Tuesday, May 31, 2016

General Conference 2016

Hello! This blog will cover my experiences at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, taking place May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon. The UMC gathers every 4 years to make decisions that impact our denomination and our mission field. This global gathering includes 864 delegates (50% lay, 50% clergy), who will pray, worship, debate, argue, listen, speak up, lead and learn. In an organization as large, global and established as ours, change can be challenging; but we will seek to do faithful work, and pray God's blessings on our efforts.
Delegates from the Democratic Republic of Congo follow legislation in 2012,
as remarks are interpreted in their own language.

For much more information about GC2016, visit the Central Texas Conference Delegation's communications homepage. This is a curated site, which brings together a variety of perspectives from and about General Conference. You can also follow the live stream of plenary worship and meeting sessions. On social media, the official hashtag is: #umcgc.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sand Creek Tragedy

Wednesday evening, after a long day of debate, confusion and frustration, General Conference observed an act of repentance for Methodist involvement in the horrific event known as the Sand Creek Massacre.

On November 29, 1864, Col. John Milton Chivington, a leader of the Union Army and Methodist Episcopal Church preacher, led an attack against Cheyenne and Arapaho people who were encamped along to Big Sandy River in Colorado Territory.

"The attack quickly deteriorated into indiscriminate slaughter," says historian Dr. Gary L. Roberts, who spoke Wednesday night. Roughly 200 people were killed, between 2/3 and 3/4 of them women, children and the elderly. "The events were so brutal, that entire companies of attacking forces were repulsed by them....Soldiers...who rode into the action were horrified by the excesses."
Chivington's troops were largely made of men who signed up for
100 days of volunteer fighting.
The Sand Creek attack was made upon people who had been brought to this location and promised safety by the U.S. government: specifically, John Evans, governor of Colorado and prominent lay member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

My family has passed by the Sand Creek National Historic Site numerous times on trips we have made to Colorado. As we passed by a few years ago, I looked up details about the event. The account is horrific. Until now, I did not realize there was a Methodist connection.

We cannot undo the damage that was done. Expressing our regret seems inadequate. But, in the midst of the "business" of General Conference, I am grateful that we intentionally take time, each time we meet, to engage in an act of repentance. Looking back over past wrongs that we have committed as a church, times we have engaged in wrongful action or remained silent in the face of wrongdoing, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves, "What are we doing now for which we will later repent?"

It's a good question for each person, each congregation, and our denomination to ask regularly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Word from the Council of Bishops

Yesterday, delegate Mark Holland (Great Plains) made a call for the Council of Bishops - those three not needed to actually preside over the General Conference at the time - to meet separately during the proceedings of General Conference to come up with a plan for our church, including a plan to not wait four more years to convene again as a General Conference, if this seems necessary. He urged our episcopal leaders to give us leadership at this critical time for our church.

