Unnecessary Rule 44

Participants at the pre-General Conference briefing discuss an alternative decision-making process developed by the Commission on the General Conference. Photo by Steve Beard.

Participants at the pre-General Conference briefing discuss an alternative decision-making process developed by the Commission on the General Conference. Photo by Steve Beard.

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. Rule 44 is put forward by the UM Church’s Commission on the General Conference (COGC). If approved, it would grant 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 this topic 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.”

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. In the past, 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, and 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. The ACDA already has nearly 20 pages 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.

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


  1. If I understand your description, the subject of sexuality would not be considered in the regular legislative committees, but rather in the small groups of the entire plenary. Then, the reports of the small groups would be screened by a facilitation group. The latter group would be practically hand-picked by COGC. This is a set up for a progressive agenda to be presented for the final “up and down” vote of the plenary. I’m pretty sure it will be voted down, but it is a high-handed attempt to high-jack this General Conference. Add to that the PC police force or “monitors,” and this smells like something is rotten in Portland.

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