Sunshine Covenant

I know I don’t blog much anymore. This is in an intentional choice. Its not that I have nothing to say, its just that one of the benefits gifts of now being (a shade) over that seemingly magical number of 40 is that I’ve finally learned that not every thought I have merits publication. That, plus the number conversations and blog posts that have turned into someone else’s doctoral dissertation or published article, has caused me grow more circumspect. But I digress.

I’m writing today about some thoughts–questions–I’ve had that might actually be beneficial for our larger and beloved church. This came from a Facebook conversation regarding this article from the United Methodist News Service regarding a closed meeting of the major caucus groups whose issues include human sexuality.

The tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) version of that article is this: the major caucus groups met with the General Commission on General Conference (GCGC–sounds like a wanna be club from the East Village, eh? Maybe there’s a skit to be done for YouTube). This meeting was to talk about what would be in bounds and out of bounds for General Conference and how to avoid what happened (or rather how to avoid repeating what didn’t happen) in Tampa at 2012 General Conference.

I like the fact that GCGC met with these groups. That shows forethought.

I like the fact that GCGC met with the caucus groups together–and that the caucus groups agreed to do it. That shows some degree of trust.

What I didn’t like was that the caucus groups and GCGC met in closed session. For many reasons, this is not good. To the point, it violates the spirit of our polity, which encourages open meetings for every meeting except for where closed session is required–legal matters, violation of confidentiality in property matters, deliberations of Judicial Council, and human resources deliberations (SPR, District Committees and Conference Boards of Ordained Ministry, Cabinet Meetings, Committee on Investigations, etc) discussions all come to mind. There’s not much else but I imagine there could be more.

The meeting of caucus groups with GCGC is not one of those explicitly allowed closed meeting.

Some context: three years ago, I had the privilege of being a reserve delegate to General Conference from my Annual Conference. Because I was a reserve delegate, I did not have the responsibility of being in on any committee meetings–I got to witness much as I floated between committees, helping where I was needed. During the plenary sessions I spent my time in the stands, available should the head of our delegation need a clergy person to fill an empty seat. This gave me the opportunity to take in a lot, as well. I saw dedicated, faithful people do their best to try to practice the tenants of Christian Conferencing with friends and strangers, sometimes struggling through the slow pace or even lack of translators. I also saw determined lay and clergy present to advocate for various issues.

Note: in the spirit of transparency, yes, I have participated in earlier years in the work of denominational, General Church-level caucuses–several of them and around varied and diverse issues. I don’t do this so much anymore, not because I disagree their work but because I think that someone needs to be able to stand up and speak with clarity, conviction, and credibility for the broad United Methodist Church that I love and in which many people of different views live, move, and have their being.

What my friends and I were chatting about on Facebook this morning could be summed up this way:

Wouldn’t it be wise to have all of our meetings related to General Conference be open meeting?

Here’s some thoughts:

  • What would it be like? To whom would it apply? This precept could include:
    • the General Commission on General Conference?
    • Council of Bishops (as their work relates to General Conference)?
    • Connectional Table (again, work relates to General Conference)?
    • Standing Committees of General Conference?
    • Legislative Committees?
    • Study Commissions?
    • General Agency meetings (that relate to the work of General Conference)?
    • Include the executive committees of above groups?
  • I think I read somewhere that there was going to be some process for seeking feedback on petitions being perfected by a committee. How could the new process be transparent and accessible? Could there be reporting out of that process for everyone to see?
  • Is there any way to curtail informal groups meeting well into the second week, taking on the role of legislative committees after the committees have ceased to exist? This is not to squelch the movement of the Spirit or collaboration; its just to make processes open. The memories of 2012 restructuring proposals that found themselves resurrected after all committee work ended needn’t fade too fast.
  • Is there any way caucus groups could go through some type of declaration process (maybe they already do)?
    • They could formally declare, by some deadline, that they are an official caucus group,
    • They could identify what issues they are addressing,
    • They could share who are their major donors.
    • These declarations could be made public and accessible.
  • Could there be some way to shine light on the work that happens more often than I am comfortable with regarding–let’s be kind and call it hospitality and awareness raising. To a certain degree this is well, good, and even needed. But somewhere, and I’m not all too certain where the line is, this morphs into something heinous that the People of God should not be near. Can we do better?

I’m not naive. I know that sometimes the best ideas happen when folks share a meal and have informal conversation or pray together to discern God’s will. The digital version of this could be comments on Facebook or a hashtag thread on Twitter. I don’t want to discourage this. There’s simply this two-fold sense that we can do better than we did in 2012 and that somewhere in the heat of trying to “win” we lose sight of the collateral damage we do to the Church and how those who are looking on see us. If we can do a better job of watching over one another in love with this matter, it could make all the difference in how we conference and, more importantly, our witness.

I’d love your thoughts and to have a conversation.

update: a few typo corrections (I told you it had been a while since I blogged) and to clarify transparency re: caucusing.