24 Hours into General Conference: Sinking in the Graveyard of Procedural Stuff

24 Hours into General Conference: Sinking in the Graveyard of Procedural Stuff May 11, 2016
procedural GC2016
Bishop Palmer nails the UMC pathology, UMR photo by Wes Magruder

The Rev. Don Underwood, at his sixth General Conference as delegate and his ninth overall, stated in a morning briefing with the North Texas Conference delegates, “We are sinking further and further into the graveyard of procedural stuff. We can’t even get to the rules.”

No joke.

The schedule of General Conference calls for a 6:30 pm dismissal. At the last GC, the dismissal time was 9:30 pm, leading to entirely too-fatigued delegates and presiding Bishops and may have been a cause for the series of poor legislative outcomes.

The first task to be accomplished at any conference, all decided by the famous “Robert” of the (to me) increasingly infamous “Robert’s Rules of Order,” is that the rules of the Conference have to be agreed upon.

For years, this meant about a 20-minute presentation/rote vote and then the business of the conference would move on. In 2012, agreeing on the rules took forever.

And yesterday . . . well, as 6:30 pm approached, there were motions, amendments, sub-motions, people lining up to speak, all sorts of parliamentary procedures that were submitted with the clear intention of creating delay. Eventually, the Presiding Bishop said something like, “Since the body has not been able to pass the rules for 2016, we are functioning under 2012 rules. Therefore, I am not able to dismiss the conference for the day. There will be a dinner break and the conference will reconvene again this evening.”

UMReporter-Roundtable_logo-300x128All of us with the United Methodist Reporter team had already been packing up our gear, ready after a long day to get back to our rented house, get something to eat and prepare for the evening podcast. (Trust me–you don’t want to miss the podcasts: a bunch of punch-drunk exhausted journalists talking about the weird things that happen during the day: indeed we are a bundle of MethoNerds talking about the UMC).

We looked at one another with horror and anger plainly displayed on our faces over the level of exhaustion already aging those faces. Or at least aging mine, the most senior member of this team.

After a quick discussion, we decided to head back, watch the evening session by live-stream, and get on with the plans. But the delegates and other conference workers had no such recourse. The eating venues in the convention center had already closed up as they understood no one would be needing an evening meal. This meant the delegates had to race out, find some local open eatery, and race back.

At which point, they faced further “sinking into the graveyard.”

What’s the problem? The Rules Committee proposed, along with the 43 other rules that are to govern the conference, Rule 44 (a name that is rapidly taking on a life of its own) that would allow for more inclusive and less vindictive discussion over certain seriously divisive topics, particularly the ones over sexuality.

Those who don’t want Rule 44 to pass have used every parliamentary trick in the book to stop it. You see, delegates have to use Robert’s Rules to debate whether they can set aside Robert’s Rule for the sake of discussion. Seriously crazy-making. Finally last night, the first 43 rules got passed and the Conference was dismissed at 9 pm.

As for Rule 44 . . . here’s what this tired brain kind of understands. It came to the floor this morning and after extensive discussion, a tight vote tabled the discussion. A few minutes later, another delegate asked for it to come off the table. Which it did, momentarily levitating above the Conference floor.

Multiple amendments were offered, weighing it down so it landed with a thud back in the Rules Committee. They will take all the proposed amendments under consideration and then, probably tomorrow morning, bring it back to the Conference floor.

I have just heard the prophecy that this GC will get nothing done except debate Rule 44 for the next 8 days. Wanna take bets on that one?

But on the bright side . . . the Episcopacy address this morning by presiding Bishop Greg Palmer left me proclaiming, “There is no need for another sermon. Ever.”

Read all about it here.

Palmer drilled right into the pathology infecting the UMC, naming rightly the current policy of mutually assured destruction. Total winner and worth being here to be able to see and hear it in person.

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  • Guthrum

    “rules, procedures” This is one reason a lot of people and churches have left the large mainline denominations. Some are going to new church organizations that are “flat” and do not have a huge, top down bureaucracy. Some people are heading into independent churches that do not belong to any church group. It certainly is something for the UMC people at the assembly to think about: just what are they doing ? Does it matter ? Are they changing people’s lives ?

    • Many of us are asking the similar questions. Do you mind if I use yours in a later blog post?

    • Ginger Woolard Newbold

      I predict a swift rise of home churches in the coming years.

  • gh

    The reason for the “tactical delays” on rule 44 is that Rule 44 is simply another clandestine attempt by progressives to control and squelch debate on the issues of same-sex.

  • MJ jenkins

    sorry – but I just love it. I am a strange one but I enjoy seeing the work of people in action amid all their prejudices, their agendas, their foibles. Now, after the humor, there is a place to find ground in common. Can we not all agree to not be vindictive and to include (no, not just include, but welcome all to the table)? That seems to me to be a reasonable request. The world might be watching – can we not act as disciples of Christ? just saying

  • Cassie Devereaux

    Methodists gather to shore up the walls of the church against the Gospel. 🙁 Institutional religious orders buttressing against the tenets of faith was an old story I the era of the prophets of old. Christ was crucified in this cause, and delegates gather in Portland to crucify anew. No, it’s not a new story, but it refuses to be one from a bygone era.