December 14, 2012

Why Was the 2012 General Conference So Unproductive and Dysfunctional? (Part 4)

A judges gavel

(Photo credit: Legal Juice)

The Final Judgment: Our UMC Needs Responsible, Courageous, and Trustworthy Leadership

By John Lomperis

In my recent four-part series, I have recounted how various groups of theologically revisionist activists aligned with the Common Witness Coalition were allowed to hijack the United Methodist Church’s highest leadership body to make it embarrassingly dysfunctional, for the sake of their destructive agenda.

[Editors note: Reading the “Why Was the 2012 General Conference So Unproductive and Dysfunctional” series for the first time? Here is Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.]

In summary, a dramatically geographically unbalanced General Conference Commission, dominated by theological liberals, planned General Conference in a way that deliberately ensured that a rather large portion of petitions would be effectively killed by the clock. This ended up being very favorable to the agenda of the liberal caucuses with which several commission members are strongly affiliated. The commission also protected the unjust privilege enjoyed by the regions of the majority of its own members. Then a small number of strategically placed individuals were empowered to unilaterally use the commission’s new, abuse-ready structure for General Conference to make sure that key priorities of evangelical United Methodists never saw the light of day.

Overall, the petitions effectively killed by time running out were over five times as likely to be ones supported by the evangelical Renewal and Reform Coalition as ones we opposed. The plenary session schedule was manipulated in such a way that “there was no time” to consider numerous evangelical-supported proposals that were endorsed by their legislative committees and likely to pass, while top priorities of theological revisionists, even after being decisively rejected in committee, were generously given as much time as they could have hoped for (before ultimately failing). Then protesters representing an increasingly shrill, shrinking minority were allowed to eat up much irrecoverable business time by taking over the delegates-only space and later proudly boasting of getting their way through blatant bullying. Thus we had a historically dysfunctional General Conference in which many important petitions, with strong support from the theologically conservative and moderate mainstream of our denomination, were effectively killed not by open, honest, and substantial debates on their merits, but rather on cynically Machiavellian maneuvers to prevent delegates from ever having the chance to address them.

And where was the leadership of our bishops amidst all of this?

For all of the complaints about their lack of power at General Conference, our bishops actually enjoyed quite a bit of power, which they often chose to exercise in curious ways. The Council of Bishops effectively appointed the individual members of the Commission on the General Conference and the Committee on Agenda and Calendar. Thus the actions of both powerful bodies at least partially reflect on the group that hand-picked their members. Our bishops’ appointments resulted in both groups being rather disproportionately “stacked” with individuals aligned with the disruptive protesters and revisionist caucuses. A different bishop presided over each plenary session. While performance varied, overall they could have done more in this role to encourage the General Conference to move forward at an effective pace, and not be tripped up by the Common Witness Coalition’s blatant filibustering efforts. Our bishops also had the ability to take steps, including seeking police assistance, to protect the conference from being forcibly taken over. Our bishops, perhaps more than anybody, also had the appropriate role and moral authority to have made public statements and actions that would have made clear to delegates, protesters, and all concerned United Methodists around the world whether or not acceptable behavior in the United Methodist Church includes the tactics of Amy DeLong and her allies to defend the dehumanizing, lethal violence of unlimited abortion through intimidating delegates and publicly preparing to forcibly shut down the conference if it dared to even talk about the appropriateness of continuing to give a “blank check” to the extremist Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice for using the name of our church and our members (and the Prince of Peace) in its strident political activism.  Or our bishops can choose to continue to remain silent, allowing such protesters to be unchallenged as they publicly boast of taking over the General Conference and bullying bishops and other church leaders around with impunity.

The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), and their close allies have made it very, very clear that they are emphatically NOT interested in operating by an ethic higher than “any means necessary.” When it seems strategically or emotionally inconvenient, they proudly demonstrated that they have no room for basic respect, compassion, or golden-rule treatment for those of us not in their camp. They have appointed themselves as the unilateral “enforcers” who will “not allow” General Conference to make decisions they do not like. In every one of the last several General Conferences, they have very loudly and belligerently refused to confine their efforts to loving, respectful, biblical, prayerful, humble, open-to-change-their-minds debate within the same opportunities and rules that apply to everyone else. They now seek to impose as much as they can of their will on General Conference, and therefore on our entire 12 million-member global denomination, through sheer physical force and loveless threats.  And openly brag about all of this.

One supporter of the liberal caucuses’ general goals (on homosexuality and other issues) aptly summarized their treatment of our church and the General Conference: “The minority point was clear: if we don’t like what you do or we don’t feel like you gave us enough deference, we will shut it down regardless of whom it hurts.”

Moderate and evangelical delegates, who are characteristically “conservative” when it comes to following the rules that are supposed to be fairly applied to everyone, were in for a huge disappointment if they came to Tampa expecting that the General Conference to be run in an even-handed, compassionate, and transparent way gave United Methodists of all perspectives, not just a privileged few, the opportunity to have their concerns heard through the proper channels.

