The United Methodist Church went into its quadrennial General Conference with several proposals for restructuring: The IOT's Call to Action, and alternatives to it, most notably Plan B and the MFSA proposal. I outlined and compared these proposals before General Conference, and I've examined the role of young adults in the Call to Action process and product. So to bring it home, now that we're all back from Tampa with no restructuring plan, let’s trace the steps and see how we got from PlanUMC to the RestructuredUMC to the new DreamUMC. And see how Young Adult voices were treated along the way.
(Failure to) Compromise
On Saturday night, April 28, the Legislative Committee tasked with this restructure effort voted down the ‘Plan’ that had been debated and agreed upon by the majority of the members of the sub-committee after three days of work (I say majority because the supporters of two competing plans by the PlanB and IOT groups had mostly stopped voting altogether halfway through the conversation, abdicating conversation with the young adult delegates on the committee). They then voted down the various forms of PlanB, MFSA, and the original IOT plans. Everything. Nothing left the committee as a recommended path.
So on Sunday April 29, members of the IOT and the PlanB people got together in a marathon meeting starting at 4pm and still without a compromise measure by 9pm. Sam Hodges’ article at UMReporter says “while no MFSA representative participated, there were negotiators who had backed the MFSA plan.” (Indeed, MFSA was not invited). In other words, they wrote the ‘compromise’ measure including 2/3 of the active groups (only one of which wrote actual legislation in the ADCA) and they excluded the young adults who were the majority of MFSA representatives. So calling it a compromise was a bit loose.
The Rise and Fall of PlanUMC
On Monday April 30, apparently a plan had been brokered, was dubbed “Plan UMC” and General Conference suspended their rules and open legislative process to allow Plan UMC to be printed for consideration in the next day’s publication of legislation. Then no copies were distributed. No delegates or press or bishops or anyone was able to have an additional 14 hours (from 5pm due date to the next morning’s publication at 7am) to read or to translate. When the Plan was finally made public the next morning, I spent four hours reading and writing a comprehensive blog post about it before I left Tampa to go back to pastoring my local church. After the publication, the ‘Plan UMC’ people contacted me through a mutual friend and asked if I would meet with them. I replied back with this quote: “I had to leave to continue to grow my vital congregation in Oklahoma. Including me as a token young clergy at the last minute is too little, too late. As the book title states, ‘You’ve Lost Me.’”
On Wednesday, May 1, the Plan was put up for discussion, amended, and passed with 60% of the vote. Then from the floor a member of the New England delegation called for a Declaratory Decision from the Judicial Council (the body deciding if legislation was constitutional according to the United Methodist Constitution and Restrictive Rules). The motion passed and the PlanUMC was sent to the Judicial Council for review.
On Friday, May 4, at 4:15 p.m., the Judicial Council released their ruling. The PlanUMC was unconstitutional on the several grounds:
- General Oversight of the church is given by the Constitution to the Bishops only, not any other entity. Then it appoints a member of the Bishops to oversee the General Council of Strategy and Oversight. This comingling of powers is unconstitutional.
- The Plan UMC allows for the GCSO to redistribute funds allocated by General Conference. Since GC2012 voted down the constitutional amendment for this to happen, it was unconstitutional.
There is more but the net effect was a simple one: by sabotaging the conversation in the Committee by parliamentary tricks and efforts, by keeping people from the room in the crafting of PlanUMC, by keeping Plan UMC under wraps until morning, the net effect of the yearlong drumbeat of fear by the Call to Action movement were backroom deals that were not subject to the same oversight as the official plan. And the verdict came down: PlanUMC was unconstitutional.
Like a hippo sitting down on a waterbed, those in the middle of the room were instantly flattened by the ruling, while those on the margins, the young adults, the LGBT activists, the supporters of COSROW and GCORR whose agency’s witness had been blunted, the disenfranchised Central Conference delegates, they suddenly swelled up on the wave and found a new voice to change the UMC for the better . . . and they didn’t need a plan. They needed many plans.
New England Delegate Rev. Becca Clark has written the bulk of how this formative action came about at her blog. But in short, an unlikely pairing of people got together and suggested that the best course of action was to pass all the individual agency petitions that allowed them to restructure the way the agencies had requested. These were passed, and by the time Plan UMC came back to the table, it failed by a percentage point to even be discussed again, much less adopted.
But that’s not the end of the conversation.
Twitter was abuzz that day: one of the most dramatic moments of General Conference 2012, and indeed of all three GC’s that I’ve attended in person. And like the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, everyone was speaking in different tongues: some pointing blame, some blaming structure, some blaming process, some lamenting a ‘do-nothing general conference,’ some rejoicing at the saving of GCORR/COSROW, and some wondering how #GC2012 got so popular that we were getting spam and porn links in the mix. But the variety of tongues expressed one message clearly heard: if the upper echelons of leadership failed to even check if their plan passed constitutional muster, then it’s time for the grassroots to take action.
From the ashes of PlanUMC came a dream of something new. A dream of a United Methodist Church that had young people’s voices from the beginning, not tacked-on after-the-fact. A dream was emerging of a generation that settled not for the scraps from the adults’ table, but would demand a communion meal welcome to everyone, even the wrong people.
In short, there’s a new movement, fueled by social networks, meeting in holy conferencing beyond General Conference. And if you consider yourself a young adult, you are invited to the conversation.
I invite you to join Young People from across Methodism in a Twitter conversation on Monday, May 14 at 9pm EST. Here’s instructions how to join. Search the hashtag #DreamUMC or follow the twitter account @DreamUMC to seek out with other young people from across Methodism to not just demand a reorganized church but to organize it ourselves…starting now. I hope you join me Monday, May 14, 9pm EST (that’s 6pm Pacific) and join in the dream that could be the UMC, from the ground-up.