Rules debate today will be an early sign of the GC2016 attitudes

A delegate to the 2012 General Conference  debates legislation  in Tampa. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey

A delegate to the 2012 General Conference debates legislation in Tampa.

The United Methodist General Conference meeting in Portland, OR will start today at 2 p.m. with a glorious service of worship, full of the splendor the God’s relationship with the church. But it’s what will happen this evening that will offer some early signs of the tenor of the meeting for the next two weeks.

Following an afternoon coffee break, the General Conference will begin their business with the official “Organization of the General Conference,” which includes setting the bar of the conference and electing conference officials. However it will be the setting of the rules of the conference that offers the most insight into the nature of the debates that will happen over the next two weeks.

In previous General Conferences the establishment of the rules has been an important, but fairly innocuous piece of business. However the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, FL brought forth a new trend with a prolonged debate on the rules of the conference, taking over 3 hours over the course of two days. Delegates brought forth 18 amendments, and several delegates expressed frustration over the amount of time required to approve the conference’s rules of operation.

This year conference officials have identified at least three rules which could prolong the debate. The most contentious is the so-called “Rule 44” in which the Rules Committee and the General Commission on the General Conference (GCGC) are proposing an alternative process for coming to decisions about particular issues. While this proposal is available for any petition under consideration by the conference, the GCGC revealed early on its intention to propose that legislation around same-sex marriage and homosexuality be considered under this process. The Commission decided recently to scale back their recommendation based on the large number of petitions on these issues. There has been much debate on-line over the past several months about the proposal, and a test run of the process at the Pre-General Conference Briefing in January revealed several issues of concern to some.

Another issue of concern for delegates from the Central Conferences is the new microphone queuing. system which will guide the presiding bishops in recognizing persons wanting to speak from the floor. Although other church meetings have used similar systems in the past, this is new to the General Conference and involves the use of a tablet at each delegate table which can be used to enter a queue of persons seeking recognition by the presiding officer. Delegates from the Central Conferences have expressed several concerns about the use of this system.

Over the past several General Conferences the GCGC have made adjustments to the rules on the daily time of adjournment, and this year they have submitted a rule change that ends the work of the conference each day at 6:30 p.m. Some have suggested that adjourning each day at this hour will not give the conference enough time to complete their work, however conference officials say that a shorter lunch break and the elimination of the dinner break makes up for the earlier time of adjournment, actually providing more continuous working hours than were available in Tampa.

The current General Conference schedule allots 90 minutes to the work of organizing the conference, and if a prolonged debate ensues for the above issues it is very likely that the debate will extend into the Wednesday session. While The Committee on the Agenda (which sets the overall schedule for the conference’s work) has not approved a plan for extending the debate beyond today, conference officials say that there is a proposal for consideration by the committee should it become necessary.

The Tampa debate on the rules offered a preview over the nature of debate throughout the rest of the conference, revealing issues of trust as the conference some raised concerns about the make up of conference committees and others proposed amendments that would effectively allow legislative committees to ignore some petitions, allowing them to die. The debate was long and spirited, but after 3 hours of consideration the General Conference overwhelmingly accepted the rules as presented to them by the Rules Committee without amendment.

“We have to be good stewards of our time, and we need to get on with the business of not perfecting the rules, but how we perfect the church,” said the Rev. Sam Powers, Oklahoma Annual (regional) Conference delegate to the Tampa General Conference, in expressing his frustration at the length of the process.

The question for today is whether delegates to the Portland conference will be saying similar things tonight.

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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