move its business forward. And, what if there are tie votes. Seems this whole process from selecting this Facilitators group to it conducting its business could be a most contentious situation.

  4. Gary Bebop says:

    This plan privileges a small, select cadre with immense power over the destiny of the church. I’m sure the progressive control freaks are lovin’ this plan. Having endured years of subordination to a conference system that elevates progressive cronies at the expense of a truly egalitarian sharing of power, I can’t imagine that conservatives would be happy with such a plan. Don’t allow yourself to be gulled.

  5. Edward Allred says:

    The spoken word before General Conference is best!. All those attending the conference have the same platform and will be heard by every member. At the Annual Conference level, decisions made “in committee” seemed useless at times when presented. The body does not like the recommendation and is voted down. I say again. Trash the Book of Discipline or abide by it and God’s Word!!!

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