Below is their response this morning. It was acknowledged by Bishop Ough, President of the Council of Bishops, that the bishops are not unanimous in this statement. It was also acknowledged that, "unanimity is not the same as unity."
Galatians 3:25-29 (NRSV) - But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Your bishops were honored to receive the request of General Conference to help lead our United Methodist Church forward during this time of both great crises and great opportunity.
As far as we can discover, this is the first time that a General Conference has ever made such a request of the Council of Bishops, and we accept this request with humility. 
We share with you a deep commitment to the unity of the church in Christ our Lord. Yesterday, our president shared the deep pain we feel. We have all prayed for months and continue to do so. We seek, in this kairos moment, a way forward for profound unity on human sexuality and other matters. This deep unity allows for a variety of expressions to co-exist in one church. Within the Church, we are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another. This is the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21-23.
UNITY. We believe that our unity is found in Jesus Christ; it is not something we achieve but something we receive as a gift from God. We understand that part of our role as bishops is to lead the church toward new behaviors, a new way of being and new forms and structures which allow a unity of our mission of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" while allowing for differing expressions as a global church. Developing such new forms will require a concerted effort by all of us, and we your bishops commit ourselves to lead this effort. We ask you, as a General Conference, to affirm your own commitment to maintaining and strengthening the unity of the church. We will coordinate this work with the various efforts already underway to develop global structures and a new General Book of Discipline for our church. Strengthening the unity of the church is a responsibility for all of us. 
PRAYER. We accept our role as spiritual leaders to lead the UMC in a "pause for prayer" - to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and intentionally seek God's will for the future. As a Council of Bishops we will lead the church in every part of the world in times of worship, study, discernment, confession, and prayer for God's guidance. We ask you, as a General Conference, to join us in this effort, beginning this week. We were moved by the sight of delegates praying around the table, and we hope these efforts will continue. As your bishops we are ready to join you and to lead you in these times of prayer. 
NEXT STEPS. We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over secuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts.
We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and that will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with the Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, they will call a two to three day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.) 
CONTINUING DISCUSSIONS. We will continue to explore options to help the church to live in grace with one another - including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.
Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1-2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession, and then exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.
Let us imagine...Abundant Health. 6 million children die every year from preventable illness. Fulfill our calling as a global church by reaching 1 million children with life-saving and health-promoting measures by 2020. Working to protect children from preventable illnesses.
Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 102 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession and exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward. 
Following this statement, after a break and time for table talk, Adam Hamilton (Great Plains) made a motion that we move forward with the recommendation from Council of Bishops to form a group to discuss human sexuality issues, look at all paragraphs in our Discipline on this issue, and call a special session of General Conference; and for now, table all human sexuality petitions (DCA p. 1709. These are the ones that were originally meant to be handled by Rule 44. You can look them up by number here). Chap Temple (Texas) then offered a substitute motion that we NOT table all human sexuality petitions. The body began a debate as to which motion they would work on after Gene Mims (Virginia) called for prayer, to "rise, hold hands with each other, and ask for the will of Jesus Christ to be done in this body before we start debating."

After much debate (and confusion related to the clearing of the speakers' queue), the body voted to work on the Hamilton motion.

There are no shortage of opinions about this topic on Twitter. Many are calling for the delegates to "do their job" - vote on the petitions that have been submitted. This is what we have always done. This is "the work of General Conference." Some are calling for the bishops to butt out. But no rules have been broken, here. The body of GC asked the bishops for a way forward, and the bishops are only speaking with the consent of the body. This is highly unusual. But this conference cannot be "business as usual," because that is simply not working.

There are many who feel the time has come for a change in our denomination - that the time is, in fact, long overdue. There are many who are determined that, on the issue of human sexuality, our church will remain steadfast in our historical position. However we choose to state it in our Discipline, it cannot be denied that faithful Christians disagree on this issue.

Personally, having experienced the debacle of General Conference 2012, I am convinced that voting on the human sexuality petitions will bring great pain, not just to those present at GC, but to our denomination. Demonstrations will hinder the work of the body to move forward on any petitions, and our church will move, perhaps irrevocably, toward schism, not unity. I have no reason to think that the proceedings of General Conference will seem "reasonable," once these petitions are on the floor.

Is it cowardice to table these petitions with the understanding that we have a plan in place to work in a creative, new way to seek a solution that will allow for unity? I think it is the opposite. I disagree with those who say the delegates have been elected to do "business as usual." Clearly, our polity is no longer effective with a global body of this size. If the delegates take unusual measures and vote to approve an attempt to try something new, then I think they are absolutely doing their job.

The delegates are on lunch break for now. I hope you will join me in prayer for them and for our church.
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer (West Ohio) has been presiding over
the session this morning with great patience and grace. His calm
presence is a blessing during difficult conversations.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

United, Or Untied?

The news overnight isn't good. I went to sleep in the wee hours of the morning with grave concerns on my heart for the future of our denomination. The rumors are that the Council of Bishops will make a presentation today to initiate a move toward splitting the church (live feed available here). And in this wired world, "rumors" doesn't mean a murmur from a few people making idle speculation: it means that my Twitter feed blew up with rants and prayers and prognostications. I learned how to find the "mute" feature on Twitter. It's amazing how much ugliness can be contained in 140 characters.