All the ways in which the General Conference Commission, the Agenda Committee, and the Council of Bishops have accommodated and sought conciliation with self-centered liberal protesters (and not extended similar accommodations towards those who play by the rules) have sadly been shown to only further embolden and encourage their destructive efforts against the unity, integrity, and faithfulness of our denomination. Almost immediately after the 2012 General Conference concluded, liberal caucuses aggressively moved forward with their (still ongoing) campaign to recruit clergy to unilaterally shatter our covenants for how we are to live together as “United” Methodists. Appeasement has not worked. Continuing to effectively reward bad behavior while punishing good behavior is neither defensible nor sustainable.

Our Council of Bishops, new General Conference Commission, and other denominational leaders have an important choice to make: do they want the next General Conference to be as embarrassingly dysfunctional and as externally hijacked as this one? If not, our leaders certainly have the power to take decisive action to ensure that the next General Conference will be run better.

What remains to be seen is whether or not they will have the will and the courage to do so, for the sake of our Lord and His wounded bride.

17 Responses to Why Was the 2012 General Conference So Unproductive and Dysfunctional? (Part 4)

  1. Garry Ruff says:

    To paraphrase the protest song of the 60’s: “And you don’t believe we’re on the eve of a schism?” Let’s face the facts that the deck is stacked against the majority and that only through a separation can the evangelical arm of the UMC regain meaningful representation within a (re)new(ed) form of Methodism.

  2. Becky Bowyer says:

    Thank you for an informative series and insightful analysis of the 2012 General Conference. Now that we know what happened and why, won’t you please explore the ground work that is being laid for next General Conference? Many questions still need answers, such as who are the members of the new General Conference Commission, what regions do they represent and what activities have they engaged in that will indicate their viewpoints? Since the Council of Bishops has already responded with silence to a request for action concerning Bishop Talbert’s open rebellion, does anyone really believe the Bishops might make changes to prevent dysfunction in the next General Conference? If not, what options are available for prayerful consideration by all concerned United Methodists to prevent the next General Conference from being hijacked by secular agitators and their sympathizers in leadership positions? Continuing your search for the truth will be vital in the coming days and greatly appreciated by all, who seek clarity in God’s will for our church. Thank you for your efforts.

  3. J P Logan says:

    I totally agree. I grew up UM but split from them long ago, ditto for most of my friends or family members. A few have chosen to “hang in there like a rusty fish-hook,” but they’re having 2nd thoughts (long overdue!), thinking it’s wiser to be faithful in a church that shares the same God than to try to plug the leaks in a sinking ship.

  4. Roger W. says:

    The Preliminary statements from the Council of Bishops and Rev. Goodpastor were indicative of the course that they wanted the GC 2012 to go. It was a power grab for the Bishops. The GC 2016 has to have transparency from the top down to the local pew. Petitions should be available to be read online at least 30 days before GC. Delegates need them sooner.

  5. Miss Ann says:

    The split is coming and probably soon. The Bishops are, as a group, the most pathetic collection of “leaders” I’ve seen in a long time. I have respect for several as individuals but none whatsoever for them as a group. God have mery on their souls

  6. Bart Simmons says:

    I am saddened by the spineless action of our Bishops to allow a complete hijacking of the conference by the Progressive Movement in the UMC. The result is a wasted conference and thousands more members leaving the denomination. Our pastors want us to stay in the denomination and fight. If the Bishops won’t lead the fight why should we stay and fight?

  7. Donnie says:

    I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. I wish the UMC would get rid of the Book of Discipline. Pastors who officiate gay “weddings” are never punished. Pastors who live an openly gay lifestyle are never punished. So why even have the book in the first place?

  8. dover1952 says:

    Hi there. I have never been a follower of high-level church politics, and I have never known other Methodists (in the old days) or the United Methodists (today) who did down at the individual church level. I wish the author of the four-part series had briefly synopsized the major points of concern rather than written a book in fine print that I—frankly—had a hard time following and—gave up on after reading for a while. Perhaps the IRD could prevail upon the author to write a brief summary of key bullet points.

    Based on the things I did read, it appeared to me that the conservative faction and its issues, with which I assume the IRD sympathizes, was largely ignored and frustrated throughout the conference by various hard-nosed procedural and political maneuvers.

    When I was growing up in the old Methodist Church down south in the early 1960s, the few people that did follow high-level politics in the church emphasized one thing that they firmly believed to be a basic fact about the Methodist Church and the way its upper echelons are structured. Now, you have to remember that this is what I heard as a kid from the adults around me—so please do not rape me if you think I am wrong. My paraphrasal of it would be something like this:

    “The Methodist Church is not like the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The SBC at its upper levels basically operates as an open democracy. The Methodist Church has always been and still is a dictatorship by nature. The bishops and other upper level positions rule the church as overlords. It is structured and set up that way intentionally. For example, a bishop can order a popular pastor at one church to leave that church and go to another church. The pastor has no right to refuse, and the congregation’s desperate petitions to keep their beloved pastor will fall on deaf ears if the bishop insists that the pastor must go to the other church.”

