By Chris Ritter
Filed 11:23 pm on February 23, 2019
It will be an early start in the morning, so I will make this brief. Today was a day of prayer and worship in preparation for General Conference proper. Here’s some good news and bad news from the day along with a brief discussion of what might be the most likely outcome to GC2019.
The good stuff:
The bad news:
Now for some legislative news and analysis;
Two traditionalist pieces of legislation were ruled unconstitutional today after the Council of Bishops requested judicial review. The first one, a petition by Lonnie Brooks, is really of small consequence as it is not supported by the Renewal and Reform Coalition (Good News, WCA, UM Action, Confessing Movement). Lonnie, a lay leader from Alaska, submitted several different pieces of legislation to give GC 2019 options. This is one of those. Having this measure struck down will not affect the outcome of General Conference.
But the other Judicial Council ruling was more significant. A piece of the Modified Traditional Plan was ruled unconstitutional. This Maxie Dunnam petition created a Global Episcopacy Committee to handle complaints against bishops. The purpose of the petition was to bring global accountability to our general superintendents. U.S. Jurisdictions have become enclaves where United Methodists shield one another from the expectations of our covenant. Africa, too, has trouble holding bishops accountable to proper governing principles. The concept of a Global Episcopacy Committee was a good one, but the Judicial Council ruled this in violation of the constitution. It could still be passed, but it would require constitutional amendments.
The need for amendments to enable this legislation has been known by the Renewal and Reform Coalition since December. I was copied on a letter to Gary Graves, GC Secretary, that confirms this. So this really did not come as a surprise. It is much better to get this ruling now than at the adjournment of General Conference.
This petition was just one of several accountability pieces that comprise the Modified Traditional Plan. The MPT still stands, but today’s ruling adds to a small list of measures taken away by the Judicial Council on grounds of constitutionality or made more difficult to implement (like applying Par. 41 to transfer procedures from a UMC conference to a self-governing conference). It reminded me just how hard it is to bring any sort of accountability to bear in our current denominational structure.
Maybe it is time to talk about a plan that has been discussed about for months and that most of you have never heard about. Some of us call it the “Toothless Traditional Plan.” There is no group advocating for this, but it might actually be the most likely outcome of GC2019. It is possible that the teachings of the church will be upheld but without the accountability features that would make it functionally enforceable. One bishop I spoke with today prior to the Judicial Council ruling shared that he is ready to make something like a Toothless Traditional Plan his prediction for the outcome of GC2019.
A Toothless Traditional Plan would leave us more or less where we are today. The fighting, hurt, distraction, and dysfunction could continue at least until GC2020 (unless Progressives decide that enough is enough.) The likelihood of a non-definitive outcome is one of the many reasons I support the Connectional Conference Plan. We need space between one another and the CCP is the most fair and thoughtful path available to get there. Certainly we all can agree that what we have now is not working.
Tomorrow will tell us a lot. Watch for which, if any, plans gets over 50 percent support in the ranking process we will undertake tomorrow. The leading plan by this time tomorrow will be the basic approach we follow… unless cooler heads get together and move us in the direction of a true and comprehensive settlement like the CCP.
Good night, St. Louis.