by Chris Ritter
Many people I respect are coming out strong against Rule #44, a proposal by the Commission for the General Conference that would move conversation on certain subjects from the established legislative committees to multiple small groups of fifteen delegates. Referring a matter to the “Group Discernment Process” would be by recommendation from the Commission on the General Conference and would require a majority vote from the plenary session. Roberts Rules of Order would be suspended as small groups discuss topics under the leadership of Small Group Leaders and under the watchful eye of monitors from The Commission on the Status and Role of Women, General Commission on Religion and Race, and JustPeace. The thoughts generated by the small groups would be sent to a Facilitation Group that would craft a comprehensive petition for consideration by the plenary body.
My friend Walter Fenton of Good News has called Rule #44 “unnecessary, convoluted, and patronizing.” His critique is that the process would be time-consuming and put too much power into the hands of the six-member Facilitation Group.
Joel Watts of Unsettled Christianity has likened Rule #44 to the sort of governance that he witnessed on a recent trip to Cuba, creating…
a system of control that would make Mao, Castro, and Lenin proud. Not only do [the Commission on General Conference] get to rewrite the English language and completely abuse John Wesley’s Three General Rules — they seem to want to rewrite history as well — but also included in this plan is a means to shut down all debate and opposition to changing the position of the United Methodist Church on human sexuality. It purports to create so-called safe-spaces monitored by outside observers that can declare without appeal that someone is offensive.
Dr. Kevin M. Watson of my alma mater, Candler School of Theology, has stated that the Group Discernment Process represents a fundamental misunderstanding of John Wesley’s concept of Christian conferencing. Dr. Watson, who recently advised the Council of Bishops on the nature of Christian conferencing in the Wesleyan Tradition, says that Christian Conferencing must start closer to home:
Starting with practice at General Conference, based on a fairly superficial understanding of what Christian conferencing is, asks people to do something in a pretty high stress environment with most likely no prior experience with actually doing Christian conferencing. Based on the way Christian conferencing is used in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate, I have no hope that were Rule 44 to pass that anything remotely resembling Christian conferencing would actually occur.
Other critiques by some of my fellow evangelicals seem rooted in the concern that the Commission on the General Conference is seeking to change the outcome of our discussions on human sexuality by changing the process. At a recent briefing on General Conference in Portland, Petitions Secretary Gary Graves reported that he had identified 99 petitions that might rightly fall under Rule #44. All of them had to do, in some way, with homosexuality.
It is with a certain degree of reluctance that I go on the record, with two major qualifications, in support of Rule #44. The first qualification is that I don’t believe we need or should have non-elected outside monitors policing our conversations in small group discernment. Talking candidly, face to face, and on an adult level seems to be what those who elected us to General Conference should expect of us. If someone is offended by a comment made by another person, they should state their offense personally and let the group deal with it. Rule 44.5 should be stricken.
A second qualification is that Rule #44 should only be used on groups of petitions that span the work of multiple legislative committees. On page 45 of the Advance Daily Christian Advocate, the Commission on the General Conference names two instances in which the Group Discernment Process might be triggered: (1) when a topic spans different paragraphs of the Discipline and (2) when a topic “would benefit by the input of as many voices as possible.” That second category is much too broad to be helpful. If the Commission did happen to have an ulterior agenda, they could move legislation around to get the result they desire. For instance, if the makeup of a particular committee is not favorable, they could move that legislation out of that committee for group discernment. As it stands now, our process for what committee deals with what legislation is very objective. It is based on which paragraphs of the Book of Discipline would be affected. What is being proposed in Rule #44 is very subjective.
Given my rather serious reservations, why am I supportive of Rule #44 at all? The process described in the rule might make sense under certain instances. There are two particular groups of petitions coming before GC2016 that could be better handled through the GDP. One such topic is the work of the Northeastern Jurisdiction’s Global Structure Taskforce. Their legislation is contained in ten petitions spanning the work of four separate legislative committees. The pieces of the legislation that fall to any particular committee are incoherent without the other pieces of the puzzle. It would be better to handle the petitions as a group and the new discernment process might work well for this. (For the record, I am against the NEJ proposal, but I acknowledge it as a serious plan that deserves due consideration).
The other group of petitions that would benefit for Group Discernment are my own. I submitted for consideration three mutually exclusive legislative programs that each use jurisdictional realignment as a means to attain amicable unity in The United Methodist Church around the issue of human sexuality. I submitted the legislation in three groups. The Petitions Secretary asked me to divide them up into 26 different petitions. These were farmed out to four different legislative committees. It would be difficult for delegates to weigh the merits of my proposals without taking a look at the big picture.
I plan to submit my petitions for consideration by the Commission on the General Conference for the Group Discernment Process. My hope is that we will eliminate the requirement of outside monitors and restrict the use of the process to complex, multi-part legislation. With these amendments, I think Rule #44 might be worth a try. Perhaps using the process for the NEJ legislation and my own would provide valuable tests to an otherwise untested process.