Here's the news this morning:

It's amazing how social media invites us all in to have a voice in the debate, or to stand on the sidelines and read the words of fired-up strangers as they scroll by. Whether the rumors are true or not (and we have some evidence to suggest that they are not true), there is no way that today can just be "business as usual." There is a lot of unrest in our system. Critical votes need to be taken on issues that people feel passionately about. A cloud of schism hangs over everything.

Please pray for our church. Pray that, in the midst of human passions, God's will may be sought, may be heeded, and may prevail.
Image designed by Todd Pick, CTC Conference Service Center
Director of Operations, who serves on the worship team
for General Conference.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Against the Clock

[A late post from Saturday, May 14.]

Today was our last day of committee meetings. This is crunch time for committees, as anything that does not get voted on in full committee (even if it was voted upon in sub-committee) effectively dies and will not get to the floor of Conference unless resurrected through a petition.
Petitions can be divisive. One thing we seem to agree on, though, is that
eradicating malaria is a good thing. Over $68 million raised so far. $68 million!!!!
As an aside, it might be helpful to understand a bit about how these petitions travel through the process:
  • If time runs out, petitions that are not voted upon in full committee (even if they were voted upon in sub-committee) do not make it to the floor of General Conference (plenary).
  • Any petition that is approved in full committee with a majority vote is eligible to be voted upon on the floor of GC.
  • Petitions that are approved in committee with 10 or fewer votes against them go automatically to the Consent Calendar, unless they have financial implications or require a change to the Constitution.
  • The Consent Calendar is printed each morning in the Daily Christian Advocate. The items on that day's DCA will be voted upon on the following morning in one bundle. 
  • An item can be lifted off of the Consent Calendar if a petition is signed (requires 20 unique signatures) and turned in by the appropriate deadline. (Petitions that did not get voted upon in committee can be resurrected by the same process.)
  • When vote on Consent Calendar is taken, if that vote passes, all of the petitions on that Consent Calendar are approved. [This means that, although it appears that very few decisions are made at GC, a lot of decisions are, in fact, made. Because they come through on Consent Calendar, they usually don't get much publicity. As you might suppose, the more controversial decisions tend to require a decision on the floor. There are, however, exceptions to this...*]
  • During the plenary sessions of GC, items which passed out of committee but are not on the Consent Calendar are brought to the body to be voted upon.
  • When our scheduled time runs out at the end of next week, any items not voted upon (even though they may have been greatly debated in sub-committee and committee) effectively die. (Yes, this does happen.)
Exhausted? Drained? Fortunately, there is GC Prayer Room to help soothe your spirit.

All this to say...there is a fair amount of anxiety in committees on the last day, as there are significant consequences to not addressing all of the petitions in committee. We were scheduled to meet until 9:30 p.m.today, and many committees needed every minute. Oddly, a two-hour dinner was scheduled. Judicial Administration could have benefitted from shortening this break, but were told that it was not possible, as Dinner was part of the Order of the Day. To alter this would require a suspension of The Rules. Other committees did not heed this rule; but I suppose their decision to do so could later be ruled "out of order," thus negating any work that was done prior to the end of the scheduled break. (I fervently hope it is not!) I must say that scheduling a two hour break on this last night of committee work seemed unwise, but there it is.

Before Judicial Administration met in full committee, we met one more time in sub-committee. I chose to follow sub-committee A this time, since they met in the same room as the full committee. This way, I could hope to keep my seat and not get shut out again!
Two things I am grateful for: 1) Our delegation's ability to share information while we are
dispersed in committees; 2) The Central Texas Conference's provision to send Reserve
Delegates to GC, so we can cover all of the committees. Thank you, CTC!
Sub A worked on issues related to Just Resolution and to the Episcopacy. A number of petitions were submitted to create more accountability for pastors and Bishops who commit chargeable offenses. One group of similar petitions that got a lot of attention were 60804, 60806, and 60807, submitted by the Bethlehem UMC (Thornton, PA) Social Action Committee. Their purpose is to ensure that Just Resolution does not provide an "easy out" for clergy who perform same-sex marriages. (Click here to read about how Just Resolution played out in one case.)

