March 26, 2018

What’s with the Silence on the UMC Constitutional Amendments?

A number of United Methodists have been wondering about the odd, unexplained, and perhaps unprecedented silence with which our bishops have been treating the results from the proposed constitutional amendments on which every annual conference of the United Methodist Church was supposed to have voted in 2017.

After some inquiries, I have some answers in which many may be interested.

I have already written about some heavy-handed manipulations and even blatant dishonesty to which several U.S. bishops resorted last year in apparent attempts to influence the results of the voting on these amendments. But this practice of universally concealing results from anywhere is rather new.

Normally, here’s how it works: When the UMC General Conference meets every four years, its actions include approving several proposed amendments to our denomination’s Constitution, the foundational section of our governing Book of Discipline. For any of these amendments to be enacted, they need to then receive a super-majority of votes taken at each of the roughly twelve dozen annual conferences into which the UMC is geographically divided around the world. As different conferences vote at different times throughout the year, it has been common for many to release their respective exact vote totals for each proposed amendment, or at least an approximate summary, almost immediately after their votes are taken.  For examples of this in 2013, see here, here, here, and here. Or click here to see even more widespread immediate reporting of the voting results of individual conferences on proposed constitutional amendments in 2009.

Technically, no constitutional amendment is enacted until the spring Council of Bishops meeting the following year, held roughly two years after General Conference, formally announces that it has received to required number of votes. However, our traditional practice of conferences publishing their results soon after they vote has been invaluable for indicating which proposed amendments are on track to be adopted and which are on track to be rejected.

But now a choice has been made that keeps us in suspense.

For the 2017 votes on constitutional amendments forwarded by the 2016 General Conference, I have not seen a single annual conference officially publish its results, even this far into 2018. And I have seen no public explanation for this.

So I recently reached out to the Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga, a spokesman for the Council of Bishops, and Bishop Marcus Matthews, the Council’s Executive Secretary, with some on-the-record inquiries.

Between the two of them, they confirmed that this silence is indeed the result of a formal policy.

This policy came in the form of a memo dated March 22, 2017, sent from both Bishop Matthews and the Rev. Gary Graves (Secretary of the General Conference), and directed to every active bishop and annual conference secretary.

This memo specifically requested that no annual conference voting results be released during annual conference sessions, but that instead everyone wait until the Council of Bishops announced the final results at its spring 2018 meeting, which will be held April 29 — May 4.

As the memo put it: “The vote of each annual conference is only a portion of the larger total and publicly reporting individual sections of the total vote prior to the balloting by other annual conferences could be seen as having influence or charting an early projection of the cumulative results.”

While I may have decided differently, there were reasonable arguments for hiding voting results until everyone else had their chance to vote.

However, it is harder to see a compelling reason to still withhold the results even after everyone has already voted. To my knowledge, the last annual conference session in 2017 was that of the West Zimbabwe Conference, held in mid-December, over three months ago. The memo indicates that some conferences sharing their results even after that could result in “charting an early projection of the cumulative results.” But I fail to see what would be bad about that.

It is also interesting to see that this dramatic new policy change only came with this particular group of proposed constitutional amendments (analyzed here).

In any case, Dr. Mulenga told me that “once the results are announced by the Council, it is expected that all annual conference vote totals will be made available by the respective annual conferences.” So at least after we hear the total global results for the votes on the amendments, those who are still wondering should be able to learn how their own respective conferences voted. And apparently some annual conferences have still not submitted their vote counts from last year.

I appreciate the clarifications provided by Bishop Matthews and Dr. Mulenga.

The full text of the memo from Bishop Matthews and the Rev. Graves is below:

 

MEMORANDUM

TO:             Active Resident Bishop of the Annual Conference

                    Secretary of the Annual Conference

 

FROM:       Bishop Marcus Matthews, Executive Secretary of the Council of Bishops

                    Rev. Gary W. Graves, Secretary of the General Conference

 

DATE          March 22, 2017

 

As we enter the season of annual conference sessions, one of the items which will be part of every agenda is the balloting for the proposed constitutional amendments passed by the 2016 General Conference.  ¶59 of The Book of Discipline 2016 states: “…The vote, after being completed, shall be canvassed by the Council of Bishops, and the amendment voted upon shall become effective upon their announcement of its having received the required majority…”

This paragraph gives responsibility for the canvass of votes and the announcement of the results to the Council of Bishops.  In order to meet the requirements of this Constitutional paragraph with as much equity as possible, we are asking that the secretary of each annual conference submit the totals of the balloting directly to the Executive Secretary of the Council of Bishops without announcing the results during the annual conference session.  The tally sheet provided by former Secretary of the General Conference, Rev. Fitzgerald Reist, would be used to transmit the results according to the instructions contained therein.  The annual conference secretary and resident bishop would each keep copies of the form for the records of the annual conference.

