Traditionalists Secure General Conference Majority

General Conference 2020 will take place at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis.

With nearly all the annual conferences in the U.S. having voted, it appears that a sufficient number of traditional-minded delegates have been elected to assure a narrow but clear traditionalist majority at the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis. These delegates will be able to prevent the overturning of parts of the Traditional Plan that were enacted in St. Louis, will seek to enact revised versions of the parts of the Traditional Plan that were not enacted or ruled unconstitutional, and will press forward with other reforms to position The United Methodist Church as a more vital church capable of fruitful and growing ministry in this 21st century.

One of the goals of caucus groups such as Uniting Methodists, Mainstream UMC, UMC Next, and other moderate and progressive groups was to elect enough moderate and progressive delegates to the 2020 General Conference to reverse the decisions made in St. Louis to begin implementing the Traditional Plan. At this point in the annual conference election cycle, our analysis concludes they have failed to achieve that goal.

Enough U.S. traditionalist delegates have been elected that, together with conservative delegates from Africa, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe, the traditional position should have the majority in Minneapolis. Four of the 55 annual conferences have yet to finish their meetings. Two of them (Virginia and Western North Carolina) have the potential to elect additional conservative delegates. At this point, 432 of the 482 U.S. delegates to General Conference have been elected.

Some annual conferences gained traditionalist delegates, while others lost traditionalists. At this point, the traditionalist delegate count is down 15 percent from the St. Louis General Conference. That still leaves enough traditionalist U.S. delegates to assure a majority. This calculation is based on the reporting of reliable analysts in each annual conference. It also takes into account the possibility of up to 10 percent of the central conference delegates being unable to participate due to inability to obtain a visa. Should all the central conference delegates be able to attend General Conference, the traditionalist margin would be even larger.

Both sides of the debate organized to promote like-minded candidates for election as delegates. Lists of candidates were recommended and shared via email, text, message group, and old-fashioned paper. People on both sides solicited support via phone calls, emails, and personal conversations. The unprecedented level of organization fostered a much more overtly political flavor to the elections. What in the past had been mostly hidden in behind-the-scenes maneuvering became publicly transparent, as groups worked to get their candidates elected.

It became clear in the elections that most moderate clergy voted with the progressives and against the Traditional Plan approach to the definition of marriage and sexuality. As noted in a previous Perspective, all of the loss of traditionalist delegates fell on the clergy side.

We have heard anecdotally that a substantial number of the delegates elected were not part of the 2016-2019 delegation. If true, this shift may bring a number of inexperienced delegates into the process. If it results in fresh ideas and new resolve to end the conflict in our church, it could provide momentum toward a resolution. However, it is also possible that inexperience could handicap the delegates’ ability to accomplish what they want. Future analysis should give us greater insight into this dynamic.

Another lesson from the elections is that our “winner-take-all” system of democracy does not give adequate representation to minority viewpoints. If the majority vote together as a block, they can elect 100 percent of the delegates, even if as many as 49 percent of the annual conference holds a different view. Fully one-half of the annual conferences that have voted elected a delegation that is either all-traditional or all-progressive/moderate. Since most of these one-sided conferences elected a progressive/moderate slate, it means that many evangelicals will not be represented at General Conference. In the same way, the annual conferences voting an all-traditionalist slate will leave moderates and progressives in those few annual conferences unrepresented. One wonders if a more proportional representation from the annual conferences (similar to the parliamentary system of government) might have led to even greater evangelical representation.

While there are sometimes benefits to a “winner-take-all” system in terms of helping the body reach a clearer decision, it comes at the expense of leaving groups of people unrepresented. The end result is probably a more polarized delegation and one less inclined to compromise in general. One hopes that the 2020 delegation will be willing to compromise on non-essential issues in order to reach a definitive solution to our conflict.

Now that the election results are becoming clear, it seems apparent that U.S. moderates and progressives will be unable to reverse the decision by the global United Methodist Church in St. Louis to maintain the biblical definition of marriage as one man and one woman, continue to prohibit same-sex weddings, and increase accountability to the covenant freely promised by all of our church’s clergy. That fact should give pause to those unwilling to live by that decision. Rather than continue a fruitless battle, delegates from all perspectives should coalesce around a negotiated plan that will provide space between the groups and multiply the options for Wesleyan Methodist ministry. Such an approach is the healthiest and most Christ-like way forward for our church.