P2701.5 currently speaks of Just Resolution in this way:
A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties....Processes that seek a just resolution are encouraged at any time, including through the judicial proceedings....
Regarding chargeable offenses in our denomination, it is hoped that a Just Resolution can be reached and a church trial can be avoided. The petitions in question attempted to insert this new language into the Discipline:
When the complaint is based upon allegation of the specific misconduct of a clergyperson having conducted a ceremony celebrating a homosexual union or having performed a same-sex wedding ceremony...within the statute of limitations, and the clergyperson against whom the complaint was made acknowledges to the supervising bishop, within the course of the process seeking a just resolution, that he or she did in fact conduct or perform the ceremony in question, then any just resolution of the complaint...must include this clergyperson being suspended without pay, for no less than one full year, from all ministerial duties and functions...for a period of prayerful reflection on his or her willingness to continue committing to his or her covenantal vows to God and to the United Methodist Church.
It seems clear that this petition was submitted to make it impossible for Bishops to allow clergy who perform same-sex unions to "get off lightly." But we travel into very dangerous waters when we start re-writing the Discipline as a reaction to particular situations. Clearly, United Methodists disagree on the issue of same-sex marriage. But is it right to make this issue a graver moral issue than violating one's own marriage vows (which would not automatically require you to be suspended without pay for a minimum of one year)?

These petitions did pass after much discussion and significant amendments in sub-committee. They were amended to add that acknowledgment of wrongdoing must be made "in writing" to the supervising bishop by the clergyperson. And, very significantly, the petitions were amended to include ALL offenses, not just presiding at a same-sex union, as requiring one year without pay when seeking a Just Resolution.

A strong concern was voiced over the Constitutionality of these petitions. Do we have the right to apply an automatic, across-the-board penalty? There was disagreement about this in the sub-committee, and we attempted to refer the matter to the Judicial Council before voting on it in committee. However, we were told that referrals to Judicial Council (yes, they really do stand by at General Conference, ready to make rulings on the spot) can only be made from the floor of the plenary. Maybe so, maybe not. But not having any better information, we passed the petitions with the amended language. We'll see what happens on the floor next week. (If the Judicial Council does not rule on this in the next week, and the petitions pass, it is possible that a ruling will occur at a later date that could overturn the implementation of this penalty. Such confusion can bring a lot of pain, and should be avoided at all costs!)

Personally, I am not for this petition. I don't think across-the-board penalties should be named in advance of violations. If the person in violation is a Bishop, an entire episcopal area will thrown into confusion as he or she is immediately suspended. On the other hand, I have been personally frustrated to hear that clergy members who have committed a chargeable offense are entitled to receive pay while they are suspended and seeking Just Resolution. I don't imagine their church is paying two salaries, so assume it is apportionment dollars, one way or another, that allow this person to continue to draw a salary even when they have acknowledged wrongdoing and are suspended from doing their job.

Like many issues, this one has many sides, and will likely make for interesting debate on the Conference floor.
* A note about Guaranteed Appointments, which we voted to do away with on the Consent Calendar in 2012, but reinstated before the ruling came into effect because the Judicial Council overturned the decision as unconstitutional: renewed efforts to make this change this year did not get the approval of committee. Unless a group tries to resurrect this issue, we will not discuss it on the floor of Conference this year.
Photo of the Day: Delegation member Ethan Gregory missed his graduation
from Perkins School of Theology so he could attend GC. We did our best to
help him celebrate in style. Congratulations, Ethan!

Taking Care of Business

[This post reports on proceedings from Friday, May 13. I apologize for the delay in posting, but the days have been so full that it's hard to carve out time to summarize properly!]

