The final day began with worship like the others. Afterwards, the GC received a couple of reports from “standing committees”. The legislative portion began with a petition from the Standing Committee on Central Conferences. It set a timeline for implementation of anything passed at GC2019 for the Central Conferences (outside the US).
The pension proposals that passed with wide margin yesterday were next. There were a couple of minor amendments proposed. One passed, one didn’t. Then the petitions passed.
The Traditional Plan was next on the agenda, which was expected to be the major part of today’s work. As the room geared up for that, a motion to reconsider the last decision was proposed because of some unintended consequences from the amendment made. It took some time and discussion, but the previous petition was reconsidered…amended differently…and passed. I share all of that not because of the great consequence, but to explain the time it sometimes takes to ‘get it right.’
After that matter, we were sitting around 11:00am. We received the review from Judicial Council regarding everything sent forward yesterday. They found 10 constitutional issues….8 with the Traditional Plan, and 2 with exit petitions.. So the main topic on the agenda for the day (for the entire Conference) finally came to the floor at 11:10am. The minority report (recommending we vote for the One Church Plan) was presented passionately. Debate boiled down to choosing one of the plans over the other, and that debate was indeed passionate. The minority report was ultimately rejected around Noon by similar margins as the votes to prioritize and to pass on to plenary.
The afternoon was characterized by delay and parliamentary maneuvering in an attempt to avoid a final vote on the Traditional Plan. One opponent, in ‘speaking against’, said that he would “amend until the monster trucks roll in.” (The immovable deadline of being finished by 6:30 is because the Dome has to begin setting up for a monster truck rally.)
[Yesterday, the Traditional Plan was approved after only a few amendments. Knowing that the Judicial Council advised 8 changes necessary to meet constitutional muster, this looked to be a long amendment process…and it was.] After many motions and a few amendments and points of order, the Traditional Plan eventually was brought for a vote. The question came to the floor even before all of the necessary amendments were brought. It passed 53 – 47%.
Protests immediately followed. The arena was setup to avoid non-delegates disrupting the legislative process, although they tried a couple of different ways. This was the first time some of the delegates started protesting on the floor, which halted the process and forced presiding Bishop Harvey to declare a break to restore order. When order on the floor was restored, the protests continued in the gallery (observation area), and the legislative process continued as if the protests weren’t continuing. Yelling from the gallery continued for over an hour. Sadly, similar protesting has happened at every General Conference in my memory, although this is my first time seeing it in-person.
The first Exit Plan (Boyette) came to the floor next. The discussion started with the Minority Report. (When a petition passes through Legislative Committee, the opposition has the opportunity to offer an alternative to the plenary). The minority report, in this case, was designed to address the constitutional issue identified in the Boyette petition by the Judicial Council. After a lot of debate and countless motions and points of order (mostly attempts to delay), the Minority Report was accepted as a replacement for the Boyette petition and it eventually passed.
At this point, time was running out quickly, and several smaller items were handled on the floor. At the very end, three petitions remained (one from Legislative Committee and two from Standing Committees) that did not have time to be handled. The Conference bundled these three together and rejected them with a single vote.
We were told closing worship would immediately follow. We were already 5 minutes past the 6:30pm “hard” deadline, so many in the gallery wondered what form of worship we’d have. After some brief confusion on the stage, Bishop Ken Carter (Chair of the Council of Bishops) offered a prayer of blessing, and that was the end of the Called General Conference.
Admittedly, I am exhausted. I can’t fathom being on the floor and feeling the responsibility to make sure something was accomplished in such a serious matter. At one point, I genuinely thought nothing would pass that dealt with the subjects of ordination and marriage ceremonies (the reason for the Called GC). Things happened so fast once the Traditional Plan came up for an actual vote, it was a blur.
So…what did we accomplish?
• We passed two provisions to allow our pension to be more flexible for clergy leaving the connection or joining some sort of “new Methodist” denomination connected with our pension provider (WesPath).
• We passed the Traditional Plan (although we know some elements will be stricken down as unconstitutional). That basically means we maintained:
o our current prohibition against ordaining, licensing or appointing “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
o our current prohibition of UM clergy officiating same gender weddings
o our current prohibition against UM buildings being used for same gender wedding ceremonies.
• The Traditional Plan also adds more specific accountability measures for those who violate those prohibitions. Some of those will certainly be stricken because we ran out of time to amend them appropriately.