As a point of comparison, each annual conference secretary could be seen as a teller and the Executive Secretary of the COB could be seen as the head teller.  If a secret ballot were being taken in a large plenary body, the teller of each section would not announce the vote of that section aloud, but, instead, would report that vote count to the head teller who would calculate and report the cumulative total to the secretary and presiding officer for public announcement for the record.

The vote of each annual conference is only a portion of the larger total and publicly reporting individual sections of the total vote prior to the balloting by other annual conferences could be seen as having influence or charting an early projection of the cumulative results.  Since the session of the annual conference is an open meeting, any results announced during the session are available for reporting by any journalistic or social media and could have the unintended effect of pre-empting the announcement by the Council of Bishops as required in ¶59.  There is no complete announcement to be made until the cumulative votes have been totaled.  The official announcement will come from the Council of Bishops.

Thank you for your faithful service in this and many other responsibilities within the United Methodist Church and the Body of Christ!

 

cc:          Episcopal Administrative Assistants

 


13 Responses to What’s with the Silence on the UMC Constitutional Amendments?

  1. Jim says:

    Is it “legal” ( can it be mandatory) for each delegate to report their votes back to their respective annual conferences for dissemination to anyone who is interested in how a delegate votes in each issue?

  2. theenemyhatesclarity says:

    Would it be wise to submit a resolution to each annual conference this year asking that that particular conference’s results be released ASAP?

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

    • John Lomperis says:

      For any US conference, that would happen after the full results are released at the Spring 2018 Council of Bishops meeting. One could, if they desired to make things more transparent in the future, submit a resolution to amend his or her annual conference’s official rules to require, for example, that the full results of the votes of that annual conference on all constitutional amendments shall be released by no later than January 1 of the following year (after all other conferences have had their chance to meet and vote).

  3. Porter says:

    Thanks for the info, but I think I need a clarification. Am I right in inferring that the request made in the memo from Bishop Matthews and Rev. Graves was only a request without legal force? So conferences (or their bishops) could choose not to follow this procedure if they desired?

  4. Lance Thomas says:

    There is a struggle for the soul of the denomination. Hiding the truth is a tool of darkness not light.
    PS. At least one African conference counted and reported its votes immediately.

    • Judy Bailey says:

      I totally agree with Mr. Thomas. This whole mess within the UMC is cloaked in darkness which gives me the feeling of improper activity by the COB of the UMC. When they fail to get the numbers they want, they delay and change the rules mid-stream. What that a legal move as Porter also wonders?

  5. Judy Bailey says:

    I totally agree with Porter about the feelings of darkness. Why must the UMC change the rules mid-stream? When they don’t get the numbers they want they quickly pull another idea out of the hat. And if the numbers would show a positive result as in maintaining our Discipline, why would we want to delay that announcement after 46 long years of turmoil in the UMC?

  6. Ken Dean says:

    The Satan operates in the Darkness. The Christ is the LIGHT. Stop living in the darkness and bring everything into the LIGHT.

  7. Richard Bell says:

    Many people find election returns so exciting that they stay awake until the winners are known. But there are good reasons why some satisfaction of this appetite is delayed — why projections are not published until polls close — and that practice is not criticized as satanic or even treasonous, as far as I know. I assume similar reasons motivated the request of Bishop Matthews and Reverend Graves.
    Maybe the request to hold results until the Council of Bishops makes its announcement was simply negligent failure to discern an overcorrection. I would extend that benefit of the doubt.

  8. John Smith says:

    While there may be good reasons to withhold the votes to do so now, for so divisive a set of proposals, will only create and foster distrust and animosity. No matter the result there is now enough dirt thrown into the process that either side could make an argument that “the fix was in” and there will be no way to completely dispel the thought. Why do the Bishops think people trust them? Are they so far removed from the pews that they have no understanding of what is going on in the UMC at the congregational level or don’t they care since “they know best”?

  9. Cathy Byrd says:

    There appears to be a lot of “cover of darkness” and “sleight of hand” occurring in strategies this year apparently to guard the direction and results of The Way Forward until it’s been positioned and prepared for public distribution. Also note that many delegates to Conferences are being directed to read books on consensus building and having “courageous conversations”….UMC does not operate by consensus….but the ploy appears to be an attempt to change the polity without actually having to vote on amendments to do so…. It attempts to create agreement through consensus, the advantage goes to the party that controls the conversation.

  10. betsy says:

    In a different setting where people believed alike, this move by the Bishops would be OK. Problem is in the current environment of distrust which is fueled by theological plurality that has been allowed to run rampant, it is viewed as a power play. Reality is, if the COB is supposed to announce the results, then they–and not individual conferences– should be doing so. The fact that individual conferences were allowed to take this from the Bishops is just one more indicator of the disjointed mess we have become. And a huge part of the reason we are a disjointed mess is that Bishops have not been stepping up and doing their job as described in the Discipline.

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