This morning's work began at 7:15 a.m, as our delegation met to share information we gleaned from legislative committees yesterday. Eventually, many of these petitions will come to the floor of Conference to be voted upon by all of the delegates, so it is important for the voting members of our delegation to be briefed on what issues are being faced in each committee.
Why do donuts taste different in Portland?
Opening worship featured a brief but powerful sermon by Bishop Sally Dyck (Chicago). She challenged the church on naming only one thing as "incompatible with Christian teaching." (This is the language used in our Social Principles to describe the practice of homosexuality.) Shining the spotlight on racism, Bishop Dyck asked why this was not also declared incompatible with Christian teaching. Using the text of Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, (Matthew 9:9-13) Bishop Dyck called out the church for excluding only one type of humanity and urged us to seek mercy.
Bishop Sally Dyck: "Why is racism not declared
'incompatible with Christian teaching?'"
Photo Credit: New York Annual Conference
Today, we continued the committee work begun yesterday. For those new to General Conference, it might help to understand this part of the process as the middle part of an hourglass. We move from a broad perspective - all of the petitions that have been submitted - to a narrow, focused perspective. 12 committees meet to vote - in sub-committee, then full committee - on petitions that have been assigned to that area of ministry. Committees work through as many petitions as they can in the time they are given. Those that aren't voted on by committee, and those that are voted down by the committee, can still make it to the floor through a separate petition process. But when the time is up on Saturday evening, the sifting of the hourglass ceases: whatever made it through to the bottom portion will, if time allows, be voted upon on the floor. All others are rejected, unless an effort is made to resurrect them through a petition process.

Getting space inside the room of the Judicial Administration Committee is proving to be a great challenge! I was shut out of the first committee plenary, and had to jockey for position to have a seat in the sub-committee room. In all, our committee/sub-committee moved rooms five times today. I was only able to sit in on two of those sessions, which is a huge disappointment. As a Reserve Delegate, I am the only member of my delegation covering this committee. My job is to report back to the delegation, a job I cannot fulfill if I am not in the room to hear the proceedings. If I were shadowing a voting delegate, I would need to be ready to sub in if the voting delegate was unable to complete the day. I feel strongly that Reserve Delegates should be given priority seating in the committee galleries. But, we have been told that this will require a change in The Rules. (Enough said.) I am hopeful that this will be a new rule in 2020.

Fortunately, I was able to be in a session of sub-committee B to witness a careful and holy conversation among committee members regarding Petition #60762. This petition was submitted by six Annual Conferences of the UMC, and calls to amend P2702.1, which deals with chargeable offenses. Among the offenses for which a clergy person can be charged are:
  • Immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage
  • Practices declared by the UMC to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same sex wedding ceremonies
The petition seeks to remove the language indicated by the strikethroughs. This would mean that it would not be a chargeable offense for a clergyperson to be a self-avowed practicing homosexual, to be in a same-sex marriage, or to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Before discussion began, Amy Lippoldt, committee sub-chair, reminded everyone to remain in a spirit of Christian conferencing and to be respectful of each other in their speech. Here are some of the comments I heard:
  • I am not in favor of removing the language; this would not be scriptural.
  • I am not ready to change this language.
  • I am in favor of changing this language; it decriminalizes this.
  • If we remove this language, we could end up with a Bishop who is homosexual. The Bishops are paid through apportionments. This will bring more conflict.
  • There is no mechanism for Africa if we support this broad solution to a Western-centric problem.
  • This is a matter of conscience: the current language is biblical.
  • The language still says immorality; it still says celibacy in singleness; it does not force a pastor to do this. Let us offer grace. None of us 'don't believe' the Bible; we interpret the Bible differently.
  • Bishop Scott Jones did a study which shows negative financial implications, similar to PCUSA, including a decline in membership. 
  • I believe we have to begin the change somewhere. This does not address the biblical issue; other places do this. This allows people to act according to their conscience.
  • We have to separate what is God and what is the church. Any church, any clergy should rely on God and the Bible. If not, the church will not have the Holy Spirit. It will not be the church. 
  • The Bible was written by God. There are no other interpretations, no other commentaries.
  • To make a decision of this magnitude based on money is not faithful to God. When the church merged in 1968, we lost people and money. Anthropomorphically speaking, God did not write the Bible with His hand. He gave inspiration to the men who did.
  • My faith now does not allow me to practice any kind of exclusion. My contribution: I am convinced all of us here present, we love each other in Christ. And I am convinced that no one in their conviction has the authority to exclude someone else. I invite you to profound reflection. It has been a long time, at General Conference, when at this point, our spirits begin to fight. We need to think differently. I know we are smart. When we speak from extremes, we separate into camps. Why not give a little on both sides? I invite you to a deeper reflection. (This from a delegate from the Democratic Republic of Congo.)
  • When clergy are ordained, we submit to a yoke of obedience, a clergy covenant.
  • We talk of covenant, but what about the covenant among the baptized? The covenant between a pastor and a congregation?
  • We need to find a middle way that keeps us bound to one another around the world, but does not close the door on a group of people.
  • Sexual misconduct includes when one sexuality abuses another.
  • My church has many who would embrace this. But it is still a sin. This is what it comes down to. I cannot find a middle ground. Why is the church growing in Africa? Because everything is about evangelism.
  • I have searched for middle ground. We have had homosexuals on this planet since the beginning of time. It is time to recognize that.
  • Christ reminded disciples to be as one. Christ met a woman who was a prostitute. Because she was brought to Christ, because Christ is our protector, this woman, who was a sinner, was not kicked out. Christ said, "I do not condemn you; but go, and sin no more." We are the church, we are sisters and brothers. We cannot exclude anybody who is under this tree. We need to say to them, "Go, and sin no more."
  • This cannot be seen as a financial issue.
  • This is going to be against our country, because we do not follow the laws of the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Let the only thing between us be Christ. I have to go the way of love, not judgment; of grace, not condemnation.
  • We've been trying to settle this since 1972. 
23 committee members voted on this petition. 14 of them spoke in the conversation that preceded the vote. The final vote was: 9 for, 14 against. The petition did not pass.

