Questions about Rule 44
By Walter Fenton
The Rev. Walter Fenton
Most General Conference delegates are either elected or chosen by their annual conferences because they have years of experience in the church. It is also fair to assume all the delegates love God, love the church, and want what is best for it. They are well aware of the push-and-the pull of making faithful decisions together. They understand that to have a polity means they must engage in politics with grace and respect. It’s not a perfect process, but on this side of the veil, most large deliberative bodies believe it is the best available.
People who do not attend General Conference can be forgiven for concluding it is a long, angry, and acrimonious political brawl. Unfortunately, some bloggers and columnists give that very impression. But that is not the case. General Conference delegates work very hard to show deference and respect to their fellow delegates, and seldom, if ever, are voices raised or tempers lost.
All this is why it is unfortunate one of the proposed rules for governing the conference fails to respect the decorum, sincerity and graciousness of our duly chosen delegates. The rule in question is Rule 44.
There are several reasons why this new rule has met resistance from observers from various perspectives.
The proposed rule’s biggest shortcoming is its failure to respect the delegates for whom it is proposed. Rule 44 would assign individuals to “monitor” the conversations of nearly 60 small groups of delegates as they discussed petitions, plans, and proposals regarding the church’s statement of the practice on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of openly gay clergy. The Commission on General Conference (COGC) has already chosen the monitors. They are members of the Committee on the Status and Role of Women, the Committee on Religion and Race, and the organization JustPeace. The monitors would be empowered to “signal the [small] group leader … if they observe harmful behavior as determined according to the Guidelines for Conversation.”
As well intended as this may be, it is fraught with problems. Whether it is true or not, many delegates do not regard members from these committees as fair arbiters when it comes to the issues up for debate. The monitors were not elected by anyone; they were simply chosen by the COGC. And what a monitor regards as “harmful behavior” is an exceedingly subjective call. If the point of the small groups is to allow for open, respectful, and candid conversation around difficult issues, the presence of the monitors will have an opposite effect. What delegate wants to be called-out for saying or doing something an unelected “monitor” regards as harmful behavior?” The monitors will actually stifle conversation and chill debate.
As noted above, the delegates are elected or chosen for their Christian maturity, their experience, and their ability to engage in the process of General Conference. They should be treated with respect, not as children who need to be monitored.
We should also respect the time-honored process for debating, deliberating and voting on petitions submitted to General Conference. At one time or another everyone is disappointed with this or that outcome at GC. However, the process is an open and fair one, and over the years the vast majority of delegates have shown respect for one another, and have acted with integrity. Adopting an untested and time consuming process, and then applying it to perhaps the most contentious issues confronting the General Conference, is far more likely to heighten tensions and feed suspicions regarding the eventual outcome. It is far more preferable to respect the process we have used for many years.
Finally, the Judicial Council has ruled out of order a discernment process similar to that proposed by Rule 44. Should delegates accept the rule and use the process it implements, it will surely be challenged. Citing Judicial Council precedent, some have argued the rule, and any petitions approved using it, are likely to be ruled out of order. Others make reasonable arguments to the contrary. But the fact remains, no one can say with any certainty how the Judicial Council will decide the fate of Rule 44 and petitions approved via its use.
After the fiasco of General Conference 2012, delegates would be wise to hew to our time-honored process, particularly given the sensitive issues Rule 44 is designed to address. It would be a travesty were the General Conference delegates to pass legislation on these sensitive matters, only to later learn that the Judicial Council ruled the process and the approved petitions out of order.
We trust our time-honored process, we trust the thousands of people who have participated in the process, and we trust the General Conference delegates trust the General Conference delegates to act with integrity, respect and grace. We encourage them to decline the approval of Rule 44.
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.
Welcome to Portland
As you find your way around Portland, we want to introduce you to the first issue of Focus, Good News’ daily newsletter for the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. For almost 50 years, Good News has urged the church to be faithful to the biblically-based principles of its historic Wesleyan heritage. We believe United Methodism should reflect its foundation of Scriptural holiness, doctrinal faithfulness, winsome evangelism, as well as social action and advocacy in the name of Jesus Christ.
Here in Portland, we will be working with the Renewal and Reform Coalition, which also includes the Confessing Movement, UMAction, the Renew Women’s Network, Lifewatch, and Transforming Congregations.
Focus will be published 10 times here in Portland. Each issue will include a devotional, news, and reflections.
General Conference delegates are invited to attend our free daily Briefing Breakfasts at 6:30 a.m. at the Crown Plaza Hotel (1441 NE 2nd Ave), a few blocks north of the Convention Center.
The Breakfasts will be held May 11 (Wednesday), 13 (Saturday), 16 (Monday), 17 (Tuesday), 18 (Wednesday), 19 (Thursday), and 20 (Friday).
It’s a great time to network. On the first morning you will have an opportunity to meet with others serving on your Legislative Committee. There will be daily briefings on important legislation and upcoming votes. Make every effort to attend this daily breakfast and to invite other delegates to join you.
We will also coordinate our nation-wide prayer ministry with United Methodists who have pledged to pray for General Conference each day after receiving our daily prayer concerns. Thousands of United Methodists will be able to pray specifically about what General Conference is doing.
Christians all around the world are praying that the 2016 General Conference proceedings will be led by the Holy Spirit. As United Methodists, we are in desperate need of a season of revival, reform, and renewal. Nothing is more vital to the future of our denomination than a fresh touch from God and a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our congregations, seminaries, boards, and agencies.
During these extra hectic days of General Conference we encourage delegates to make time for prayer, interceding for the proceedings of the next two weeks and the future of The United Methodist Church.
We trust that Focus will prove to be an informative and inspirational resource for you in Portland.
The Supremacy of Christ [C.S. Lewis]
“…so that in everything he [Christ] might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18).
Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if he was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says he has always existed. He says he is coming to judge the world at the end of time.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” This is the one thing we must not say.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic…or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool; you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
—From C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Barbour and Company Inc.