• We passed a version of a “gracious exit”.
o That means there is a possibility of a church leaving the United Methodist Church without having the Trust Clause (the Conference owns the church’s real property) used as a punitive measure if they’re leaving for reasons of conviction related to our positions on clergy credentialing and marriage of practicing homosexuals.
On our way out of the arena, we had to work our way through a group of people protesting in the main entrance. St. Louis Police had a visible presence (my friend counted 30 officers) around the protest group because it wasn’t a ‘given’ that violence wouldn’t happen.
At one point today, it genuinely looked like nothing of any substance would pass. After 2 years of study and preparation, and a year of lead-up to this Special General Conference, passing nothing would have been devastating. I understand that the end result is devastating to some people, but passing nothing after such energy and cost expended would be unfathomable. The processes and maneuvers used to try to block anything from passing, and some of the rhetoric and accusations were atrocious to watch. As embarrassing as they are for Congress: For the Church, they’re beyond embarrassing. At one point, I honestly had to consider if I wanted to remain a United Methodist pastor.
I say that not to exaggerate, but to indicate that even though
a) the plan I hoped would pass passed and
b) some form of ‘gracious exit’ was passed (which I also hoped would happen):
I am not jumping for joy. I am extremely discouraged by the level of dysfunction found in our top legislative body. We are broken, and this GC did NOT act in a way that contributed to healing any of that dysfunction.
Although some in the conservative camp may be ready to ‘spike the football’ and celebrate a victory, I don’t see any victory in anything that happened at General Conference. I see our brokenness front-and-center, and the result being what I hoped doesn’t diminish the damage done: damage to people who are genuinely hurting from those results; damage to the ‘brand’ of United Methodism; and ultimately damage done to the reputation of the Church and Christianity to an unbelieving world.
Some general observations from my experience at General Conference:
o We waste a lot of time. Whether it’s waiting for people to saunter to the microphone (not their fault…we should have more microphones), or breaks that NEVER ended on-time (10 minutes should mean 10 minutes, not 25 or 30). It was safe to say that nothing ever started at its designated time. I view that as a waste of valuable (and limited) time and disrespectful to the body that has come from all over the world to handle the business at hand.
o If I’m ever a delegate, I would look forward to developing friendships across “the Connection”. Delegates get to know each other a little bit, but those friendships can probably develop deeper using social media connections beyond the conference itself.
o It’s really cool to be in a room with so many languages and cultures, and with a mutual desire to serve Jesus and His Kingdom!
o St. Louis is a nice city and I’d like to come back as a tourist.
o Uber and Lyft are a great way to get around a larger city. (I hadn’t tried them before.) It’s also a neat way to make personal connections with locals (drivers).
o For those who have followed my Facebook posts this won’t be a surprise at all…
St. Louis desperately needs a Ben’s Pretzels. 🙂
o If the actions of our politicians in Washington and Indianapolis are embarrassing to us, the people of the United Methodist Church should be moreso embarrassed. From accusations of bribery based on rumors without any specifics or substantiation, to name calling, to mischaracterization of opponents’ positions as hatred, to delaying the work of the Conference for the sake of winning a battle…today, I am embarrassed to call myself a United Methodist. That embarrassment is not because of a decision made by the body. It is because of the political machinations and the body’s willingness to waste the people’s good faith and dollars with delay and obfuscation. At the end of a couple of VERY long days (the presiding bishop joked that the last couple days felt like “dog-year days”), I am very discouraged. I may rethink that after I’ve gotten some needed rest. However, right now…I am embarrassed, and as an agent of the Church, I want to apologize to the people for our lack of sobriety about this Conference, and for this being more of a political process than a spiritual one. We can do better. We MUST do better!
Sunday evening, I will be presenting a report about my experience at General Conference at 5:00pm. At 5:30pm, we will join a webcast from Bishop Trimble about the results of General Conference. Afterward, I will field any questions you may have. I say “field” instead of “answer” because I may not have answers to all of your questions. I will do my best, and I’m willing to lament together.
I would love to see you Sunday evening at 5pm in St. Mark’s sanctuary.
Thank you for following along, but more importantly…thank you for loving Jesus and loving people on his behalf. I look forward to working together to develop a Christ-centered community of prayer and fellowship, reaching out with the hope and love of God.