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COMMENTARY: Judicial Council did NOT do the UMC a favor Lonnie Brooks, Jun 15, 2012
By Lonnie Brooks Special Contributor
Bishop Mike Coyner offered us, in the May 18 Reporter, his views on the impact of Judicial Council Decision 1210 that struck down the plan for restructuring the general agencies of the Church. There might be some way in which I could agree with Bishop Coyner, but I can’t think of one right now.
He said “the Judicial Council did us a favor.” On the contrary, it’s hard to think of any time that one part of the official structure of the Church has done the Church a greater disservice.
The Judicial Council is supposed to be our top judicial body, but with this decision it was acting much more like the upper house of a two house legislative structure when, in fact, we have a one house legislative structure. It tipped its hand in unmistakable fashion when it commented on the processes GC12 followed by saying, “Although the adoption of Plan UMC by the General Conference came through a tortured course, and outside of the established legislative processes, we do not review those processes. Our review in this case is confined to constitutionality.”
That was an extremely inappropriate comment from the Council, and it was irrelevant and immaterial to the review requested by the General Conference. Moreover, as I’ve said in other places, the ruling of unconstitutionality itself was probably in error in its entirety, and its ruling that the entire Plan UMC that was adopted overwhelmingly by the Conference was “unsalvageable” in its unconstitutionality was grossly in error.
Here are things that GC12 did in Plan UMC about which the constitutionality cannot possibly be in question:
1) It moved all the provisions for determining the number of boards for the program agencies and most of the administrative agencies into one section of the Book of Discipline so that in future a single legislative committee could consider board membership size questions in a unified, coordinated fashion.
2) It reduced the size of every agency’s board of directors, in most cases in the same manner in which each agency had proposed for itself. As has been noted, the General Board of Church & Society was an exception to that, and Plan UMC included Church & Society in that process.
3) It moved both the General Commission on Christian Unity & Interreligious Concerns (GCCUIC) and the standing Committee on Faith & Order into a new status with the Council of Bishops. In the aftermath of the ill-begotten Judicial Council Decision 1210, the Committee on Faith & Order was discontinued when, in fact, nobody wanted that to happen.
4) It created a new Committee on Inclusiveness, providing for a significant reduction in redundancy and consolidation of this important ministry of the Church.
5) It consolidated the General Commission on Archives & History (GCAH), a purely administrative agency, into the General Council on Finance & Administration, its natural home.
6) It set United Methodist Men up to be an agency parallel to the emerging independent United Methodist Women, with both agencies to have seats at the renamed Connectional Table.
7) It did away with a whole category of general agency, the General Commission, through consolidation (GCAH, GCCUIC, the General Commission on the Status & Role of Women [GCOSROW] and the General Commission on Religion & Race [GCORR]) and through renaming (United Methodist Communications and United Methodist Men).
‘Not created on the fly’
And directly contrary to what Bishop Coyner has said, Plan UMC was not created on the fly. Plan UMC was the direct result of months of work by three bodies of the Church, one having worked within the official structures (the Connectional Table), one a recognized caucus group (Methodist Federation for Social Action), and one an unofficial ad hoc group of interested people (Plan B).
Over several weeks, Plan B and MFSA representatives had worked to include some important parts of the MFSA plan into Plan B. And over two intensive days following the failure of the legislative committee processes, the CT plan and Plan B were integrated to form Plan UMC. The architecture of Plan UMC was the same as the architecture of Plan B, which had been posted for review and comment since April 3, 2012, three weeks before the first plenary session of General Conference.
And when Bishop Coyner said, “Even worse, the General Conference itself passed amendment after amendment to the plan—mostly increasing the size of the boards to be more inclusive,” he was simply misstating the facts.
There was a motion to amend Plan UMC to establish separate boards for GCORR and GCOSROW, and that amendment was not enacted by the Conference. Julius Nelson of Liberia moved to amend Plan UMC to provide for greater central conference membership on the agencies, and that amendment carried. That was the only successful amendment.
It’s difficult to understand how Bishop Coyner could have interpreted one successful amendment, which was considered a friendly amendment by the presenters, as “amendment after amendment.” With the addition of greater central conference representation, Plan UMC was adopted by General Conference exactly as it received it.
There is absolutely no justification for the Judicial Council to have declared the parts of Plan UMC to be unconstitutional that were so clearly NOT unconstitutional but were administrative acts to make the agency structure simpler, smaller and more effective. And we were not well served by that declaration. On the contrary, that declaration did great damage to the Church from which we’ll be at least four years in recovering.
Mr. Brooks was a reserve lay delegate to the 2012 General Conference, from the Alaska Conference.