Focus on Restructuring, Focus 1

Perhaps the most anticipated issue to face the 2012 General Conference is the proposal to restructure the church. The Interim Operations Team proposal, as put into legislative form by the Connectional Table, is an attempt to implement some of the ideas contained in the Call to Action Report.

There is also the very thoughtful proposal called Plan B, as well as another proposal from the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA)

There are good people and smart minds behind all these initiatives. Neither Good News nor the Renewal and Reform Coalition (RRC) has endorsed a specific plan. The RRC affirms the emphasis on local church vitality and increased accountability.

As delegates think over these issues, these are the principles that we believe ought to be taken into consideration in any restructure proposal:

• Adequate structures for coordination and oversight. The attraction of the IOT proposal is to place most of the general agencies in one group, which ought to enhance coordination, reduce duplication, and provide greater accountability. The RRC favors moving in this direction. On the other hand, the major shortcoming of the Methodist Federation for Social Action proposal is that it leaves too many agencies functioning independently.

• Proportional representation. If we are to operate as a global church, then the global church should be represented proportionally on our governing structures. While the IOT proposal is an improvement here, it does not go far enough in raising the percentage of central conference representatives to equal their proportion of UM membership.

• Separation of powers and decision-making by conferencing. Historically, The United Methodist Church has not been run by the bishops (at least after Asbury). While bishops have often presided over general boards and agencies, that has not led to greater accountability and effectiveness in the mission of the church. The Council of Bishops itself is divided and finds it difficult to speak with a unified voice on many issues. While the IOT proposal reduces the number of bishops directly involved in general church governance, it strengthens the role of bishops in presiding over the church structure, choosing who will serve on the general church governing boards, and deciding how apportionment money will be allocated between General Conference sessions and in future general church budgets. The RRC believes some of these ideas go too far in allowing bishops to intrude into the legislative arena.

• Simplify the governance structure. Rather than create two new bodies, with an undefined field of responsibility and an obscure process of being selected, the RRC favors strengthening the accountability duties of the Connectional Table and making it more representative to fulfill the functions of coordination and oversight.

• Protection from liability. Concerns have arisen that gathering the bulk of the denomination’s assets into one agency, with one small board and one executive officer (the set-aside bishop) would open the church to greater liability in lawsuits. Maintaining some separate boards under an accountability and oversight group like the Connectional Table would seem the better way to limit this legal liability exposure. For the same reason, the General Council on Finance and Administration’s financial oversight arm needs to be separate from the program groups.

The RRC hopes that delegates will strongly consider these principles in adjusting the various proposals for restructure that are coming.