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.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Seeing your view as one of so many is helpful to me in understanding the process as a whole.

  2. You are a rockstar! Thanks for distilling all this information so we can keep up!


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