GC Day 3: “Ain’t So Bad!”

Rocky III ends with a fight between Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Clubber Lang (Mr. T). During the fight, as Clubber Lang begins to get the upper hand, everyone expects Rocky to collapse having been defeated and demoralized. Instead, Rocky takes Clubber’s best punches and shouts back at him “Ain’t So Bad!” Rocky’s toughness shocks and confuses Clubber which provides Rocky the opportunity to counter attack and win the fight.

If I could say anything today (Thursday May 12) to my fellow delegates today and United Methodists who are beginning to despair about General Conference because of the confusing and frustrating way in which Rule 44 was dealt with, it would be: “Ain’t so bad!” We’re alright. In fact, we are a lot tougher than anyone believes. Let’s dig in and keep going.  

So, what actually happened today with Rule 44 (which proposed an alternative way for us to conference together in small groups rather than legislative committees on the controversial issues that divide us)? Here’s the short version: 

1) A motion was made to refer Rule 44 back to the rules committee to be improved and brought back to the 2020 General Conference. This motion was soundly defeated.

2) Rule 44 was then voted down with 477 voting against Rule 44 and 355 in favor of it.     

How did I feel about Rule 44?  

I think the dysfunctional way we played parliamentary games and wasted vast amounts of time debating Rule 44 shows how much we need something like Rule 44 to help us talk to each other in a more holy way. This time around Rule 44 was presented to us in a manner that made its implications rather unclear and the training that leaders and delegates received on the process was inadequate to create the required trust necessary to make such a substantive change in how we talk about some of our toughest issues.

I supported the motion to refer Rule 44 because it was apparent that Rule 44 would not pass (based on previous procedural votes) and I wanted the 2016 General Conference to put its weight behind the request for the continued development of a more holy way and less harmful way for us to talk to each other about controversial issues. To me the best realistic outcome would have been for the rules committee to spend another year perfecting Rule 44 and then the next 3 years doing a massive rollout and educational campaign to prepare us to approve a new way to talk to each other at General Conference 2020. Of course, referral was defeated.       

After the subsequent vote to approve Rule 44 was also defeated a deafening silence filled the room. You could palpably feel the frustration caused by the reality that 4 years worth of hopes and dreams that we could find a new way to talk to each other would not be fulfilled. In fact, Rule 44 generated such heat that for a short period of time #Rule44 was the third most popular search on Twitter.          

So, let’s just be honest. In our first 3 days together, we have had some very difficult experiences with Robert’s Rules of Order that are infuriating. And we are quite disappointed that after 4 years of work we still have not found a healthier way to talk to each other. That’s a hard hit. It hurts.   

But if Paul, who wrote a good bit of the New Testament wasn’t discouraged by arrests, beatings, and shipwrecks, I think those of us charged with writing The Discipline we can look at our parliamentary disappoints and say “Ain’t so bad! Let’s pick ourselves up and get back in the game.” 

Though you won’t see it trending on Twitter, as soon as Rule 44 was voted down, your delegates quickly shook off the negativity of the Rule 44 debate and got right back to work trying to further the mission and ministry of the UMC.  

Here’s what is happening now: Delegates have been split up into their legislative committees where they will spend most of their time till Saturday night. The legislative committees have been organized into subcommittees and the subcommittees have begun considering legislation to bring back to the legislative committees and then (if approved by the full committee) the legislation will go on to the full plenary session of General Conference next week.  

So anything that you hear of that comes out of a subcommittee during the next 2 days still has to go to the full committee. And anything that is passed out of the committees still has to be passed by the General Conference.  

The subcommittees and committees work very hard to ensure each petition gets the careful consideration it deserves.  

Now, in case you are beginning to wonder what is actually getting done at General Conference, let me share with you that in just 3 hours in my subcommittee today we have already dealt with petitions and resolutions affirming the UMC stance against the death penalty, supporting victims of crime, expressing our desire to see reform in the way drug addicts are treated in the criminal justice system, and the need to support our Christian brother and sisters who face persecution throughout the world. And I know other subcommittees are being similarly productive.

I don’t want to come across as having rose colored glasses, though. In one of the subcommittees debating human sexuality, some of the comments made were of such a hurtful and insensitive nature that it is hard for me to even imagine a charitable way to interpret the intentions of those who shared them.             

Once again, I think back to Rocky. Yes, this hurts like crazy. Yes, this is harder than we thought it would be. Yes, everyone expects us to fold and except defeat, to acknowledge that we can’t really be a global, big tent church. Everyone, that is, except for the One who told us that rather than learning to fight like the rest of the world does that he would teach us to be, but to be more than conquerors.  

Thanks to the power of that One, I’m hopeful that we’re not done trying to learn how to be the church at this General Conference. We’re just getting warmed up!

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