Dawn Wiggins Hare, General Secretary of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, recently asked a series of excellent questions in her article opposing Plan UMC Revised. I answer her questions here to explain why I support it.
“Politics is not the art of the possible;
it consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable”
John Kenneth Galbraith
Why Plan UMC Revised?
Four years ago this week, I joined 566 other General Conference delegates in Tampa and voted for Plan UMC. The sixty percent of us on the yea side were not dancing a gig and rejoicing over all parts of the proposal. It was a compromise proposal that grew out of many years of consultations with multiple agencies, agency heads, Bishops, and other leaders of our church, an official Connectional Table proposal, a host of alternate proposals, and a load of compromises both before and during General Conference. The final compromise proposal, though not perfect, gained the approval of a supermajority (almost 60%) of delegates. Was I thrilled with it? No! Was there room for improvement? Absolutely! Was it good enough to pass overwhelmingly? Yes!
Sadly, it was not good enough for the Judicial Council. Plan UMC Revised takes up where Plan UMC left off with one difference: it takes into account the criticisms leveled by the Judicial Council. Plan UMC Revised, is, I believe, constitutional. I support Plan UMC Revised today because the General Conference supported its predecessor four years ago after a multi-year series of conversations, consultations, and compromise. (If the Judicial Council rules the revision of the 2012 plan to be unconstitutional, it will surely give clear reasons why, so that delegates can fix the problems; it would be unconscionable not to do so.)
United Methodists love to study things. The current Connectional Table wants to keep studying restructure for another four years. The 2012 General Conference soundly rejected that idea when 58% of the delegates voted down a proposal to refer the restructure issue to the Connectional Table for further study. It wasn’t even close. I seriously doubt that the 2016 delegates will be any more eager to continue study than were the 2012 delegates.
In my more cynical moments, when I hear ongoing calls to send ideas and petitions back to committee for continual study, I am reminded of a remark by Barnett Cocks, a former Clerk in the English House of Commons. “A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured, and then quietly strangled.”
Frankly, many of us are fed up with studying as a substitute for action. We have been talking about restructure for more than a decade. The Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table formed the Call to Action Team in 2008 out of a sense of urgency. We needed to reform the church for the sake of its mission and ministry in the name of Christ. The Call to Action report and subsequent Connectional Table restructure proposal and all of the alternate proposals were driven by this sense of urgency. Reform was not proposed for the sake of reform itself but for the sake of our shared mission. Why move forward with restructure now? Because we cannot afford to keep waiting.
Why is a portion of the plan directly aimed at the ministries of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW), the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), and the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH)?
My greatest concern about restructure has been the work of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR). As a former member of the Arkansas conference CSRW team, the daughter of a long time member of the executive committee of the GCSRW Board, and someone who cares deeply about justice in issues of race and gender, I give thanks to God for the faithful work of GCORR and GCSRW. I am convinced that most General Conference delegates on all sides of the restructure debate support the monitoring and advocacy work provided by GCORR and GCSRW; I certainly do! Personally, I like the idea in Plan UMC Revised and some other restructure proposals to form a broader body that seeks justice not only on issues of race and gender but in other areas as well. If the name “Committee on Inclusivity” is faulty and dated, let’s look for alternate names. If the Committee needs more independence, then let’s keep talking. Let’s use this as an opportunity to rethink creatively how this important work could be done. All of this will be up for discussion at the 2016 General Conference. I am confident that we can work together at General Conference, especially in the General Administration Legislative Committee, to perfect a restructure plan that will continue the crucial ministries now provided by GCORR and GCSRW. I look forward to that work.
What is GCSRW doing that requires accountability?
Plan UMC Revised, along with Plan UMC and other restructure plans, calls for greater accountability for every agency in the church. Many of us are convinced that more effective structures of accountability are needed throughout the church, for agencies and agency staff, conferences and Bishops, local clergy and other leaders. This is equal opportunity accountability.
Why were we not consulted?
Those who presented Plan UMC Revised decided to work with the restructure plan that had been passed by a significant majority at General Conference. Leading up to the 2012 General Conference there was a lot of consultation about restructure throughout the church, including with every agency and agency head. There are now insoluble disputes about who talked to whom, but there was no shortage of conversation. Because those who presented Plan UMC Revised were working with a fixed compromise proposal that emerged out of the consultation leading up to and at the 2012 General Conference, they did not consult even their own preferences for restructure.
What are the objectives, both spoken and unspoken?
I am convinced that most delegates are primarily concerned most of the time with what is good for our church and its mission. Even so, I am enough of a realist to know that all of our motives, even those of the rare saints among us, are sometimes mixed. Mixed motives are inevitable and universal in political discourse. This is one of the downsides to being human.
At the same time, we have to respect other delegates enough to believe that they are as concerned as we are for the vitality of the church and its mission. It is way too easy to think the best of our own motives and the worst of those with whom we disagree. That is deadly not just for Christian conferencing but also for ordinary civil discourse.
In this light, I decided to assume that Dawn Wiggins Hare, in using the movie Spotlight as the center of her article opposing Plan UMC Revised, did not intend to compare supporters of Plan UMC Revised with the Roman Catholic leaders who colluded to hide pedophiles preying on children in their church. That’s how I read the article initially, which tells you something about the baseless paranoia that creeps in before General Conference!
What are the effects, both directly and collaterally?
There is no shortage of reflection on the effects of the restructure proposals, so I will say only this. I hope that our deliberations on restructure at General Conference will take into account not only the direct and collateral effects of the various proposals but also the effect of doing nothing.
John Galbraith once quipped, “Politics is not the art of the possible; it consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” In this case, settling on a less-than-perfect restructure package may be unpalatable but failing to move forward on restructure at all is outright disastrous.