I have just returned from the enjoyable and productive 2015 session of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Worship was encouraging. Good news was shared about new, growing Hispanic churches. Followers of my Twitter feed saw snippets of some of the helpful teaching offered. I especially appreciated the gathering’s positive theme of evangelistically sharing our faith stories.
In business matters, I am happy about the high-quality delegation we elected. Among those elected as delegates to the 2016 UMC General Conference are UMAction Director John Lomperis, Pastor Beth Ann Cook (President of Indiana Confessing Movement and a board member of Good News), and UMAction Steering Committee member Jim Ottjes. Among those we elected to the 2016 North Central Jurisdictional Conference is Pastor Bob Land, whose serves on the UMAction Advisory Board.
As someone “Willing to Serve,” I tried to be exceptionally transparent with the voting lay members of annual conference about my core values and about how I as a delegate would vote on some key decisions to be made. In response, they elected me rather quickly, on just the second ballot.
By membership, Indiana is the largest conference within the UMC’s North Central Jurisdiction.
We also voted to send five petitions to General Conference in the name of the Indiana Conference. And we adopted a lengthy resolution statement (not a General Conference petition) decrying the violence of ISIS and standing in solidarity with its victims.
Four of the five General Conference petitions would not change the UMC into a completely pro-life denomination but would move us in a significantly more life-affirming direction.
The first adopted petition would amend our denomination’s Social Principles to broadly oppose late-term (post-viability) abortions, support conscience protections for health-care professionals to not be forced into participating in abortions, and make clear that our church sees adoption as a preferable alternative to abortion. The second adopted petition would amend the Social Principles to “decry the targeting of unborn children with disabilities for abortion.”
Interestingly, no one spoke against either of these first two petitions, even though our denomination’s main liberal caucus, the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), strongly opposes such stances, because of its uncompromising absolutism in defending all abortions. Only a small handful of folk in the room voted against either petition.
A third petition, authored by yours truly, would add a new brief sub-paragraph to the Social Principles on bioethics, recognizing the image of God in all human life, opposing treating human beings at any stage of life (including embryonic) as a commodity, and endorsing the practice of embryo adoption.
A fourth petition would have the next General Conference end our denomination’s formal affiliation with, and blank-check endorsement of the work of, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which decries any legal restriction or even moral disapproval of abortion and goes so far as to call all elective abortions “holy work.”
The bishop, who I understand was facing some glaring light from some open doors, initially declared that this RCRC petition had failed in a standing vote. But from where I sat up front, it looked like the “ayes” had it. So I went to the microphone and said something along the lines of: “I’m sorry to do this. But from where I sat up front it looked like it went the other way. I know we all want to go home. But could I respectfully request that we have a vote count so that we can all go home knowing that we had a fair and accurate result?” (This was on Saturday afternoon, the last day of the conference.) The subsequent count revealed that the petition had actually passed, 246-211.
It is worth noting that before the vote, annual conference members were misinformed by a pro-RCRC speech from a young clergywoman, who inaccurately claimed that RCRC provided some sort of valuable, unique (but unspecified) services for women in need and that United Methodists would somehow lose access to (unspecified) “resources” if we stopped endorsing all of RCRC’s work. The fact is that RCRC is a political lobbying organization, not a direct service provider. And if anyone knows of a single instance of RCRC denying access to its website, or refusing to sell its abortion-defending literature “resources,” to an individual simply because they are not a member of an RCRC-affiliated denomination, please let me know in the comments. But I won’t hold my breath.
Thankfully, the truth won out in Indiana. But how righteous can the RCRC cause really be when, again and again, we see the facts about RCRC being so routinely and so blatantly misrepresented by its defenders at annual conferences and General Conferences?
Finally, on another note, we approved a petition that would save future General Conferences from the extreme dysfunction of the last one by requiring that the full plenary give a final vote to every petition first vetted and approved by its legislative committee.
In my remarks as petition submitter, I explained how General Conference basically works by having petitions more thoroughly vetted by legislative committees of smaller groups of delegates in the first week, and in the second week the full plenary session of all delegates hears the committee recommendations and then makes final decisions. At the last General Conference, a lot of the very limited plenary time was eaten up by lengthy debate on a couple liberal petitions that had already been rejected in committee and were not expected to pass in plenary (which they did not), so that no time was left to consider dozens of good committee-approved petitions that were expected to have passed if they had simply been given the courtesy of a final vote.
This petition to force prioritizing committee-approved petitions was vocally opposed by two prominent, likable clergymen in the conference, Frank Beard (who is Vice Chair of the Commission on the General Conference) and Taylor Burton-Edwards (a high-ranking official in our denomination’s Discipleship Ministries agency). But it was still passed overwhelmingly.
Now these five petitions will go on to be considered at the UMC’s 2016 General Conference, at which several friends and I have now been elected to serve as voting delegates. I am humbled and honored by this opportunity entrusted to me by the fellow lay members of my annual conference.