Thursday, May 12, 2016

General Conference Day 3 #umcgc #umc

You might think that parliamentary procedure is irrelevant, but if you have mastery of Roberts Rules, you can get just about anything done at General Conference, or hold up a piece of legislation you don't like indefinitely. That's the intramural skirmish we saw yesterday morning, as we debated, then tabled, then un-tabled, then recommended amendments to Rule 44, which I blogged about yesterday. The complexity of putting together a global gathering this enormous and expensive means that the successful delegate will have among the skills in her tool belt the ability to thrive in chaos. Particularly if you can offer clarity in the midst of significant confusion, you'll do well here. It's concerning, but for those who have been delegates for decades, it's old hat.

Beyond, well, tabling and un-tabling Rule 44, we spent the day in committee meetings. The General Conference receives hundreds of pages of legislation, and it doesn't all just show up on the floor of the conference to be voted up or down. Much of the first week of Conference is spent in legislative committees. There are twelve of these committees, and each petition is referred to the committee relevant to its topic. Each delegate, in turn, is assigned to one of the committees, and the first thing that happens is that they gather for introductions (not of everyone on the committee, but around the table) and some discussion around the global nature of the Church. After a couple of hours of this discussion and a break, elections begin. Here's how they work.

A bishop convenes the committee for election of officers. In the case of the Faith and Order committee, the committee I'll be sitting in on this week, Bishop Scott Jones convened the body and invited nominations. There were four. Ballot books are passed out, delegates vote for the chair, the ballots are collected and counted, and if there is 50%+1, the chair is elected. In our case, Dr. Bill Arnold of Asbury Seminary was elected chair on the second ballot (while I've been critical of one piece of legislation Arnold has written, he's a good scholar, by all accounts a good guy, and I trust he'll do an even-keeled job). Nominations open again for vice-chair, secretary, and any sub-committee chairs that might be necessary for the group. I understand that there have been phone calls among delegates for months preparing for these elections, so what looks organic can sometimes be manufactured. Beginning tomorrow, these legislative committees will start working on individual pieces of legislation. Today was just about getting set up.

During these committee meetings, those of us who are reserve delegates and visitors gather in the back of the room, behind the voting bar, to observe. While the committee was in conversation around the table, of course, the reserves had the opportunity to do so as well. Like many conversations here at General Conference, the topic of conversation among my seat mates turned to sexuality. I found this conversation remarkable. During our conversation, we were able to push and pull, tussle a bit and learn more about one another. To one of my conversation partners, the idea that I could support full inclusion of LGBT persons from a Biblical perspective was mind-blowing; he assumed, I think, that I had just decided the Bible was wrong. So the chance for me to be able to talk about some of my Biblical foundations for full inclusion was important, as it was for me to hear some of his frustrations about how the conversation related to full inclusion seems to ignore Scripture (he's largely right).

We'll see how these conversations go this week--or if they go at all--as we talk, again, about Rule 44 this morning.

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