By now you've likely heard the news that General Conference is delayed - again.
Technically, that's not the case. There will be a one-day General Conference on May 8th. It is possible, but highly unlikely, that the Protocol will still come to a vote. To simplify complicated rules stuff, there's a better chance that nothing will be voted on than that the Protocol will be voted on. 2/3 of the delegates present would have to agree to vote on ANYTHING and then a second 2/3 supermajority would have to agree to vote on the Protocol. My guess is that the bishop who presides will find a way to avoid having the protocol come up even if there is pressure to do so, and in a virtual format there won't be any practical recourse to a bishop strong-arming the process.
I don't think I've spoken with anyone who is happy with this development. We all some kind of split is coming and we all want to get it behind us so we can move forward. We are faced with choosing the least bad option. Holding off on the protocol for now is probably that least bad alternative for a few reasons:
- If you've ever heard me preach, you've heard me say context matters. The Protocol was written in a pre-covid context. How does the pandemic change things? Honestly, I'm not sure. Maybe it doesn't. But we need to have conversation about that before perhaps the most critical vote in our denomination's history.
- The integrity of the process is hopelessly compromised. The virtual General Conference will be attended by a fraction of the delegates and the paper ballot format for voting that is being recommended is easily tampered with.
- My concern about tampering dovetails with the third concern. Annual Conferences have met virtually with some limited success. But our Annual Conferences tend to involve lower stakes decisions with higher trust bodies. General Conference is the opposite - our trust is at a historic low and the stakes are at a historic high. Virtual won't work well in this context.
- I'm not convinced that the May 8 meeting is even following our own rules. Remember, we are meeting to decide if we can change the rules of how we meet. But how can we meet to change those rules if the rules don't allow us to meet in this way? The answer is what one of my parishioners calls "Pandemic Grace." We all know this has to get done - so let's get it done and agree that we won't throw wrenches in the process during crazy moment. Pandemic Grace won't stand up in a court of law, though, and if we vote on something like the Protocol then I would fully expect someone who doesn't like the outcome of the vote to challenge it legally. That opens up the nightmare scenario we all hope to avoid.
- The Protocol is most important to U.S. Traditionalists. The Christmas Covenant is most important to U.S. Centrists and Progressives. Delegates from other countries are split. The Protocol and Christmas Covenant really need to go together. It would make no sense for progressives and centrists to vote for the Protocol in a special session unless the Covenant is also going to be voted on.