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, 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!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to leave a comment. All comments are moderated.