General Conference 2024 Daily Updates

I’m going to update this blog post each day during the 2024 General Conference, as a way of keeping folks informed, and offering my own view as to what’s happening.

Some quick background, before we get started…
Feel free to scroll past this lenthy opening part, if you feel you already know enough about United Methodism.
But I don’t want to assume everyone reading knows this stuff. So, a little background for those interested.
After the background, you’ll find a daily entry to describe what’s happening. I’ll come back each day to update.

Background Info

What is General Conference?
An every-four-years gathering of United Methodists around the globe. It’s part Methodist family gathering, part worship service, and very much a legislative process, similar to the US Congress.

How Does It Work?
The process of General Conference is very much like the process of the American Congress
Which isn’t too surprising, since the Methodist Church originally arose in an American context. 

Delegates are elected and sent to each General Conference from Annual Conferences (These are more local geographic regions, analogous to a Catholic “Parish.”). Our region is currently called “North Texas.”
Our delegates are sent to this gathering from North Texas —equal numbers of lay and clergy delegates are elected, with the intention honoring the voices of lay folks as important as clergy.

United Methodists from all over the world gather for 2-3 weeks every four years, to consider changes to our doctrine and church structure. Again, the quick and dirty analogy for how this works is the US Congress.

The General Conference organizes itself into committees which consider proposed changes. Those committees vote out recommendations for the full General Conference to consider.
While the petitions and proposals are considered months in advance, the actual General Conference is compacted into 2-3 weeks, every four years.

This produces a very stressful, time-bound situation.

Some Methodist Beliefs General Stay the Same
Whatever else changes at General Conference, United Methodists have certain core beliefs that are historic and come to us from our founding and generally do not change.

The “Articles of Religion” come to us from our founding, and our founder, John Wesley…who adapted them from the Anglican Church.

There are a few other things that we bring forward from the time of Wesley….
The “General Rules” that he original designed for his original Methodist groups.
His sermons are considered “doctrine” as well, as are some notes he made on the New Testament. If you’re interested, find them here and here.

Social Principles
In 1972, United Methodists added another layer to our “beliefs” with the adoption of the Social Principles. These are intended to be more updated clarifications of what United Methodists believe on key social issues of the day. In a way few at the time could have predicted, the Social Principles ended up becoming the flashpoint for United Methodist conversations on Human Sexuality and the LGBTQ community. 
Specifically, this early General Conference added a line that say “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

I’ve written, preached, taught…a lot about this phrase over the years. No need to rehash it here. But it’s clear that everything that happened for the next 50 years that has been harmful to LGBTQ came from that original line.

Over the years, much more has been added to the Discipline that’s been harmful, even as the United Methodist Church continued to claim that all ministries of the church were open to all people. (Article 4 of our Constitution…)

What is the Book of Discipline?
Sounds like something out of a Monty Python sketch, doesn’t it?

This is the book/document that gathers up all the historical doctrine I mentioned above, plus…
— Rules about how local churches should operate.
— Rules about how the United Methodist Structure should operate.
— Rules about the process and ordination of clergy.

That previous sentence is a huge gloss of what becomes a several hundred page book. If you’re interested in seeing the last one, you can find a digital copy here.

I have written many things on the long, fifty year journey of the United Methodist Church on issues of human sexuality and gender identify. Specifically, there are 80-plus entries that back years, on this blog alone.
Lots to sift through.

I might refer back to some of them in the next few weeks…we shall see.

If you are interested in this long history, find it all here.

My very long pre-General Conference blog, written last week, is here.

Things have already changed from what I assumed might happen this time…let me catch up.

Eric’s Pre-General Conference Predictions:

I projected a new 60%-40% shift in favor of Moderates/Progressives.

I predicted that even items that needed ⅔ majority could pass, with just a slight 6-7% of the international delegates.

The results are far better than this, so far…let’s get into the day-by-day

Thursday April 25: Regionalism Passes.

During their regular session, the General Conference plenary (the delegate all gathered together to vote) approved a new “Regionalism Structure” for United Methodism.

This is huge.

This proposal is mostly what was previously called “The Christmas Covenant,” and came to the General Conference from most non-US International delegates.

What this legislation will do:
— Create “Regional Conferences” in every part of the world. (Renamed from the former “Central Conference”)
— Allow those Regional Conferences certain autonomy over decisions that make sense for their cultural context.

Background, History, Context For Why this Matters:
Remember how I said the UMC General Conference was like the US Congress? Well, the entire General Conference structure is also very “American” too…both in terms of structure, and assumptions.

Methodism began as a “church” in America, following the American Revolution. (The “Church of England” not being super popular here after that conflict…). Methodism jumped the pond, back to Europe, and all around the globe, in the decades and century that followed. All through this period, White Americans controlled the system and the decisions.