    I have closely followed the conservative takeover of the SBC and know some of the individuals who fought it from 1979 forward. One in particular has expressed to me his firm belief that the Pressler/Patterson Revolution in the SBC would not have even been possible in the United Methodist Church because of the way its upper echelons and organizing documents and rules are structured. In other words the takedown of the SBC was relatively easy because of its democratic structure. Our American government is often touted as the best and strongest on Earth, usually in the pomp and circumstance of a July 4th rally and speech, but any American diplomat will tell you that democracy and democratic republics are really one of the weakest forms of government on Earth as a matter of day-to-day practice. They are easy to bring down. Dictatorships are much more difficult to pull down, and massive bloodshed is often the price that has to be paid. Witness Syria even now. Indeed, from the way they talk, the opponents of Pressler and Patterson look back and wish that their church had actually been the United Methodist Church. I think most of them hope to win the SBC back one day and then structure its upper echelons in a way that will prevent it from ever being taken over again.

    Some have told me, and perhaps they were wrong, that the conservatives trying to “retake” the United Methodist Church from liberal elements have been encouraged by what Pressler and Patterson accomplished and are trying to apply the Pressler/Patterson Model to accomplish it. In my opinion, given the historically dictatorial structure of the upper echelons in the United Methodist Church and the means it has available to wield power, the odds of it working are next to zero. The real answer—and I think the only answer that would work outside of bloodshed and prison—would be for the conservative factions in the United Methodist Church to leave it and start their own separate, new Methodist denomination—and then structure that denomination’s upper echelons in such a way that it too would be just as hard to pull down and then put into effect church laws that would make it possible to destroy any liberal consideration at the very moment is first arises—even down to the individual sitting in a pew in a tiny local church.

    The liberal Methodists are powerfully attached to what they believe and are willing to defend it at all costs—viewing the conservatives as enemies of God. You feel the same way about them, This being the case—and so powerfully—the chances of any sort of “meetings of the minds” within an existing church political structure are probably never going to happen. I think both sides should just admit that to themselves and split—make a clean cut—over and done—and then get about the business of whatever separate path each is intent on taking.

    • Mark says:

      Interesting comments and, while inclined toward conspiratorial paranoia, come surprisingly close to complimenting the more democratic structure of the SBC as compared to the more rigid/bureaucratic UM hierarchy. (By the way, the US is a democratic REPUBLIC, not a democracy, and it was constructed as such for the very same reasons you suggest).

      It’s generally not accurate to say that today’s liberals view conservatives as the enemy of God. Oh, they may on occasion articulate such a notion, but liberals actually don’t speak about God much these days (it’s increasingly unpopular in their circles). They do, however, talk with relish about their de facto gods: “justice” and “equality,” as embodied/implemented primarily by leftist politics (statism). Conservatives/traditionalists are sanctimoniously derided as the enemy of these de facto gods.

      Splitting the UM church is long overdue (to state what is the obvious to most informed). You cannot have two contradictory philosophies exist for very long without stagnation and, eventually, death (see Wesley and “dead sect”)

      Those who respect, accept and act upon long-settled Christian understandings, including Biblical inspiration (though not necessarily literalism), cannot coexist, much less thrive, with those who tout a totally different understanding which includes a malleable God (process theology), Bible as fiction, feelings-based theology, rejection of original sin, universalism, relativism, etc. (A sports analogy may be that “their goal-posts keep moving”).

      The biggest reason the UM church has reached this point is lack of leadership. And the biggest reason it has not split is lack of leadership. It will be up to the grassroots to evoke the needed changes, else the the church will simply continue to die on the vine.

      That’s the sad reality.

      • J S Lang says:

        Mark, good response.

        Back when I worked at the UM Publishing House, I noticed how the bigwigs in the denomination would say the word “fundamentalists” with such utter disgust. They would not use the word “evangelicals.” (It’s a power thing: show contempt for your enemy by using your own derogatory name for him, not the name he calls himself.) The “fundamentalists” in the denomination were talked about as something lower than cockroaches. When you’ve got very liberal bureaucrats and a laity that contains many evangelicals, yeah, a split is bound to come.

        You are correct about liberals not regarding conservatives as enemies of God, as God really doesn’t show up on their radar screen. For liberals, it is a turf war: who controls this turf, us smart Politically Correct liberals, or those knuckle-dragging nincompoop “fundamentalists”?

        Shake the dust off your feet, Christians, there are greener pastures elsewhere.

  9. Betsy Kersey says:

    If you are interested in what transpired at General Conference..check out all four of these reports by John Lomperis. We know him and he has reported in detail in these posts. We were there and attended all the sessions. It is true that our UMC is declining and we need to renew our Wesleyan and Apostolic faith within our congregations with the intention to save souls. It really is a spiritual need and not just a restructure problem. Betsy and Gerry

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  11. Gary says:

    I sure do agree with all of the above comments and am very happy to see so many that think a schism is the answer. The UMC will continue to preach a watered down the gospel every year and lose 1% or more of their membership every year. I have taken the initiative to “schism” already and go to an evangelical church before I go to the UMC that my wife attends (she goes with me to my church and I go with her to her church) but to tell you the truth I generally sit in the UMC pew and think about what the evangelical pastor said and reread the Scripture that he went over at great length a half hour before. I too see the council of bishops as the main problem in this whole mess and have very little respect for any of them.

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