 

 

Comments

  1. Tom,
    Hopefully enough of our African UM Christian delegates can get visas. will pray and work for that. We American UM Christians need to make a decision about our identity as a denomination, “People called Methodist.” Do we see ourselves as Elitist Liberal American Christians or Global Christians? I’ll opt for solidarity with Global Christianity every time!

  2. Janet Steele says

    “While there are sometimes benefits to a “winner-take-all” system in terms of helping the body reach a clearer decision, it comes at the expense of leaving groups of people unrepresented.” Too true — my LGBTQ+ siblings have clearly been unrepresented, silenced, denied ordination, marriage, acceptance and affirmation as human beings, in part due to this “winner-take-all” system which has crippled the message of love for one another Christ commanded us to embody.

  3. I’m glad you are interested in a negotiated plan. It is apparent that centrists and progressives comprise the majority of the US delegates, where the majority of the funding of the denomination lies.

    • eamiles – I think the evangelicals have always been open to negotiation. They attempted to insert a gracious exit amendment in St. Louis but the centrists and progressives blocked that, making it clear that negotiation was not to be tolerated. Hopefully their anger will cool and a negotiation is possible – that is certainly what the evangelicals are hoping. Based on the emails from progressive and centrist clergy and bishops, as well as proclamations adopted by various conferences, that I have seen so far, that doesn’t seem likely. So far they’re still focused on condemnation and claiming that sticking with the Discipline is hateful and hurtful, yet they all took a vow to uphold it. It’s easy to find links to statements and news articles from centrists/progressives calling Traditionalist and the Traditional Plan abhorent, unloving and certainly unchristian. Maybe by the convention next year the centrists and progressives will change their tune – that would certainly be welcomed news. It should be pretty clear to everyone that cohabitation isn’t in their best interest. What’s left is to negotiate the terms of separation. Claiming the other side is evil and full of hatred is a no-no in negotiations. Do you think the centrists or the progressives are willing to negotiate? I’d be interested in links you could provide to leaders among the centrists or progressives where they are trying to gain consensus around a peaceful, loving and gracious negotiated separation.

  4. Tom,
    that is good news! It would be best for all if there is a quick split – the moderates/progressives can form their own denomination and that parting can be gracious. It will still be havoc on churches that are split within them, but that havoc would only be multiplied if the leaders are pushing for hostility rather than pushing for peaceful separation. I think you’re right about the problems with winner-takes-all style of democracy. If people treat the process as holy rather than partisan, that shouldn’t be an issue, but it seems that holiness is not top-of-the-mind in this crisis. Holiness should also demand fidelity to a vow to uphold the Discipline, so holiness and fidelity are both in short supply. Perhaps with the knowledge that the delegate tug-of-war is essentially decided, the moderates/progressives will seek a rational and loving end to this crisis. I read Psalm 85 this past week and verse 10 jumped out at me. “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” How nice it would be if our church deliberations were filled with love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace! They are entwined – if any are lost, all are lost. May the groups part so that each can have the love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace that they seek to share with the world through their respective ministries! To God be all praise and glory!

    -Bryan

  5. One of the things that gratifies me about our UM Book of Discipline is how generous and gracious and truly fully inclusive it’s statements already are toward the LGBT+ community: Generously offering full inclusion of membership, participation, leadership, ministry. Though the UM Book of Discipline as it currently stands expresses reservation over openly same-sex sexual practice as such (in keeping with the scriptural witness), I am profoundly grateful for our UM Church’s grace, love, and full inclusion offered to the same-sex-attracted and those who are struggling, battling, and navigating through the challenge of a same-sex-attracted condition. Full membership, participation, and full involvement is graciously and generously extended to ALL persons by means of our current UM Book of Discipline, as such, including and particularly: All same-sex-attracted. As one who has LGBT friends and family and sisters and brothers in faith who are same-sex attracted, I can’t begin to imagine their struggle. That said, I am deeply grateful for the grace and generosity of Christ affirmed and extended by our current UM Book of Discipline. It’s a shame that in all the polarization and all-too-secular politicization from one side to the other, we seem unable to celebrate how gracious and generous the language of the current Discipline already is, as a reflection of the Gospel. From a Thankful United Methodist

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