The complexity of this body as it tries to make hard decisions is too great to grasp completely. Translation sometimes doesn’t work due to errors in the booth, problems with the hardware, or a main speaker talking too quickly. When we as English speakers have had to listen to translation, it has been a jerky, often frustrating and tiring experience. When I think of the number of times speakers either get carried away or are themselves confused or unclear about what they’re saying—well, it’s a miracle anything makes its way through. And big kudos to the translators, who are doing a terrific, terrifically difficult job.
Then there are Roberts’ Rules. People want to do the right thing, but at least half the room (probably more) don’t know anything about it. Nothing, never learned it, except maybe something gleaned from a badly-run church meeting. That means some people are too intimidated by the process to try to make their voices heard, and others say the wrong thing and are therefore sent to the back of the line. The presiding bishops have two bishops behind them as parliamentary advisers, and sometimes even then they too get confused. Then there are the rules of the General Conference, which occasionally are different from Roberts’ Rules. I have lost count of the number of times we’ve gotten wrapped around the axle with this process, and the amount of time spent on it without getting anywhere. And folks still vote against different decision-making processes. They have come to ask me to help the Commission on GC “trim down” the time allotted to worship and celebration of ministry as we approach GC 2020, so we have time to get our work done.
One young adult said at the end of the day that there is nearly no trust left in the room. That’s why we keep running ourselves into the ditch. “Who could bring a proposal to this group without being seen as suspicious?” What path could come before us without being seen as a ploy to catch one “side” or the other in a trap? It is deeply disturbing to consider that there might, in this moment and place, be no answer to this question that would pass with a majority vote of the body.
What did pass yesterday, by about 24 votes (if I remember correctly), was the plan the Council of Bishops brought before the conference, in response to our request the day prior. Their response, “An Offering for a Way Forward,” is available here:
It first called the conference into a time of conversation around our tables, to share our stories and journey around the issue of human sexuality. That was some of the most vulnerable, authentic time we’ve shared so far at this level. They asked that the body defer action on the petitions before us now that deal with human sexuality. The bishops then would establish a diverse commission to discuss every disciplinary paragraph regarding this issue and would seek to avoid church trials during that period. They further proposed a called session of the General Conference, which could be called in 2018, 2019, or in the days preceding the regularly-scheduled 2020 General Conference. This plan did pass the body, but rumors continue to circulate that action will come to the floor to have us vote on the current pending petitions in any case. Time will tell.
An event that shocked the house in the afternoon was the request of a delegate that Bishop McAlilly remove himself from the presider’s chair. Another delegate had already accused him of signaling with his fingers how people should vote (Yes-1 or No-2; I certainly saw no such thing). The one requesting his removal asserted that his leadership had been flawed and that he had “single-handedly” changed the course of the conference’s decision-making. This followed one of our worst periods of parliamentary confusion, and many of us were frustrated, in different directions. But many in the house were also appalled that one of us would show such a direct lack of respect for our episcopal leadership. Some of the delegates at six of the tables in front of mine, from various African annual conferences, were absolutely furious. One delegate from Liberia swept through the tables, nearly shouting in English, “If they take him out and seat another bishop, the Africans clear the hall!” It felt like total breakdown. We need strong leadership in the chair for whatever process we follow, and that is the bishops’ responsibility. But that moment just went against everything I and many others learned from our mamas and daddies about showing respect.
At the close of the day, we heard a Cheyenne song of lament, dedicated to those who died in the Sand Creek Massacre on November 29, 1864. On that day, the US Cavalry attacked Arapaho and Cheyenne people, 2/3 to 3/4 of whom were women, children and the elderly, people who were in that place having been promised safety. Methodists played a central in that violent, atrocious injustice, and the church refused for many years to offer any apology.
The author of the report encouraged us to recognize that ”evil acts are not confined to the wicked.” At the end of the presentation, William Walks Along spoke, beginning with the words, “If what I say divides us, it does not come from the Eternal Creator. It if unites us, it is of the Creator.” He proceeded to express enormous, gracious desire for justice and reconciliation—forgiveness on behalf of Native peoples, prayers for peace for all our families. I don’t have the words to communicate the calm, prophetic power of love I heard in his speech and saw in his face. I was balm and hope for my soul, broken and exhausted after a long day. I encourage you to look up the video of both the author of the historical report and Brother Walks Along.
We continue today, so very tired, but daring to hope that something good might yet come out of Portland, by God’s grace and with God’s help.