Friday, March 1, 2019

A Glimpse Behind the Curtain: GC2019

I waited in the car for my contact to return. It was 10:30 at night in the parking lot of a hotel. My contact told me to stay where I was - it would be dangerous for the person we were meeting if I were to go inside. After a couple of minutes of nervous silence my contact returned with an African man who glanced around before coming to our vehicle. He opened the front door for a brief hug before sitting down in the backseat. We visited for about five minutes. He got out, returned to the hotel alone, and we drove away.

It sounds like a spy novel. But I'm no spy. I'm just a clergy delegate to General Conference 2019. The story is 100% true. After this encounter I was driven to a second hotel where I met two acquaintances. Together we followed my contact to a room and waited there until he returned with three people from another African country. We shared with one another for maybe 15 minutes and followed the same ritual in reverse for our departure.

I'm pretty naïve. I texted my daughter about what I was doing. When she asked why we were meeting so late in the hotel I told her that I thought it was because of the time zone difference - that maybe this was just the time that worked best for them so I was adjusting to their time as an act of hospitality. My contact cleared that up. At 11:00 not many people were milling around the hotel so it was safer to meet.

This is the nature of discussing homosexuality in a worldwide church with close to 40% of the votes coming from parts of the world where being gay itself is, in some cases, illegal. We counted our votes. We believed that we had a minimum of 88 votes from Africa and potentially 30 from the Philippines. We believed this because we had people we believed were working with us in those various countries who agreed that the One Church Plan was best for the denomination even if they personally did not agree with same-sex marriage or LGBT ordination. Today our estimate is of those 88 and 30 we probably actually received 15 from each. I don't know how any of the four that I met with that night voted. I do know that three of the four said if their vote was known they would lose their jobs.

The pressure on Africans in particular to conform to the wishes of their bishops and fellow delegates is intense. And the pressure on American delegates and political interests to use whatever tools are needed is real, too. Here's a portion of a message I received via Facebook from another African acquaintance last fall as we talked about how to increase our votes: "And let me be clear here about getting the votes from Africa on our side, we must do everything that we can do to make this happen. This is about politics and using money to influence votes from Africa must not be ruled out." Let me be clear that my response to this individual was an unequivocal "no." I was involved at the highest level of the One Church Coalition and I know of nobody in that coalition who ever took any unethical act to secure any votes. Quite the opposite. We were clear that if saving the denomination required bribery then it wasn't worth saving. The day after my late night meetings it was clear that we never had the votes for the OCP. We had been outmaneuvered before General Conference even began. So what do you do when the Traditional Plan train is rolling and you don't have the votes to stop it? You change the game and use strengths as a weakness. The traditionalists had given voting guides to all the African delegates. Please hear me - I do not doubt the ability of people from all across the world to have their own minds and make their own decisions. The cultural differences, language barrier, and parliamentary procedure make it very difficult to have everybody on an even playing field. It is also true that the traditionalists didn't want an even playing field. I'm quite confident that at the multiple meals and the days long pre-conference session for African delegates there was no attempt to give an unbiased view of the One Church Plan or Simple Plan. To the contrary, I was told by one African friend that if I were to speak on the floor I should make a point that I am married and have kids because Africans had been told that everybody who was not for the Traditional Plan was gay. You can hear me awkwardly mention my wife and kids at the beginning of the first speech I gave for precisely this reason. So we used the voting guide against them. The Traditional Plan as it passed is largely unconstitutional because of the one parliamentary victory that we achieved. At the beginning of legislative committee day the traditionalists quietly told everybody to vote for their amendments and then vote to Call the Question to end debate and go to a vote. We let them make a couple amendments - we argued against them but knew we would fail - and then we called for the question. This is how you know that so many people didn't understand what was going on. They needed a minimum of eight more amendments to make their plan constitutional. There was no rational reason a TP supporter would vote to end debate without those amendments. But the instructions given were clear: vote for our amendments and then vote to end the debate. So they did. We moved to end debate and even though we only had 45% of the delegates on our side of the question the motion passed 577-234. The incomplete, unconstitutional plan moved on to the following day's plenary session where we mostly successfully killed clock until the end of the General Conference session. I attended my first General Conference as a delegate in 1996. As we drove to Denver, my GC mentor told me that I would see the Church at its best and at its worst. The political machinations that you read hear and, I'm convinced by second hand accounts, far worse on the opposing side, are the Church at its worst. What will follow from this vile event will, I believe, be the Church at its best. General Conference has become the Principalities and Powers that Paul says in Ephesians 6 that we should work against. It is the evil and injustice that we are baptized to resist. I intend to do that. I invite you to join me.

26 comments:

  1. David, I'd like to republish this post on United Methodist Insight. Let me know if you object. Thanks!

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  2. Thank you for your transparency. How do you intend to resist?

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    1. I am resisting too. We have the opportunity to create something new. If we keep the same system we will get the same result. I am imploring people who are ready for a new thing to begin with people of color, people with disabilities and LGBTQ people. If that is part of your plan, please include me. Minister@CIOP4Justice.org Thank you!

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  3. Thanks for sharing this, David!

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  4. Not shocked at all if you (like me) read African newspapers and books. There is not only homophobia but patriarchy as well. I believe UMC women in Africa were allowed to be ordained in 2004? There is only one African female bishop in UMC? Our first-world issues like single-payer health care dominate GC while UMC people in Africa deal with government corruption, starvation level hunger, basic health care, basic education, Islamic incursion, FGM, polygamy, and many other issues that do not seem to be relevant to us. We have neglected to hear our African UMC voices to our own detriment. Anything other than the Traditional Plan would have been suicidal for the UMC in Africa. Realistically the only way forward for progressives is to de-globalize the UMC and become affiliated like the Anglican Church.

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  5. Government corruption, hardly just a problem on the African continent, should be a focus for the US-based UMC, as well, if we weren't su busy trying to legislate "who is zooming who." Just sayin'...

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  6. Clergywomen in Mozambique have been ordained for 40 years. We in the US cannot keep treating “Africa” as a monolith.

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    1. Very true. We know that we in the United States are not a monolith, and Africa is a continent not a country. And Uganda being gay can be punished by death and in South Africa and I think Mozambique there is a fair amount of protection. Every person from Africa that I met was intelligent, passionate, and just as capable as I am of thinking of my own.

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  7. David, thanks for allowing yourself to be used by God's spirit. We have some great work to do in the days ahead.

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  8. Thank you, David for serving the cause of greater inclusion in a global UM denomination. Thanks also for telling the story of your meetings, the fear, the pressure, and the corruption. May it find ears that are listening. May it propel the UMC to change.

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  9. And just how innocent were progressives as to what went down in front of the curtain--on the floor of General Conference for all the world to see. As a lifetime traditionalist Methodist, I am stunned to discover that all I am a part of is theological factions jostling and pushing for position and control. And then there are the badly disconnected Bishops who think they can pull the levers and we will all jump on command. Everybody needs to stop underestimating the laity of the church who are sick and tired of this mess. While the upper echelons are engaged in mortal conflict, the church is truly coming apart at the level of the pew because nobody is choosing to become a United Methodist, because, in reality, nobody has a clue what that means. I now understand that United Methodism can be whatever I want to make it and my inclination is to make it done. I am in total and complete agreement with this is article.



    http://unprophetable.com/2019/03/02/not-so-unprophetable-after-all/


    Besides the horrible tone of GC2019, the only other thing I was stunned about was that progressives were stunned that the Traditional Plan passed. It is only the answer that every other General Conference has come up with. Reality is, the problem is that legislation is not working, the problem is there are people--including Bishops--who refuse to abide by how the church functions.

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