This is a difficult issue for our church, no doubt. Since the inception of the UMC, we have struggled with and against one another to define our denomination's faithful response. I am deeply appreciative of the respect that committee members showed for one another during this discussion. There is a sincere call by some for people to move from extreme positions; but we have no clarity on how, practically, to do this.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to witness this conversation. Not bound by Roberts Rules of Order, we were able to allow all who desired to have an opportunity to speak. Respect was shown to all, and time was taken to ensure that we did not rush this decision. Once this goes to full committee, we will be back to "three speeches for, three against." Any discussion of this topic on the floor will be the same. I pray that other sub-committees were able to allow time for such careful conversation.
So great to have lunch at Pine State Biscuits with my friend Clay!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Committee Work Begins...Eventually

Today began with opening worship...and another attempt to pass Rule 44. Before you read any further, I invite you to watch this awesome anthem (below) from the KEFAS Gospel Choir from Copenhagen, Denmark (begin at 30:30 and hang in there). A fun way to start the day!

The schedule for the day optimistically had us beginning to meet in Legislative Committees at 11:10. But wrangling over the rules put us over an hour off schedule, with a lot of time spent, ultimately, making no forward progress. Parliamentary procedure continues to be a huge problem. The electronic que system for speakers continues to be a huge problem. General Conference descended into General Confusion, with Bishop Hope Morgan Ward (South Carolina) finally calling for a 20-minute recess so we could get some clarity on how best to move forward.

[As an aside, the Bishops have, I think, a very stressful job presiding over this extremely large, diverse, multi-lingual body. If I could make one change to GC, I think I would have to choose that we spend whatever it takes to hire a rock star professional parliamentarian to keep up with Robert's Rules when we are in plenary sessions!]
Here's our own Bishop Lowry, sharing in our distress that the swings from
worship to plenary, unity to distrust, are discouraging.
When we returned from break, I had an opportunity to go on the floor as a voting member. And we finally, finally, voted on Rule 44! Before the vote, the Rules Committee had one last speech. We were encouraged to vote yes on Rule 44 - even if we don't choose to activate it at this General Conference - so the Committee will have time over the next quadrennium to perfect it and get it ready to use by 2020. But no go. After three days of debate, we voted it down. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Done.
Here we are praying before voting on Rule 44. At one point, a delegate claimed that we
must have even confused God by this time and invoked a rule that allows us to pray!
So, to recap: we began voting on the rules on Tuesday afternoon. After a lot of discussion and confusion, we approved the first 43 on Wednesday, then referred 44 back to the Rules Committee with amendments. Rule 44 came back to us today, and we voted it down. We've been at it three days, and we essentially approved the rules as written, with the deletion of Rule 44. If you're new to this process, you might feel appreciative that our denomination cares enough to deliberate carefully about such things. But this excessive use of time to make (or not make) decisions will not serve us well next week, when we vote in plenary on legislation.

