An Unnecessary, Convoluted, and Patronizing Rule

By Walter Fenton

A proposed new rule is likely to stir considerable debate at the very first plenary session at the 2016 General Conference (GC) in Portland, Oregon.

2012 General Conference Delegates.   Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS

2012 General Conference Delegates.
Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS

Rule 44 is put forward by the UM Church’s Commission on the General Conference (COGC). If approved, it would grant to the COGC the power to “identify a particular subject to be addressed through a group discernment process leading to a plenary decision.”

Not surprisingly, the “particular subject” the COGC has in mind is human sexuality.

The rule would allow the COGC to collect all petitions having to do with human sexuality in order to have them dealt with in a substantially different way than the hundreds of other petitions submitted to GC.

Rule 44 would create approximately 58 small groups consisting of no more than 15 delegates per group to have “conversation[s] addressing” the human sexuality petitions.

Each group would also be assigned a “monitor” from the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the General Commission on Religion and Race, and JustPeace. The monitors would be “empowered to observe the process and signal the group leader if they observe harmful behavior as determined according to the Guidelines for Conversation” (see below).

The COGC’s executive committee would select “leaders” and the discussion groups would elect “scribes” for each of the 58 groups. They would direct the conversations and record the groups’ “recommendations” on a “Small Group Reporting Sheet.”

The 58 reporting sheets would then be sent to a “Facilitation Group” of six GC delegates. Based on its discernment of the 58 reporting sheets, this elite group would be empowered to “craft a comprehensive petition or group of petitions” for consideration by all 864 GC delegates at a plenary session.

These six supra-delegates would be chosen as follows:

• The Leadership Discernment Committee of the Council of Bishops would nominate one female and one male GC delegate from each of the seven central conferences and the five U.S. jurisdictions, for a total of 24.

• From this pool of 24 delegates, the COGC’s executive committee would choose a slate of six for election by the GC. The GC delegates would be allowed to nominate others from the original pool of 24 before voting.

• The 864 delegates would then elect six from this list and those elected would make up the Facilitation Group.

Once chosen, the six members would be joined by the Secretary of the General Conference who would serve as an ex-officio member of the group. The secretary would lead the group in the election of the Facilitation Group Leader from among the six members. He or she would then lead the group in preparing a comprehensive petition or petitions based on the 58 reporting sheets received from the small groups.

Despite the COGC’s laudable attempt to create a process for addressing a challenging subject (i.e., human sexuality), GC delegates should decline to adopt Rule 44 for the following reasons.

• Rule 44 would introduce a convoluted and time consuming procedure for handling an issue that already consumes too much of the GC’s time and attention. If the subject of human sexuality were the only matter GC had to address then the rule might make sense, but of course it is not. At past GC’s hundreds of petitions were not considered at plenary sessions because the COGC and presiding bishops have mismanaged time and failed to maintain good order. Rule 44 threatens further dysfunction and disorder.

• Rule 44 would privilege the hurried work of the six-member Facilitation Group over the petitions that were properly and duly submitted to the COGC in the first place. Many of these petitions were carefully crafted by individuals and groups, debated and approved at annual conferences, and then submitted to GC. These petitions appear in the recently published Advance Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA) giving GC delegates and all United Methodists several months to consider them before GC. If Rule 44 were adopted, the GC would consider none of these petitions unless the Facilitation Group decided to recommend them.

• Rule 44 has been introduced under the implicit assumption that the subject of human sexuality requires a new approach because past GC delegates have failed to adequately or sensitively deal with it. There is no body of evidence to warrant such an assumption. In fact, past GC’s have demonstrated that delegates are quite capable of addressing the sensitive subject thoughtfully and respectfully. Many of the delegates who attend GC 2016 will have read extensively on this subject, participated in formal and informal conversations, and debated and voted on the matter in their annual conferences. There is no need to adopt a special rule for this subject.

• Finally, the monitoring of the delegates according to the six pages of “Guidelines for Conversation” that follow Rule 44 is particularly disturbing. The monitors from the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the General Commission on Religion and Race, and JustPeace will be empowered to arbitrarily determine when they feel a delegate is exhibiting “harmful behavior.” There is no explanation in Rule 44 noting why the monitors are coming from these particularly organizations, or how they are actually selected. The guidelines the monitors would be empowered to enforce are also patronizing and redundant. As we reported last week, nearly 20 pages of the ADCA are already given over to lecturing delegates on how to be culturally aware, how to respect others, and essentially, how to act like adults.

Rule 44 is unnecessary, convoluted, and patronizing. We trust GC delegates will politely and quickly decline to adopt it.

Note: You can read Rule 44 and the following “Guidelines for Conversation” by clicking here and going to pages 93-101.

 Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News.

Comments

  1. Bishop Melvin Talbert says

    Rule 44 is a good idea.

    • Thank you, Bishop.

      The matter surrounding Rule 44 is simply a fear of loosing power under the current system. Lobbyists fear this Rule because it gives authority to all delegates to decide matters before General Conference. Rule 44 allows for discernment in our decision-making process rather than a business process called Robert’s Rules of Order. It asks the crucial question: What is the will of God in this matter for our place and time? It gives every delegate equality to participate. The detractors of the Facilitation Group do not understand that this is skill-based analysis group. They simply prepare a report from the Small Group Worksheets so that in the Plenary Session, Delegates can see what has been discerned previously and see if there has been a creative movement of the Spirit. They do not legislate. The worksheets are public record.

      No one seems to question that a committee selects the presiding Bishops to guide General Conference Sessions. No one questions that Annual Conference selects delegates and gives power to a few to represent them at General Conference. What people are questioning is the power that people at the extremes of an issue have in the way they lobby and influence. It’s time for a more spiritual process.

      A vote against Rule 44 is a vote against improving General Conference and taking responsibility away from the Delegates sent there to discern God’s will.. Wise up! Allow Rule 44 to function. It actually takes less time to use than our traditional method.

      Good news has been briefed on this process yet has distorted it as usual. Isn’t it time for Good News to actually share good news?

      Why the ruckus over Rule 44?

    • The matter surrounding Rule 44 is simply a fear of loosing power under the current system. Lobbyists fear this Rule because it gives authority to all delegates to decide matters before General Conference. Rule 44 allows for discernment in our decision-making process rather than a business process called Robert’s Rules of Order. It asks the crucial question: What is the will of God in this matter for our place and time? It gives every delegate equality to participate. The detractors of the Facilitation Group do not understand that this is skill-based analysis group. They simply prepare a report from the Small Group Worksheets so that in the Plenary Session, Delegates can see what has been discerned previously and see if there has been a creative movement of the Spirit. They do not legislate. The worksheets are public record.

      No one seems to question that a committee selects the presiding Bishops to guide General Conference Sessions. No one questions that Annual Conference selects delegates and gives power to a few to represent them at General Conference. What people are questioning is the power that people at the extremes of an issue have in the way they lobby and influence. It’s time for a more spiritual process.

      A vote against Rule 44 is a vote against improving General Conference and taking responsibility away from the Delegates sent there to discern God’s will.. Wise up! Allow Rule 44 to function. It actually takes less time to use than our traditional method.

      Good news has been briefed on this process yet has distorted it as usual. Isn’t it time for Good News to actually share good news?

      Why the ruckus over Rule 44?

      • Carlos Gomez says

        The only reason Rule 44 is being pushed is to have a better chance of changing the Book of Discipline regarding sexuality. You really believe those “empowered to observe the process and signal the group leader if they observe harmful behavior” will allow comments defining homosexuality as a sin? All these comments will be censored by the monitors from the “Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the General Commission on Religion and Race, and JustPeace, which all are extremely liberal.

  2. Licensed Local Pastor says

    Wow!! This is a blatant attempt to hijack the General Conference and impose the will of the few on the many. Forget all the work put in by annual conferences through out the connection that have resolutions on the agenda for consideration, this rule says covertly, “ours is a superior intellect.” Hopefully this rule will be, politely and quickly declined for adoption.

  3. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
    You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high. (Isaiah 58:4)

    For this Lent, I’m giving up the Great Debate. For 40 days, I will not read any blog posts, newsletters, e-blasts, mailings or articles pertaining to General Conference or any of the issues currently facing the United Methodist Church.

    Rather than focus upon the sinfulness of others, I will examine and repent of my own sinful behavior. Instead of judging others, I will judge myself. Through such abstinence I hope to avoid the preoccupied thinking that keeps me from drawing closer to God and the strong emotions that all-too-often are un-Christ-like.

    By giving up the Great Debate for Lent, my goal is to more deeply experience the joy of the Resurrection — and better prepare myself for the absurdity of the General Conference season to come.

  4. Do a little math, and you will see how over-represented our most liberal annual conferences would be in this process. These would be the conferences in Europe and in the Western Jurisdiction. You will also see how under-represented the conferences in Africa would be. This is only one of my several concerns about this rule.

    • Bingo! Rule 44 is all about giving liberal groups even more disproportionate representation than they already have. It is a ruse and should be rejected immediately.

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  1. […] friend Walter Fenton of Good News has called Rule #44 “unnecessary, convoluted, and patronizing.”  His critique is that the process would be time-consuming and put too much power into the […]

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