Winning the Battle, Maybe Losing the War
A friend who served as a General Conference delegate wonders if we pushed back the radicals only to deed the farm over to them in the next round. A huge slew of Constitutional Amendments were passed. They didn't restructure The UMC, but they give General Conference the power to do so.
In other words, four years from now, a coalition of liberal Americans and bought-off-with-local-control overseas delegates could create a US Regional Conference by a mere majority. It could also give to that Regional Conference -- and all the overseas Regional Conferences -- the power to write its own Discipline, with its own ordination standards, etc.
Why would anyone want to do that? Well, look at the math. African UMs -- the largest group of overseas members, and among the most conservative/evangelical -- constitute 30% of our membership. That means they get 30% of the delegates to General Conference. Meanwhile, those pushing to okay the gay agenda and other wackinesses keep losing 60% to 40%. That means that 6 out of 10 General Conference delegates are against normalizing homosexual practice; the radicals lose 6-4 every time. But if you remove the three of those six who are African evangelicals, because they will be voting in a different Regional Conference from American UMs, then you have a 4-3 majority for the liberals.
The proportion of UM membership from Africa four years from now is estimated to be 40%, not 30%. So this is the quadrennium in which the American poobahs who control our ongoing denominational machinery will attempt to seduce and buy off the Africans (and Filipinos, etc.). How will they do that? By giving them lots of pretty toys to play with, and more power for those who already have power. An African Regional Conference or Conferences would each write its own Discipline, but the proposals being toyed with would have all bishops for the whole world elected at General Conference. This increases the leadership clout of those who already are in leadership. Add in lots of programs and funding for issues Africans care about, and you can probably engineer a one-time vote that severs the US from the rest of The UMC. After that, I think the Africans would find out in a hurry just how valued they are, as in So long, Suckers.
What I would do if I had the power, would be to make African Central Conferences (I guess we'll have to get used to calling them Regional Conferences) equivalent in every way to our five Jurisdictional Conferences. In fact, I'd make each US Jurisdiction a Regional Conference. And I'd rotate General Conference through every Region, which means we'd meet overseas 4 out of 9 quadrennia. I'd also get every General Agency working on making sure that overseas UMs get as much access to services -- and as much opportunity to find employment -- as American UMs do. We might even move one of our gold-plated dinosaurs (that is, one of our General Agencies) to the Third World. Howzat?
I think American conservatives need to spend the next four years talking very long and very deeply with our African brothers and sisters, so that they don't sell their birthright (and ours) for a mess of pottage.