Following the vote, I moved quickly to the Judicial Administration committee room, as there are a very limited number of chairs for reserve delegates and other spectators. The committee organized, then split into two sub-committees: Sub A is covering Just Resolution, structure related to the worldwide nature of the church, and episcopal complaints; Sub B is covering legislation dealing with chargeable offenses and everything related to judicial process.

Now, at this point in my blog, I can only share first-hand what I experienced. I wish I could give a thorough report on all 12 legislative committees. But I hope that what I can share will help people understand that, although it's not as headline-grabbing as Rule 44 and other plenary discussions, the work of the committees is important, helpful, and sometimes even hopeful.

Unfortunately, when we split into sub-committees, the room given to Sub B did not allow for spectators to have chairs. So I spent a few hours on the floor in the corner, making new friends among other reserve delegates! But at least we were in the room and could hear the proceedings. Our room had English speakers, as well as French and Russian speakers. So there is a constant rumble as translators are sitting or standing near the Central Conference delegates to translate the conversations that happen.
That bag down there represents my spot for the afternoon.

To give you an idea of the work of the JA committee, here are some petitions Sub B worked on today:

  • Petitions adding language to the Discipline to allow a 30-day extension at any time to the procedure that is followed when a complaint is filed, if both the complainant (the one bringing the complaint) and the respondent (the one whom the complaint is about) agree. This is requested, because sometimes complications arise (i.e. medical set-backs, difficulty in scheduling parties, more time needed for just resolution to avoid a church trial, etc.) that require more time. The petitions were passed.
  • Petition regarding the awarding of legal fees to any party to an appeal by the Judicial Council. This one took some time. On the one hand, the church generally does not want to involve secular lawyers. If you are charged with an offense, you can have a clergy advocate and an assistant counsel (who may or may not be an attorney). The assistant counsel has no voice, but they can be present. But the church does not want to pay for this voiceless counsel, who could be very expensive. On the other hand, if you have been wrongly charged, and you make an appeal, you might have a lot of legal fees to pay - even if you win your appeal and are determined innocent of the charges. Rejecting this legislation leaves open the possibility that the Judicial Council could decide to cover some of your expenses. (They are not obligated to do so.) Supporting it means that the church cannot, under any circumstances, cover any of your legal expenses - even if you are wrongly accused. This is black and white language for something that is not a simple matter, and we referred it to a smaller group to find a way to re-word the petition so we can vote on it tomorrow.
  • Petition to limit Dismissal of Complaints. If a complaint is brought to a Bishop, the Bishop can currently (after 90 days) either dismiss the complaint with the consent of the cabinet or refer the matter to the counsel of the church as a complaint. The petition we considered added language so the Bishop would not be able to dismiss a complaint if "credible evidence that a chargeable offense has actually been committed" is given to the Bishop. It appears that the intent of this petition is to make sure that Bishops are following church law in their decisions. The committee had trouble with the term "credible evidence," as this seem subjective and vague. And the committee was concerned that the petition shows a lack of trust in the episcopal office. If a bishop is misbehaving, there are other ways of dealing with that. Ultimately, after a lot of discussion, the petition failed.
So there's a glimpse into the work of the legislative committees. It's not always exciting; but the work is very important. The rules in the Discipline have a huge impact on the lives of clergy, laity and congregations. Even when the discussions get a bit tedious, this feels like worthy work. O Lord, may our work be acceptable in your sight! Amen!
Bishop Gary Mueller (Arkansas) and I worked together on the Higher Education and Ministry
Committee in 2012. He wasn't a Bish, then, but says he's thrilled to be one now.