by Chris Ritter

Filed 11:23 pm on February 23, 2019

It will be an early start in the morning, so I will make this brief.  Today was a day of prayer and worship in preparation for General Conference proper.  Here’s some good news and bad news from the day along with a brief discussion of what might be the most likely outcome to GC2019.

The good stuff:

  1. The Holy Spirit showed up.  The most palpable experience of the Spirit, for me, was when we extended the peace of Christ to one another with these words: “For anything I have done, intentionally or unintentionally, to hurt you, I ask you to forgive me.   The peace of Christ be with you.”  A cloud of “yuck” seemed to lift from the room.  This doesn’t change the realities of the difficult situation in which we find ourselves, but it is a hopeful sign that God is moving among us.
  2. The music in worship today was really well done.
  3. We now have a professional parliamentarian at our disposal who reminded us today of the wisdom and methods associated with our form of decision-making.  Yes, I know we all wish for greater flexibility sometimes, but the alternative to order is chaos.  I am hopeful having a pro at our disposal will help us keep everything fair and efficient.
  4. The hospitality staff is really doing a phenomenal job of caring for everyone.  I have yet to have a bad experience with any of them.  Everyone is going out of their way to be helpful and positive.  There were several housing snafus and these were dealt with very professionally.
  5. I have lost count of the number of people who have come up to me, leaned close, lowered their voice two octaves, and said, “The Connectional Conference Plan is the best idea on the table.”  This silent support, I hope, will bubble up to the surface soon.
  6. Jerry Kulah of Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia gave an amazing speech this morning.  Good News puts on a breakfast each morning during General Confernece and they planned for 250 guests.  Ninety more than expected showed up.  Extra tables had to be brought out.  One thing this past few years has done is bring Traditionalists much closer to each other.  There were more Africans in the room than I have ever seen as a Good News Breakfast.  If you would like to read Jerry’s comments, you can find them here: PRESENTATION-RENEWAL AND REFORMED COALITION-SPECIAL GENERAL CONFERENCE
  7. There was a meeting of Philippine Central Conference delegates today.  One friend messaged me a report that said 80% of 52 delegates will support the Modified Traditional Plan.

The bad news:

  1. I was disappointed that we seemed unable  today to separate praying for the LGBTQ community from applying full affirmation as the only way to express Christian love.  A moment of prayer was turned temporarily into a rally.  I understand people are hurting and that this needs to be acknowledged.  The LGBTQI people I had in mind, however, were the people back home who have believed the church’s teaching over the years and have shaped their lives accordingly.  These silent saints so often get omitted from the conversation but are beautiful models of Christian discipleship.
  2. There was some unnecessary snark from the Traditionalist side of GC2019 when Bishop Oliveto helped serve communion.  We need to remember our Augustinian theology:  The efficacy of the sacraments depends upon Christ and not upon the righteousness of the celebrant.  (That is good news for the church I serve every First Sunday.)  Yeah, I know it was discovered that she pastored a church for eight years that gave up on Holy Communion completely, but let’s take the high road… there are less traffic jams.

Now for some legislative news and analysis;

Two traditionalist pieces of legislation were ruled unconstitutional today after the Council of Bishops requested judicial review.  The first one, a petition by Lonnie Brooks, is really of small consequence as it is not supported by the Renewal and Reform Coalition (Good News, WCA, UM Action, Confessing Movement).  Lonnie, a lay leader from Alaska, submitted several different pieces of legislation to give GC 2019 options. This is one of those.  Having this measure struck down will not affect the outcome of General Conference.

But the other Judicial Council ruling was more significant.  A piece of the Modified Traditional Plan was ruled unconstitutional.  This Maxie Dunnam petition created a Global Episcopacy Committee to handle complaints against bishops.  The purpose of the petition was to bring global accountability to our general superintendents.  U.S. Jurisdictions have become enclaves where United Methodists shield one another from the expectations of our covenant.  Africa, too, has trouble holding bishops accountable to proper governing principles.  The concept of a Global Episcopacy Committee was a good one, but the Judicial Council ruled this in violation of the constitution. It could still be passed, but it would require constitutional amendments.

The need for amendments to enable this legislation has been known by the Renewal and Reform Coalition since December.  I was copied on a letter to Gary Graves, GC Secretary, that confirms this.  So this really did not come as a surprise.  It is much better to get this ruling now than at the adjournment of General Conference.

This petition was just one of several accountability pieces that comprise the Modified Traditional Plan.  The MPT still stands, but today’s ruling adds to a small list of measures taken away by the Judicial Council on grounds of constitutionality or made more difficult to implement (like applying Par. 41 to transfer procedures from a UMC conference to a self-governing conference).   It reminded me just how hard it is to bring any sort of accountability to bear in our current denominational structure.

Maybe it is time to talk about a plan that has been discussed about for months and that most of you have never heard about.  Some of us call it the “Toothless Traditional Plan.”   There is no group advocating for this, but it might actually be the most likely outcome of GC2019.  It is possible that the teachings of the church will be upheld but without  the accountability features that would make it functionally enforceable.  One bishop I spoke with today prior to the Judicial Council ruling shared that he is ready to make something like a Toothless Traditional Plan his prediction for the outcome of GC2019.

A Toothless Traditional Plan would leave us more or less where we are today.  The fighting, hurt, distraction, and dysfunction could continue at least until GC2020 (unless Progressives decide that enough is enough.)  The likelihood of a non-definitive outcome is one of the many reasons I support the Connectional Conference Plan.  We need space between one another and the CCP is the most fair and thoughtful path available to get there. Certainly we all can agree that what we have now is not working.

Tomorrow will tell us a lot.  Watch for which, if any, plans gets over 50% support in the ranking process we will undertake tomorrow.  The leading plan by this time tomorrow will be the basic approach we follow… unless cooler heads get together and move us in the direction of a true and comprehensive settlement like the CCP.

Good night, St. Louis.