General Conference votes for agency restructuring

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, backed by a proposed new organizational chart for the church, presides over a May 2 debate on church restructuring at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

“Plan UMC,” a compromise effort to restructure general agencies of the United Methodist Church and focus them on supporting local congregations, was approved by General Conference delegates early this afternoon. The vote was 567 for and 384 against.

Because the measure has financial implications, it must go to the General Council on Finance and Administration for review, and that could lead to a last-ditch challenge. And in a mid-afternoon vote, delegates also asked the Judicial Council to review the legislation to make sure that no provision in it violates the church constitution.

But today’s vote suggests reformers are likely to prevail on one of their key objectives for this quadrennial gathering.

Debate got heated, with opponents claiming that the compromise was drafted by a group that lacked diversity.

“There has been no broad participation of (non-U.S.) central conference members, U.S. people of color, especially women and young people,” said the Rev. Tracy Smith Malone, of the Northern Illinois Conference. “I feel like we are an after-thought.”

Some delegates asked that drafters of the compromise be told to stand, so their skin color and gender could be identified.

But Evan Drexler, a lay delegate from the Susquehanna Conference, praised those who came up with the compromise and said delaying consideration to the next General Conference was unacceptable.

“We must act now,” he said. “The world is watching to see what the United Methodists will do to save their church …. Do not shy away from the responsibility that your conferences from all around the world have called us to do.”

The measure was amended this morning, with the backers’ support, to guarantee strong representation by the central conferences.

Reformers have said the general agencies must be reorganized to support the mission of boosting vital congregations, given numerical declines in membership, worship attendance and giving within the U.S.

But three plans to do that failed to get a majority vote in a committee meeting that went into overtime and still ended in frustration on Saturday night. Leaders of two of those plans, who said they reached out to others, crafted Plan UMC on Sunday and Monday and offered it as a compromise.

The new plan would create a replacement board for the Connectional Table called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. It would have a 45 member board, with 34 voting members, and a top executive.

The Boards of Higher Education and Ministry, Discipleship, Global Ministries and Church and Society would all have their own boards and executives. But the boards and their executives also, on the Plan UMC organziational chart, come under the new council. They would have to account to that council for their performance in supporting the vital congregations effort.

Plan UMC calls for the current Commission on Religion and Race and Commission on the Status and Role of Women to come under the new council as a single Committee on Inclusiveness.

An effort to amend the plan, leaving those agencies separate and outside the new structure, reporting directly to General Conference, failed this morning.

GCFA remains independent under Plan UMC, and Archives and History comes under it. United Methodist Communications would have its own board and report to the General Conference.

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Some delegates asked that drafters of the compromise be told to stand, so their skin color and gender could be identified.

It's good to see the genetic fallacy is still alive and well as a means of determining the worth of an idea… Otherwise one might have to judge an idea based on the content of the idea itself.

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