Can Individual United Methodists Petition 2016 General Conference? Part 1

(Although dated 2014-03-06, this draft was finally published on 2014-03-13.)

I didn’t follow the 2012 General Conference “in real time.” I was busy moving. After the Conference had adjourned and things had settled down for me, I finally had the chance to read about one of the highlights (the fate of “Plan UMC”). To be honest, I burst out laughing.

One detail regarding the 2012 General Conference I didn’t find funny. It was reported that the General Conference had modified the General Conference petitioning process so that individual United Methodists could no longer petition General Conference. See Calendar Item 477 and Petition 20318. After reading the plenary session transcript in the 2012 Daily Christian Advocate (pages 2760–2764), I also wasn’t happy with how this potentially major change was adopted so abruptly. (I’d link to the relevant PDF at UMC.org, but the UMC.org reorganization has hidden or removed the page that contained the DCA PDFs.)

While looking through the 2012 Discipline I was surprised to find that ¶ 507 still allowed any “lay member of The United Methodist Church” to petition General Conference.  Now this was “obviously” a mistake. So I started drafting a letter to The United Methodist Publishing House regarding a needed addition to the Discipline’s errata. (Let me be clear: the first sentence of this letter did not aver whether I am a crackpot.) Before I got too far into this, it made sense to research this issue. I ended up coming across this blog post from John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

In his blog post Mr. Lomperis fails to disclose that he has petitioned the General Conference. According to CALMS (2008 and 2012), Mr. Lomperis submitted 14 petitions to the 2008 General Conference and 27 petitions to the 2012 General Conference. It behooves me to note this Calendar Item adopted by the 2008 General Conference. (This enactment is also highlighted here. However, I’m not so sure that such resolutions constitute the “official teaching” of The United Methodist Church.) I quote from the “Resolved” language of this Resolution (“5013. On Humility, Politics, and Christian Unity,” pp. 640–641, 2012 Book of Resolutions):

Therefore, be it resolved, that the 2008 General Conference hereby affirms that differing opinions in public policy debates generally “do not strike at the root of Christianity”; and

Be it further resolved, that we call on all Christian people in political and ecclesiastical realms to have the humility to be cautious of asserting that God is on their side with regard to specific public policy proposals; and

Be it further resolved, that we continue to affirm the importance of conscientious and humble Christian social engagement for the sake of advancing justice and the common good.

I will certainly try to engage this issue concerning parliamentary law in the spirit of the above resolved language.

Mr. Lomperis concludes the blog post with these paragraphs:

So I recently asked the Rev. Fitzgerald Reist, the longtime Secretary of the General Conference, for clarification.  He responded with the following statement, which I post here with permission:

The language of the petition does not appear in The Book of Discipline 2012 because The Book of Discipline 2012 was not amended.  The language adopted limiting who could submit petitions to the General Conference only amended a report, not The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.  Consequently any United Methodist, lay or clergy, may submit petitions to the 2016 General Conference. 

It should be kept in mind that in making such determinations, Reist’s job is not to declare what he or anyone else may wish for General Conference policies to be, but rather to simply make clear what General Conference policies actually are.

Bottom line: since the McLeod Amendment did not come through the proper avenue for changing binding church law, all individual members of our denomination still have the right they have long had to submit petitions to General Conference.

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Lomperis’ characterization of the Reverend Reist’s job. I also respectively disagree with the Reverend Reist’s stated conclusion.

Sometime in the aftermath of General Conference, I came across this blog post from the Reverend Jerry Eckert. The Reverend Eckert also believed that petitions from individuals could no longer be submitted. (In an update dated October 29, 2013, the Reverend Eckert also states some reasons why ¶ 507 still allows petitions from individual United Methodists. I don’t find those reasons convincing either.)

The more I have researched this issue, the more I’ve become convinced that ¶ 507 in the current Discipline is not correct. Personally, I don’t care if individual United Methodists can petition General Conference. I’m OK with being wrong on this specific question. I’m not OK with “back-room deals” deciding this question. I’d prefer the Judicial Council decide it.

In my next post, I’ll sketch out why I believe the text of petition 20318 should be applied to the current Discipline.

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2 thoughts on “Can Individual United Methodists Petition 2016 General Conference? Part 1

  1. Pingback: Can Individual United Methodists Petition 2016 General Conference? Part 2 | Attending Circuses

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