[After the publication of this blog, Garry Ruff referred me to p. 1187 of the Advance Daily Christian Advocate where all the petitions recommended for the proposed Group Discernment Process are printed. Thank you, Garry. I had not read that far! All of them are in reference to human sexuality and tend to stand alone. NONE of them are multi-part structural solutions. I do not feel this is the best use of the Group Discernment Process.]
Below are my petitions, grouped by the version of the Jurisdictional Solution they enable. You can also view the legislation at www.jurisdictionalsolution.org.
THE TWO-JURISDICTION SOLUTION
This original version of the Jurisdictional Solution groups annual conferences in the United States under two jurisdictions, each with the ability to adapt some part of the Book of Discipline. One jurisdiction would allow the ordination of practicing homosexuals and same-sex weddings and one would not. Each annual conference would decide a jurisdiction to which they would belong. Individual congregations and clergy are given the right of transfer. Like Major League Baseball, we would have two overlapping leagues, each with slightly different rules. While this plan received favorable responses on the right and the left of our church, some Moderates were not happy that there were only two options. This legislation also faces the political hurdle of requiring our existing jurisdictions to vote themselves out of existence, something not likely in the West and Southeast, in particular.
Petitions Associated with the Two-Jurisdiction Solution
Petition #61015-CO-¶9-C-G “Two-Jurisdiction Solution – Basis for Jurisdictions”
Petition #61016-CO-¶27-C-G “Two-Jurisdiction Solution – Constitutional Powers of Jurisdictions”
Petition #61017-CO-¶37-C-G “Two-Jurisdiction Solution – Jurisdictional Boundaries”
Petition #61020-CO-¶500 “Two-Jurisdiction Solution – Forming New Jurisdictions”
Petition #61019-CO-¶525 “Two-Jurisdiction Solution – Powers and Duties of Jurisdictions”
Petition #61018-FO-¶101 “Two-Jurisdiction Solution – Power to Adapt the Discipline”
THE PROGRESSIVE JURISDICTIONAL SOLUTION
Using wide feedback from the first version of the JS, I crafted a second version that kept our existing five jurisdictions in place. This updated version added a sixth jurisdiction for those annual conferences that could not, in good conscience, abide by our Book of Discipline. The Progressive Jurisdiction could adapt our rules and would have customized participation in the General Church. The reception for this version of the JS has been positive in some quarters but somewhat negative by those on the left. It has been described (unfairly, I think) as a “Central Jurisdiction for Gays”. It continues to be one viable way to allow liberties to a certain quarter of the church while maintaining the standards ensconced in our Discipline.
Petitions Associated with the Progressive Jurisdictional Solution
Petition #61021-CO-¶9-C-G “Progressive Jurisdictional Solution – Basis for Jurisdictions”
Petition #61022-CO-¶24-C-G “Progressive Jurisdictional Solution – Equal Representation”
Petition #61023-CO-¶37-C-!-G “Progressive Jurisdictional Solution – Creating a Sixth Jurisdiction”
Petition #61025-CO-¶500-! “Progressive Jurisdictional Solution – Customized Participation”
Petition #61026-CO-¶500-! “Progressive Jurisdictional Solution – Forming the New Jurisdiction”
Petition #61024-CO-¶513 “Progressive Jurisdictional Solution – Jurisdictions and Race”
THE ORGANIC JURISDICTIONAL SOLUTION
The third and final version of The Jurisdictional Solution allows each of our five jurisdictions the specific power to adapt ministry rules (chargeable offenses, etc.) in the Book of Discipline with a 2/3 majority vote at jurisdictional conference. These adaptations could be left, right, or anywhere in between. Each annual conference, however, would be free to join whatever jurisdiction they like, regardless of geography. The right of transfer to a new annual conference is granted to congregations and clergy, within certain limits. I feel this legislation holds great promise for the future of the UMC. It allows for a gradual, organic re-ordering of our church and empowers congregations to select the types of connectional relationships that best empower their mission.
The Organic Jurisdictional Solution is contained in the following petitions:
Petition #61001-CO-¶9-C-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Basis for Jurisdictions”
Petition # 61002-CO-¶16.12-C-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – General Conference Powers”
Petition #61003-CO-¶27-C-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Powers of Jurisdictional Conferences”
Petition #61004-CO-¶37-C-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Flexible Boundaries”
Petition #61005-CO-¶39-C-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Minimum Jurisdictional Membership”
Petition #61006-CO-¶40-C-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Annual Conference Boundaries”
Petition #61007-CO-¶41-C-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Transfer of Local Churches”
Petition #61013-CO-¶500 “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Conferences Transferring Jurisdictions”
Petition #61011-CO-¶525 “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – New Duties of Jurisdictions”
Petition #61014-JA-¶500 “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Jurisdictional Judicial Courts”
Petition #61009-LC-¶260 “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Transfer Procedures for Churches”
Petition #61008-MH-¶49-C-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Assignment of Excess Bishops”
Petition #61010-MH-¶347.1-G “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Transfer of Clergy”
Petition #61012-MH-¶535 “Organic Jurisdictional Solution – Committee on Ordained Ministry”