Points of order and parliamentary paralysis

May 22nd, 2017

Shortly after the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, I wrote a post called General Conference: Four Reflections. Recently that post popped up in my Facebook feed as a memory that I might like to share. Reviewing the post, I was reminded of the difficulties we had in moving the ball forward on almost any point of legislation in 2016. Instead of “Therefore, Go,” the theme of the conference could have been “Point of Order.”

During General Conference, we have a limited period of time in which to complete our work. Additionally, we’re paying for every minute we spend there. A few parliamentary hiccups are understandable, but in 2016 at times it seemed we were almost in parliamentary paralysis.

Look… I’m not blaming anyone for this. Presiding over conferences is an aspect of each bishop’s job, but it isn’t something they do every day, or even every month. At times I felt sorry for the presiders navigating the minefield of “points of order.” And, of course, not all those points of order were legitimately… well… in order. Sometimes those raising the points of order were simply mistaken. I suspect at other times their intention was to distract and deflect. Whatever the case may be, we have to do better.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of our work together in 2019. We need to get this right. We will receive the report from the bishops’ commission, and we will spend millions of dollars in an attempt to act upon this report. Parliamentary paralysis will not do. There is simply too much riding on this conference.

If we are serious about dealing with the matters that are weighing so heavily on our denominational life, we will take parliamentary procedure more seriously in 2019 than we did in 2016. We need to hire a professional parliamentarian and empower him or her to direct traffic in the legislative mixmaster of our general sessions. There is, by the way, a National Association of Parliamentarians. That might be a good place to start. A great deal is at stake in the 2019 General Conference. Let’s take the necessary steps to make sure we deal with the serious, substantive issues at hand.

This post was first published at davidfwatson.me

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