I know others are thinking it. I'll be the first to say it out loud.
General Conference 2022 isn't going to happen.
It should happen. We need it to happen. The Protocol is still the least bad of all our bad options, only a General Conference can enact it, and we can't wait until 2024. But it's not going to happen.
General Conference Can't Meet in Person
Whether in-person or online, General Conference must be a global gathering. Although technically we could reach a quorum with only U.S. participation, I'm sure we will agree across all lines that divide us that United Methodists from across the world must be represented.
Covid-19 will continue to make that impossible.
The Biden administration plans to require vaccinations for those travelling to the U.S and the rate of vaccinations are impossibly low in many countries where we have members. As just one example, the Democratic Republic of Congo has vaccinated less than one percent of its population so far. Getting a visa to travel to the U.S. from many countries takes months in the best of times. With Covid still causing problems, the process will be much harder.
I'm not suggesting it's time to cancel plans for 2022. I am suggesting that we need to be realistic that the odds are low.
General Conference Can't Meet Online
The obvious alternative is an online meeting. At least that's the obvious alternative to those of us surrounded by high-speed internet. The Council of Bishops planned on trying it in May and then cancelled their own called session. I don't have any inside information on why they made that decision, but it could have been for any or all of these three reasons that an online conference is impossible.
First, the outcome can't be trusted. Our trust deficit may be the single biggest obstacle we have in the denomination. Rob Renfroe and others have suggested we can have regional gatherings in areas where internet is more reliable. In 2019 I watched a traditionalist leader look over a table of delegates just before a key vote. At another point in time we had to be reminded from the platform that our votes could not be tracked back to us individually even though our names were on our voting devices. Was the person I saw monitoring votes? Were people spreading rumors about votes getting back to their bishops? I don't know. But the fact that I'm asking the questions is evidence of the trust gap. If the 2019 General Conference had been held online and the vote ended up roughly as close as it was tell me who on the losing side of the vote would trust that there was no foul play? Online Annual Conferences have had some success over the last year. This is because, compared to General Conference, the stakes are lower and the trust is higher. This will not be duplicated at a 2022 online General Conference.
Second, it is impossible for an online General Conference to be fair. Remember that we are scheduled for a regular General Conference. That means more than 1,000 pieces of legislation, all that must be dealt with. Even if we had a special session to just deal with the Protocol (and the Christmas Covenant, which must not be separated from the Protocol) how could we possibly give equal voice to people across the globe, awake at all hours of the night in their local time zone, trying to speak their mind, with translation problems always an issue. Personally, I support the Protocol as it is written because once we start making changes the critical balance will be lost and it will become more unlikely to pass. My opinion does not take away the right of others to suggest changes. The process cannot help but be unfair and limiting if we are meeting online.
Third, and very practically, it's simply not allowed. The special session the bishops called for May had, essentially, one agenda item - pass a new set of rules that would let us meet online. Let me say that again. The plan was to have an online session so that we could pass rules allowing us to have an online session. We may very well need those rules. In order to adopt them, we need a regular session. Unfortunately, our system as it is right now does not allow for a session of General Conference to meet virtually. Our Standing Rules are in place until new rules are adopted, and our Standing Rules do not allow for a virtual session. We're stuck with it. If we have a virtual session in 2022, some group of people will lose a vote. They will appeal to the Judicial Council. Judicial Council will, without question, rule that the session met illegally and all votes will be thrown out. You think we have chaos now? |Just wait!
So What Now?
The ball is in the court of traditionalists. Honestly, if it were me, I'd probably try to wait it out. Miracles do happen. Maybe GC2022 is one of those miracles. But I would also consider pulling the trigger now with an organized departure. The GMC is ready. We passed a plan in 2019 that traditionalists labeled "a gracious exit" and "the way we would want to be treated." It may be time to take it. What is gained with one more year of waiting when the result is almost a forgone conclusion? Additionally, I hear day by day more people from across the globe who are more skeptical of the Protocol. Again, I'm in favor of it. But, realistically, its chances of passage grow less with each passing day. We're stuck. Traditionalists will decide when we get unstuck.