Friday, April 1, 2022

Mixed-up Memories of GC19

 I commend Rev. Chris Ritter for sharing news on the UMC fracture. He shares from "both sides of the aisle," which makes his compendium a great resource. 


The news of General Conference being postponed yet again and the launch of the Global Methodist Church (GMC) on May 1st has raised the stakes tremendously in the months ahead. It is critically important for us to get the objective facts right so that our diverging opinions can truly be well-informed.

In that context, it is important to be clear about what did and did not happen in 2019 as it relates to the fight over disaffiliation. I was there, but it was also three years ago. So, in light of a post today by Rev. Ritter, I rewatched a portion of the final session of General Conference 2019. You can find it here


Ritter asserts that Par. 2553, in 2019 referred to as the Taylor Disaffiliation Plan, is not and neve was an adequate method for traditionalists to leave the denomination. He's wrong, for multiple reasons. Please consider reading Ritter's original article so you can check my facts.


1. "Taylor became the preferred vehicle for disaffiliation and would be the legislation perfected during the final session. By that point in the conference, however, progressives were actively working to grind all proceedings to a halt"

The Truth: Taylor was, indeed, the preferred disaffiliation plan. It's also true that there was some measure of chaos on the floor (and a lot in the stands). It is also true that progressives and centrists had been trying to minimize the harm that General Conference could do by not allowing amendments to the Traditional Plan that would make portions of it previously ruled unconstitutional now constitutional. As Ritter says, this disaffiliation petition was not part of that plan. In fact, the Traditional Plan had already passed. This disaffiliation petition was the final legislative action of the session. It would not have been possible for progressives to stop this petition even if we had wanted to. 

2. "Beth Ann Cook was trying to work us through needed amendments to the Taylor Plan when time ran out."

The Truth: The Taylor Plan was authored by Leah Taylor, a centrist. However, Rev. Beth Ann Cook, speaking for many others, authored a "minority report" to the petition. This is a technical piece for General Conference. Essentially, a minority report happens when a significant number of delegates disagree with a petition that has been approved by a committee. The content of the minority report can remove, add, or alter almost the entire original petition. In other words, the minority report, in the eyes of the authors, perfects the original petition. Ritter says Rev. Cook was trying to work us through amendments. As the presenter of the minority report, Rev. Cook would not have believed that there were any more amendments needed if the minority report were approved, which it was.

3. " A final vote was taken to approve Taylor by the narrowest of margins as progressives rushed the stage to grab the microphones. "

The Truth: Bishop Cynthia Harvey did a remarkable job of maintaining composure and guiding the conference to an orderly finish. Nobody was rushing the stage and speeches and questions at microphones were, while emotional, largely in order with speeches alternating between "for" and "against." 

4. "Disaffiliation was always conceived as a way to treat churches that wanted to seek an independent status."

The Truth: This actually sorta is true. That traditionalist plan was to pass a plan that progressives and centrists couldn't possibly live with (the Traditional Plan) so that we would feel compelled to leave. It didn't occur to them that they would be the ones leaving or that there would be an organized denomination for them to leave to together. 

5. "It was not part of the Traditional Plan or authored by a traditionalist."

The Truth: Again, sorta true. It was not part of the traditional plan or, originally, authored by a traditionalist. But the minority report (which took the place of the original petition and is what ultimately was enacted) WAS authored by a traditionalist and the petition was then seen as complementary to the Traditional Plan.

6. " Leaving with property and at a minimal cost is the foundation of gracious exit. The Taylor Disaffiliation Plan, now known as Paragraph 2553, does not accomplish that."

The Truth: At the 11:21 mark in the closing session, traditionalist Rev. Cook introduced the minority report saying, "The intended process is literally the way I would want to be treated if I was the one who was hurting." In giving the last speech of the 2019 General Conference, I said, "it's your exit, not ours. We will not be moved." And we haven't moved. Traditionalists, this is your plan. Your minority report was passed as written. You had every opportunity to make it say precisely what you wanted it to say. You are welcome to use it in exactly the same way that you invited progressives to use it.


Summing Up

Ritter begins his article complaining that traditionalists have been called hypocrites for not willingly using 2553. The truth is, they are. I don't know what else to call it. I will concede that because 2553 gives minimum standards for exit and not maximum standards, some conferences are putting additional barriers in place. That's unfortunate. It would, in my opinion, be far better if all conferences used a uniform standard and if that uniform standard was the minimum requirements of Par. 2553. That would be more in the spirit of Rev. Cook's report and the Protocol. That is not what is happening in the vast majority of conferences. Most conferences are trying to make it as easy as possible to leave.

It is legitimate for traditionalists who want to leave the denomination to wait until we have a final ruling from Judicial Council on whether a whole Annual Conference can leave at once. We expect that ruling to come before any U.S. Annual Conferences meet. It is not legitimate to complain about a process for individual churches to leave that you amended, endorsed, and passed.

6 comments:

  1. Picking up for UM Insight. Thanks!

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  2. Wow. You have no freaking clue what happened. Beth Ann was working through the amendments because Taylor was not the plan any traditionalist wanted, but it was the ONLY one that came out of committee. The Disaffiliation plan we wanted was the "heart of the Traditional Plan," that got stuck in the Committee on Central Conference Matters, exactly as Chris Ritter said.

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    1. Hi,
      I'm sorry to be so blunt, but no. I was there. I understand the process. Ritter is correct that the preferred option was tuck in committee. However, a minority report in our process has tremendous flexibility. It essentially functions as a substitute. They could have radically changed the now 2553. Rewatching the closing session, I don't believe there were any amendments left to be discussed. There were LOTS of attempts at amendments to the traditional plan itself but by this point in the conference it had passed and was no longer being discussed. Just because Ritter said it doesn't make it so.

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  3. Question: was the minority report more or less punitive than what came out of committee?

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    1. There weren't really committees at GC19. A couple of exceptions to that for technical reasons.

      My memory is that the minority report was not significantly more or less punitive than the original. I do think Rev. Cook was authentically trying to get something reasonable passed.

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