virtual General Conference

United Methodist General Conference Should Go Virtual

Mark Tooley on October 28, 2020

United Methodism would have approved schism in May had its governing General Conference met as scheduled. The ten day convention was postponed to August 29, 2021 due to pandemic. Now the commission overseeing the meeting is studying whether the conference should be virtual.

The answer is YES.

Almost certainly the pandemic still will be a factor next year for the nearly 900 delegates from around the world. General Conference must not be postponed again. A nearly 13 million member global church can’t live another several years in abeyance. All factions rightly want to move forward.

A physical General Conference costs over $10 million. With thousands of congregations financially suffering from the pandemic, many of them not having worshipped corporately since March, this expense seems absurd.

It’s also absurd to convene for ten days to deliberate over hundreds of submitted petitions and other business when half or more of the church will adjourn into a new denomination. There’s one major item before the General Conference: schism. All major factions have already endorsed it. It will pass. The debate and vote will take perhaps a day or two and can occur online. Implementing bodies can be created.

The Protocol for schism was intended to end 50 years of warfare between conservatives and liberals within United Methodism. But a ten day physical General Conference would be another battle royal over a multitude of theological, sexual, political and ecclesial flash points, to no constructive purpose.

Liberals of course are anxious to move forward in overturning the church’s teachings about marriage and sexuality, among other items. But at a full General Conference, even after the vote on schism, conservatives who will create a new denomination will still be in the room, debating and voting. Surely liberals would prefer otherwise.

Over 40% of delegates come from overseas, mostly Africa, whence come one third of delegates. Their travel from obscure locales is often arduous. Why compel them unnecessarily? At the 2019 General Conference, 30 African delegates were denied U.S. visas and were disenfranchised, which happens at every General Conference. A virtual General Conference would ensure full enfranchisement globally.

In a virtual meeting presumably delegates would gather as delegations in their home countries or respective U.S. states. With millions of dollars saved, funds can be devoted to ensure reliable internet connectivity for all. And church officials and observers can be dispatched to all delegation meetings globally to ensure transparency and accountability. Some delegations may not trust their local bishop. They must be assured that the global church stands with them for fair deliberations.

Public health, finances, fairness, practicality and good sense all call for a virtual General Conference focused exclusively on enacting schism with all deliberate speed. There need not be any more contentious debates. Everyone is anxious to organize their respective new denominational structures. It would be wasteful and foolish to devote millions of dollars and much of two weeks, involving nearly 900 delegates plus many more support personnel and observers from around the world, to an unneeded physical gathering.

Organizers of the Protocol to divide United Methodism wonderfully came together across their differences to end the warfare and move forward. That collegial and pragmatic spirit should inspire a shortened virtual General Conference expeditiously to ratify that work.

  1. Comment by Bob Kersten on October 28, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    It seems to me that this is a “no brainer”. This should have already taken place.

  2. Comment by GERRY MCDANIEL on October 28, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Separation should be item one (of a one item agenda) of General Conference. Once separation is agreed to and related structures of separation are agreed to then what the post separation UMC wants to do is irrelevant to those of us separating.

    We don’t have a dog in that fight. Let’s get this done virtually and leave the PS UMC to their own devices & fights.

    If we have a full GC once item one (Separation) is agreed to then I’d head home leaving a few observers to watch our back for the remainder of the GC.

  3. Comment by Brandon M on October 29, 2020 at 1:59 am

    expect shenanigans when anything is virtual. The libs want every property and stick of furniture to fund their pensions after the fire sale.

  4. Comment by David on October 29, 2020 at 7:32 am

    While online meetings seem the wave of the future, there is one practical difficulty here. Being spread out across the globe, meetings would be held at an inconvenient hour for some. This is not insurmountable, but would require physical “sacrifice” in distant zones. It might be desirable for the GC to stick to the meat of the business and avoid things like interludes from the “praise band” to shorten the meetings.

  5. Comment by td on October 30, 2020 at 5:45 pm

    It seems to me that a virtual general conference defeats the purpose of a conference to get together and discern together God’s will. You know, in person, where you can actually experience God and his people in person.

    And…does it not occur to anyone that general conference being postponed until it can convene in person may be God’s will?

    And…isn’t it a requirement that general conference meet in person only be changed constitutionally or by an in person meeting of general conference. This institution seems plagued by faithlessness on all sides.

  6. Comment by Gary Bebop on November 1, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    The virtual or in-person conferencing question may be superseded by the challenge of regaining momentum for a new denomination in the face of ongoing uncertainties due to COVID and political turmoil. WCA’s church multiplication plans are ambitious but do they match our spirit, our will, our prayers, our resources, our faith? Is church multiplication an actual conversation among our membership?

  7. Comment by John Smith on November 2, 2020 at 8:02 am

    If its virtual how can the liberals have their tantrums on the floor of conference?

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