Playing inside the box

In the wake of the Judicial Council’s decision tossing out the General Conference’s attempt to get rid of guaranteed appointment, it appears that those who want to both remain within United Methodism and reinvigorate it are going to have to get more familiar with the Restrictive Rules in our Constitution. It was on the basis of these that guaranteed appointment was upheld.

In case you have not read your UMC Constitution recently, these are the Restrictive Rules.

Article I — The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine.

Article II — The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Confession of Faith.

Article III — The General Conference shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with episcopacy or destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency.

Article IV — The General Conference shall not do away with the privileges of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of an appeal; neither shall it do away with the privileges of our members of right to trial before the church, or by a committee, and of an appeal.

Article V — The General Conference shall not revoke or change the General Rules of Our United Societies.

Article VI — The General Conference shall not appropriate the net income of the publishing houses, the book concerns, or the Chartered Fund to any purpose other than for the benefit of retired or disabled preachers, their spouses, widows, or widowers, and children or other beneficiaries of the ministerial pension system.

To change any of these rules requires a three-quarters majority vote of the General Conference and of the members of the annual conferences. This is an impossible hurdle to get over, I suspect.

I am not much of a systems thinker and certainly not an organizational genius, so I pray that someone who is can help us discern our way to be the church of Jesus Christ within the boundaries of these rules.

Security of appointment upheld



IN RE: Request from the General Conference for a Declaratory Decision as to the constitutionality of legislation Approved as Calendar Item 355 Regarding Guaranteed Appointments


Security of appointment has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies. Abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan for our itinerant superintendency. Fair process procedures, trials and appeals are integral parts of the privilege of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of appeal and is an absolute right which cannot be eradicated by legislation. The amendments to ¶ 337, as contained in Calendar Item 355, are unconstitutional and violate the third and fourth restrictive rules of the Constitution. The original ¶ 337 of the Discipline is restored and maintained and the changes made thereto at 2012 General Conference are null, void and of no effect. The amendments to ¶ 321, as contained in Calendar Items 352, is also declared repugnant to the Constitution and hence, unconstitutional. The original ¶ 321 of the Discipline is restored and maintained, and the changes made thereto by the 2012 General Conference are null, void, and of no effect. Calendar Item 358, the new transitional leave ¶ 354, is declared unconstitutional, and Calendar Item 359, which removed the language of a transitional leave from ¶ 354 of the Discipline, is also declared unconstitutional. The current language for a transitional leave as provided for in ¶ 354 is restored and maintained.

STATEMENT OF FACTS Continue reading “Security of appointment upheld”

Schnase on the failure of #GC2012

Bishop Robert Schnase’s episcopal address to the South Central Jurisdiction has been posted by the UM Reporter. You have to wade through some statistics at the top and it is not soaring oratory, but it is well worth the attention of the church.

When it came to speaking of General Conference, Schnase expressed strong disappointment.

 Let me share a few observations on behalf of the Bishops that we’ve shared with each other since the close of General Conference:

First, I don’t think we were overly invested in any specific organizational plan for change, but we were deeply invested in the hope for change.

Second, there’s a growing perception that the process of the General Conference itself doesn’t work.  We experienced paralysis as a conference, like a spider stuck in its own web.  As an example, the General Conference spent four hours over two days to debate the Standing Rules before eventually approving them exactly as they had been presented by the committee!

Third, we’re concerned about the tightening of “the hairball.”  Gordon McKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball, uses the image of a hairball to describe the accruing of rules, requirements, mandates, and policies until they become so tightly bound that they paralyze creativity.  We were disappointed to see an increase of such rules and requirements at every level.   This fosters less flexibility, less contextual latitude, and reduced ability for leaders, conferences, committees, and local church churches to form their own responses.

Fourth, we are concerned about the deep divisions evident in the church, and the intensified focus on personal agendas.

Fifth, we have not begun to solve, or even understand, the complexities, implications, and opportunities of being a truly global church.

Sixth, we are concerned about the troubling and persistent tendency for the church to deny and ignore and avoid the critical challenges.  Adam Hamilton presented the challenges as revealed through the Towers-Watson Report.  He described the reality and urgency of our situation in the US church.  People can honestly disagree about how to respond to these challenges, but we cannot continue to avoid and deny them.  If we learn from the doctor that three cardiac arteries are nearly completely blocked, and if nothing is done, death is virtually assured, the challenge presents many options.  We can consider surgical options, and discuss how extensive and the effects that might follow.  We can consider medicine, and what sort and with what benefits and risks.  We can consider changes in behavior, including exercise, diet, smoking, stress, and weight control.   There are literally dozens of conversations and strategies to discuss and consider.  But we cannot walk away and act as if we do not know the truth and deny that the risks are real.

When he turns to talk about the important thing the bishops take away from General Conference, he begins to sound a bit like the voices in the Western Jurisdiction and elsewhere who decry the denomination’s stance on sexuality. Schnase, of course, was talking about the Call to Action rather than sex, but the conclusion that the general church is not a source for answers or leadership was similar.

We’re convinced as a College of Bishops that the stuckness of General Conference makes what we do in this Jurisdiction and in our Annual Conferences all the more important.   We need to continue to learn, to experiment, to innovate.  Change in the United Methodist Church is going to happen one person at a time, one congregation at a time, one conference at a time.   Change in the church is will happen horizontally as we learn from another, not vertically or from the top.

Compare Schnase’s address with the words of the Director of Communication for the Pacific-Northwest Annual Conference:

That said, the work of the jurisdictional conference could be of significant importance if its will is reflected by the actions of its college of bishops, annual conferences, appointive cabinets, boards of ordained ministry, clergy and lay people. While the General Conference does indeed speak for the denomination, these other groups are responsible for the action of the church. These groups have to decide how to live faithfully in a world where the ecclesial powers may be in conflict with a developing sense of God’s kin(g)dom that includes gay and lesbian people. These leaders will need to be the change agents — moving beyond hope to courageous action; willing to risk reputation for the mission field. They will also need to do so while remaining in dialogue with those within their annual conferences who have a different understanding of God’s vision for human sexuality.

Of course, the similarities should not be pressed too far. The bishop is talking about working within the doctrine and discipline of the church and the communication director is speaking of opposing both. But, even so, both share a conviction that General Conference is broken and therefore the jurisdictions, conferences, local churches, and individuals must take the lead in getting things done. In both cases, the sign of the dysfunction of the General Conference is that it did not do anything in the area of particular interest.

I’m not sure what to make of that other than to observe that it may confirm what the Book of Discipline itself says. Annual Conferences — not the General Conference — are the basic unit of the United Methodist Church, and local churches are the most important venue for making disciples of Jesus Christ.