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The United Methodist Church General Conference 2019 (Day 2) – Predicting the Vote

Day Two:  Establishing the Process of Discussion and Voting

My initial observations from the first full day as an observer of a United Methodist General Conference: 

  • Theology. It is very clear that the United Methodist Church is united in name, only. The congregational nature of the denomination is present as the many interest groups have a variety of opinions concerning theology. This issue accentuates the difference of biblical principles between groups.
  • Technology. Many of the voting members announced that they were confused after being instructed on how to use Blackberry phones for voting.They were told to press the number one for a “high priority,” vote and press the number two for a “low priority.” Instructing people how to press the number one or two on a phone is disconcerting.
  • Protest. Yes, there are protestors at this event. Many, many protestors who seem to protest nearly everything.

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High Priority vs. Low Priority voting

After a morning of worship, the first item on the agenda was voting on the proposals to be either “high priority” or “low priority.” In other words, a vote is taken to determine what order an item should be voted on. This method is designed to make the process more democratic. The voting tallies were announced and the following proposals were given high priority for discussion:

  • Amendments to the Pension Plan 63.37%
  • Traditional Plan 55.57%
  • Dissolution Plan (1) 49.51%
  • Dissolution Plan (2) 49.48 %
  • One Church Plan 48.67%
  • Graceful Exit 24%
  • Connections Conference 12.44%
  • Abeyance of Trust Clause enforcement 12.03%
  • The Simple Plan 9.81%

There was an audible gasp from the crowd as the result of the vote was not what many of the Bishops advocated. Immediately thereafter, the conference moved to a ten minute break.  A group of Bishops advocating the One Church Plan gathered to the side of the stage and were notably shaken that their proposal was fifth (5th)in line of discussion – behind two proposals to dissolve the denomination.

The Judicial Rules that parts of the Modified Traditional Plan are Unconstitutional

Soon thereafter, it was announced that the Judicial Counsel ruled that two parts of the Modified Traditional Plan was unconstitutional. The decision was in response to a petition for a declaratory decision received by the United Methodist Judicial Council Feb. 22 from the Council of Bishops.Petition 90052 is unconstitutional, the court said in Decision 1375 “because it infringes upon the right of the annual conference to vote on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members,” as provided under Paragraph 33 of the Constitution. A second petition, Petition 90078, is unconstitutional because it would create a global episcopacy committee, the decision said. That petition is part of the Modified Traditional Plan. While the constitution permits transfers of bishops from one jurisdiction to another under specific conditions, “there is no parallel provision for transfers of bishops along central conference lines,” the decision said. “It is beyond General Conference’s power to fill this gap. “Absent clear grant of constitutional authority, transfers from one central conference to another central conference and from a jurisdictional conference to a central conference are constitutionally prohibited. The creation of the global episcopacy committee would also blur the lines between the responsibilities of the jurisdictional committees on episcopacy and those of the central conferences.”

The ruling also noted that the Book of Discipline stipulates “that the complaint process against bishops is handled by the jurisdictional conference and the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy.” Placing that responsibility under a global episcopacy committee would be unconstitutional, the council said.

The Debate

Once the meeting was called back to order, protestors attempted to shout down the conference to block the voters from selecting the chair, vice chair and secretary of the legislative portion of the meeting. The protest failed and the election continued with Joe Harris of the Oklahoma Conference elected as chair of the legislative committee. 

The next item on the agenda was the debate on the proposed legislation. Three minutes were given to speakers and given the meeting, to add language and strike language on the proposals. Proponents of the One Church Plan announced on Saturday that if their plan was not approved, they would use every procedural mechanism under Roberts Rule of Order to stall voting.

It was learned announced that the General Conference must end at 6:30 pm CST on Tuesday as trucks loaded with dirt needed to come into the Convention Center at that time to prepare the stadium for a Monster Truck show over the weekend. Therefore, calls for endless amendments, points of order, points of information, points of inquiry, call for additional information, motions to strike were called to preclude discussion and ultimately voting. Nonetheless, the debate started on the pension plan and it was passed by 94.58%.

With an hour left to go, the Chair proposed that discussion of the Traditional Plan be adjourned for discussion for the next day. This took an hour out of the discussion. The motion passed and the Conference ended for the day with no discussion of the Traditional Plan.  The discussion will start Monday morning at 8:20 a.m. CST.

Concluding thoughts

A couple of observations are starting to come together based on the vote of priority of legislation that is to be discussed today and tomorrow.

  • First, as expected. the most important item to the clergy delegates is their pension. That is, they want to make sure that they have the enormously funded pension available to them if the structure of the denomination changes. That is fair point but it is telling as to the most significant issue of clergy – not theology, rather pension.
  • Second, it appears that there is more support for the Traditional Plan than originally thought. That is, the plan to preserve the Book of Discipline as is, to provide for a gracious exit for local churches who cannot live in the denomination, and to provide for accountability of the Bishops has more support than originally believed. A simple majority of a vote will result in a plan passing. The supporters of the Traditional Plan seem to have the votes to adopt the plan as of this moment in time.
  • Third, the Bishops have far less influence than previously thought. To have their plan, which they have advocated since 2016, be rejected to the point that it has less than 50% of the vote and to have two plans that call for the dissolution of the denomination have more votes than their own, is telling. The Bishops have clearly lost the respect and influence they once had over the members of the denomination.
  • Fourth, there does not seem to be the appetite to pass a separate exit plan that will allow local churches to leave and keep their property. The only plan that will allow an exit plan is the Traditional Plan.
  • Fifth, this is not the end of the discussion. The delegates noted that regardless of what happens on Tuesday, the next General Conference of the United Methodist Church is in 2020.  That means all of these issues can be discussed, and reversed, next year.

It is impossible to say what will happen on Tuesday. However, based on the vote today, it is clear that the Connectional Plan and the Simple Plan will be rejected. It is also clear that there is a very slim margin between what is proposed and what will pass. This means that whoever wins or loses on Tuesday will not be based on a large majority and will be addressed again at the General Conference in 2020.

There is quite a bit of time between now and the final vote on Tuesday.  I still believe that the One Church Plan will be voted down and General Conference 2019 will end without the adoption of any plan or exit strategy. If the Traditional Plan passes, the decision will be up for review next year.  Therefore, I encourage the local church to strongly consider taking advantage of the exit plan within the Traditional Plan proposal.  The local church  can still affiliate, but if it wishes to retain its  property, I urge it to take advantage of the Traditional Plan’s Exit Plan.  That way, if the winds of change continue through 2020, the local church can keep its property.

If you, or your church, has any questions about its relationship with the United Methodist Church and how to retain its property, please contact a professional at Dalton & Tomich PLC.

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