Report by Rev. Stephen Sparks, 5/3/2012


Rev. Stephen Sparks, pastor, Indianola First UMC and reserve delegate

5/4/2012 Editor's note: The "PlanUMC" was deemed unconstitutional by the Judicial Council. Read more>>

General Conference Report: Wednesday, May 2, 2012

General Conference was dominated today by two words: reorganization and divestment. This morning the body took up as a committee of the whole the subject of the reorganization of its boards, agencies and general committees — an issue that the General Administration Legislation Committee could not do in four days of meetings. After the defeat of all three plans, IOC, Plan B and MFSA, late on Saturday evening and with legislative committee work ended as of 9:30 PM, negotiations began again in earnest the next day between the crafters of Plan B and the Interim Operations Team. With 20 signatures, the IOC original report was lifted off the consent calendar and, upon motion from the floor this morning, the 80-page reorganization plan that was posted in the Daily Christian Advocate (can be found here: was substituted for the original plan. A diagram of the plan shows the new structure that was cobbled together from Plan B and the IOC:

PlanUMC survived a motion to refer and repeated attempts to amend it, and finally passed by a vote of 567 to 384. One amendment did pass: increasing the membership of central conference delegates on each leadership group. A motion was made and passed that requested a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council as to the constitutionality of the legislation. The Judicial Council will meet tomorrow to review the plan. The General Council on Finance and Administration will also evaluate the plan for budgetary impact. Both bodies will report back to the body on Friday for final approval.

Some Highlights of the Plan

The connectional table will cease to exist and there shall be a General Council for Strategy and Oversight with 34 voting members. It will have authority over the Boards of Discipleship, Global Ministries, Church and Society, and Higher Education and Ministry although each of these will still maintain their own Board of Directors that will be answerable to the new GCSO and General Conference. There shall also be a General Council for the new GCSO that may serve up to 12 years and this General Council will be able to convene and evaluate and direct the other general secretaries.

Rev. Adam Hamilton, one of the authors of the original IOC report, in an interview with the UMReporter’s Rev. Jay Voorhees, stated, ““We passed something that brings the general secretaries and the general boards working together more collaboratively... that was the thing that I was most interested in,” he told the Rev. Jay Voorhees. “Having an executive general secretary who is captain of this team, helping them work together to help us create more vital congregations around the world — that I feel really good about.” Hamilton went on to say,

We have huge trust issues. Some of the things we’ve done here were helpful... like the conversations around the tables. As you get to know people, look them in the eyes and hear their story – that helps a lot. I think it’s going to take more years of that. It’s going to take trust building between Central Conferences and U.S.. I think we need to build more trust between (for some people) the bishops and the laity... bishops and clergy.

Clearly we have the trust issues between the left and the right. Sometimes it’s confusing when you are trying to figure out “Is this little thing part of an agenda?” and so there is this suspicion going into some of these things. Sometimes there IS an agenda going on and sometimes good people are trying to make the next best decision — and I’ve been on both sides of that — on the IOT there were moments when folks would e-mail me assuming all kinds of things were going on and the team never, ever talked about that – those things weren’t ever on the radar screen.

I think sitting down with people and giving people the benefit of the doubt is important. I was saying the other day to the young clergy that it’s easy to assume the worst about people and then Tweeting that. Instead I’m going to try to assume the best about people until they prove me wrong. Building trust is going to be sitting down, talking to people and hearing their stories.

I had breakfast the other day with one of the board secretaries and my aim was to say “Hey, if there’s anything between us, I really don’t want that to be there... in fact, I appreciate you...” and we had this great conversation, but it takes that kind of sitting down together.

The other great issue of the day was divestiture. A petition had been brought to force the Methodist Pension program (and any other Methodist foundation or investment entity) to divest themselves of stock in Motorola, Hewlett Packard, and Caterpillar.

Caterpillar produces bulldozers that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) use to demolish Palestinian homes and businesses that they believe to be housing or supporting suicide bombers or those who would fire rockets over the border into Israel and the leadership of groups that support and organize these efforts including Hezbollah, Hamas and DFLP.

Motorola Solutions produces the equipment used to maintain surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank. Hewlett-Packard provides continuous support and maintenance to a biometric ID system installed in Israeli checkpoints, which allows the Israeli military to control the freedom of movement of Palestinians.

The General Conference, in a prior piece of legislation, had voted to express its disagreement with the occupation but when it came to divestiture, the body chose the majority report which gave guidelines for ethical investing without directing any body to directly divest of any particular company.