aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Connectionalism for Dummies

A clergyperson is facing trial in the Iowa Annual Conference on charges arising from a complaint filed by a layperson in the Indiana Annual Conference, and the progs are losing their minds. "Mind your own business," along with nasty slurs on the layperson's employer, is the commonest response.

Meanwhile, another Hoosier UM is decrying the fact that ordinary UM members -- clergy and lay -- are writing plans for the future of Methodism all on their own, submitting petitions to General Conference while ignoring the leadership of the bishops.

Both of these responses show a complete misunderstanding of the historical nature of United Methodist membership, and especially the accountability and legislative initiative built into it.

The Book of Discipline says that a member of a UM congregation is a member of the entire UM connection, worldwide. All of us belong to each other, regional boundaries notwithstanding. This is why a person from Conference A can file charges against a person in Conference B. It's why the General Council on Finance and Administration can initiate an investigation of a bishop in Africa for mishandling money. Why not require the local people to initiate that process? Well, what if everyone there is either cowed by authority or complicit in the abuse? Someone has to be able to call others to account. The BOD may assign the adjudication of a case to members of an Annual Conference, or the bishops of a Jurisdiction/Central Conference, etc., but anybody can get the ball rolling. It's an accountability thing, and it's a good thing.

As for usurping the legislative leadership of the bishops, they have none to usurp. At GC '16, the last-minute, "Hail Mary" motion by Adam Hamilton to create a Commission named by the bishops was a way to finally get the refs to take the field and push the ball over the line. Remember, the BOD says that bishops are not members of GC, cannot speak at GC without permission, and have no vote there. Well, our poobahs took the charge on with gusto. "The Church will follow the bishops," smirked Ken Carter. The bishops' efforts revealed not only their vicious partisanship, but their utter incompetence, as GC '19 threw out their recommendations and proceeded to adopt the Traditional Plan which they had scorned and slighted.

All this goes back to the beginnings of Methodism in America. The members of the Conference (at first, only the clergy) acted as the Directors of the enterprise, meeting annually to consider all that was before them. When the Conference (there was only one) got too large and unwieldy to gather everybody together, they created (in 1808) the General Conference, and devolved most functions onto regional Annual Conferences. But they bound General Conference in certain ways. Constitutional amendments passed by GC must be approved by a super-majority of the aggregate number of Conference members worldwide. To amend or suspend one of the Restrictive Rules takes an even greater super-majority of the aggregate number of Conference members worldwide. Why do it that way? Why not just require a majority of Annual Conferences' approval? Because GC is a delegated Conference; ultimate power to change the denomination's most important features is retained by all the Conference Members, as if they were still one body meeting together.

GC does most of its work by processing petitions. These petitions come from Clergy and Lay Members of Conferences, from Annual Conferences, from local churches, from General Agencies, even from the Council of Bishops. (I believe even commonly recognized interest groups within the Methodist movement can petition, though they may be submitting their petitions over the signatures of their leaders.) But any member of any congregation, down to the just-confirmed 12-year-old, can petition General Conference to change the Discipline, and that petition must be voted on. That's worldwide membership in the connection for you; that's Methodism.

If you want to create a diocesan form of church government, where what happens in Conference A is nobody's business from Conference B, you could do that. But it would take, as said, a supermajority of all the Conference Members worldwide to approve. You are free to try, though. Write your petition and send it to the Secretary of GC by September 18, 2019. Put up or shut up.

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