Four Thoughts on Transparency

Here are some interesting ideas for discussion:

Thought 1:

I have asked at least 6 Bishops if they plan to release the vote count of what they propose.  All have said, they did not know and have not decided that yet.  I think it is very important that we know the vote count.  If whatever comes forward is a 33-31 vote (out of 64 Bishops), that is a very thin margin to try and pass something at General Conference.  If it is 38-26, you have a 60%/40% split, a strong majority.  If it is 43+ to 21- then it is 2 to 1 or better and you start to get into a clear consensus.

A clear consensus or at least a strong majority will be a powerful voice at General Conference.  I have heard from several Bishops that they aspire to consensus, but it is very hard.  Agreed.  Finding consensus at General Conference will be even harder if we are not sure where the Bishops stand.

Thought 2:

I have asked the same 6 Bishops if they plan to release how each Bishop votes.  They have all said emphatically, No!  We do not do that, especially on controversial issues.  I wonder about that.  Who is being protected here?  From a transparency perspective, why would they not stand up individually and say, this is how I voted and why?  And, if they stand in the minority, will they support the majority position?

As a former elected official, every vote I took was public, controversial or not.  And, I had to stand on my record for re-election…which, as you may have heard, did not go well!  One could make an argument that the Bishops are elected officials…and all the US Bishops are in office for life.  Why is it a violation of “covenant” to say, “Here I stand?”  And if some Bishops reveal their votes and some do not, then we have redaction politics to figure out who is who.  This seems unnecessary.

Thought 3

The Bishops are planning on a “listening tour” of sorts this Fall in each of their conferences.  Are they going to lead these conversations and just present both sides without revealing their view?  And, why ask lay and clergy what they think if the Bishop will not reciprocate?  It seems odd.  Particularly if the plan they propose is to agree to disagree, they could model that.

Thought 4

Will the Bishops advocate for their position?  Will the Council of Bishops hire a team to go out and promote their position or will it simply be presented and the Bishops step back?  I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, if they like their plan they should sell it.  On the other hand, once they submit the petition, it becomes the property of the delegates of the General Conference.  The vote count will say more than any publicity.

What do you think?  Should we know the vote count?  What about who voted how?  I think this is an interesting topic.

Advocacy

Aside from the Bishops there have been a couple of groups who have come to listen and advocate.  One is the Uniting Methodists.  Another is the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus.  I have had a chance to speak to these two groups.  I have not seen anyone from the Wesleyan Covenant Association, so if you know of a representative here, let me know.  I would love to connect.

Interestingly, while all three of these groups have global connections, they are predominantly US groups.  There is not an organization of by and for the African Churches that are actively pushing a uniquely African perspective.  Of course, an African perspective would not be singular either, we would need a diversity of these global perspectives.  More on this later.

These three groups offer some very different options.  I think the best way to summarize is to use language from their official websites, which I can do for the WCA as well, even though I have not spoken to them.  But these statements summarize the challenges the Bishops are facing.

From the Wesleyan Covenant Association:

We believe it is imperative for the commission to propose a plan that calls for accountability and integrity to our covenant, and restores the good order of our church’s polity. If the commission determines no such a plan is possible, then we believe it should prepare a plan of separation that honors the consciences of all the people of the church and allows them to go forward in peace and good will. A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the “local option” around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church.

To read more:  Wesleyan Covenant Association   https://wesleyancovenant.org

 

The Queer Clergy Caucus writes this:

In order to move forward in the mission of the church, we believe that the harmful language in
the Book of Discipline about LGBTQ identity and marriage must be removed. Though it is clear
that United Methodists are not of one mind regarding many issues, including human sexuality,
we have faith that we can find a way to live as one body. While removing the harmful language
in the Book of Discipline is an important step, it is only a step. In our hearts, we still long for the
day when the body of the church mirrors the Body of Christ, and is fully inclusive and affirming
of all God’s children.

To read more:  United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus  https://www.umqcc.org

 

The Uniting Methodists writes this:

The preliminary descriptions of the One Church model fulfill the mandate to enable the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible with as much contextual differentiation as possible and as much unity as possible. The framework honors local contexts that illumine for the church how best to fulfill the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in different places and cultures. It would not dictate how each annual conference must respond but provides space for communities to discern what is required in their contexts, allows for the exercise of Christian conscience in matters over which faithful people disagree, and provides congregations the latitude they need to fully express their love for Christ and participate together in ministry around the world.

Uniting Methodists:  http://unitingmethodists.com/

None of these groups believe in unity at any cost.  Though the UMQCC and Uniting Methodists are willing to live with differences, the WCA is not.  They clearly say any compromise of the existing language is cause for separation.  A key question is, Is a split inevitable?  If so, how do we best manage it?  One of the things that will be an interesting and vital part of the Bishops’ plan is whether or not “amicable separation” language is included and what will it say?  This is a question I am asking about as well.