One of my key assumptions is that Methodism has never “led” our culture, but that it has always mirrored our culture….

Here are some examples…

In the 1840s, Methodism split North/South over the Civil War. (Southern Methodist University was founded by the literal “Southern Methodists.”) Again, mirroring the culture at the time…

Those two branches of the church didn’t reunite until the 1930s, when their decision to reunify mirrored the “Separate, But Equal” attitude of the time. White Americans created a structure called the “Central Conference” which separated African-Americans into their own “Conference.”

This was clearly a racist, Jim Crow compromise, to mollify Southern Whites. (The Jurisdictional system comes from this, too..) Again, mirroring the culture at the time.

In 1968? We were all about “Integration.”
Kum ba ya…We all came together, in our hometown of Dallas Texas, to form the “United Methodist Church.” The old “Separate, But Equal” structure for African-Americans was finally abolished. Just as “integration” was a huge part of the cultural conversation then…once again, Methodism mirrored the culture and finally “integrated” the American Church.

BUT! Other Central Conferences remained…In the intervening years, Central Conferences had been constructed for Europe, Africa, Asia…pretty much everywhere else in the world, except for America.

This, we would all come to see, was possible because of the on-going hubris of those White American Methodists who always assumed they’d control everything. Because a part of the rules for a Central Conference were that they could adapt the Book of Discipline to their own cultural situation and setting.

This mean that everywhere there was a “Central Conference” structure, United Methodists could add cultural relevant additions to the Book of Discipline.

There was just one part of the world that could not: America.

Paradoxical, huh?

In a real sense, we American United Methodist —especially Progressives and Moderates— were victims of our own hubris and internalized White Supremacy. We just assumed we’d always be in charge.

And you know what happens when you assume…

Remembering 2008.
I’ve written a few times recently about the 2008 General Conference. That event was a huge watershed for me, personally. The church I served was deeply involved. The Conference was in Fort Worth…just down the road. So hundreds…I mean hundreds…of our members organized to host our Reconciling Ministries colleagues from around the world.

We poured our soul into the process. We audited every committee. We shuttled visitors to and from the convention center. We prayed and organized. 

The goal of many that year was, you’re reading this right: “Regionalization.”

It failed. In fact, it never stood a real chance.

Looking back now, I think if failed for at least four reasons:

  • Progressives/Moderates who could not see the potential danger of the growing Conservative/Evangelical wing of Methodism.
  • Progressive/Moderates and African-Americans who remembered the name “Central Conference” as a stand-in for Jim Crow racism and segregation. Wasn’t “Regionalism” just a stand-in for dismantling “Integration?”
  • The very real, and incredibly well funded work of the Evangelical/Conservative wing of Methodism flexed its muscle.
  • Many Moderates were simply conflict phobic and could not fathom that the situation was rapidly changing at both extremes.

In the end, “Regionalism” did not stand a change that year.

There were too few of us Reconciling United Methodists who…imho….were the only folks really dialed in to the looming threats of the conservative wing. Everyone else was uncomfortable with conflict, uneasy about “Regionalism,” and saw any talk of it as undermining our Methodist core value of unity.

I left that conference deeply depressed. I fell into literal, clinical depression. I continued to gain lots of weight, and if I am honest, the next years following were really, really hard.

Because of my wife’s own involvement in politics, I learned to be able to “count votes” and following this Conference, I could see that we had probably missed our last real chance to affect change. I wasn’t sure where the United Methodist Church would be going.
We had already helped so many American Christians turn away from an anti-gay stance. But, if we kept going, could we ever win over enough?

As it happened, Conservative Methodists understood that they could control votes with their own minority of American votes ( about 25%) and a majority of more conservative delegates from Africa.

Again, for many years, people on the Progressive side, and Moderates, were unwilling to admit this was happening.

Conservatives knew they controlled the vote.
So, they called on there to be a split in the UMC…and I am very confident they assumed Progressives would be leaving.

We should recall and admit that Conservatives asked for a split in 2004. 
(They thought we Progressives should leave, back then…)

They reiterated that goal in 2008…the year I first became fully aware of their clear political organization and how challenging it would be to overcome it.

In 2012, many Moderates from my own home conference helped craft something called “Plan UMC,” which would have definitely moved us toward regionalism. For reasons we don’t have to go into, that move crashed and burned when the Judicial Council ruled it out of order, while everybody was coming home on their planes.

So…we were stuck with the status quo.

In 2016, Conservatives literally tried to leave, and the Bishops stopped them.

There are other ways to describe this, but the is the most honest.
 Adam Hamilton “called bullshit” on the Bishop’s fear, and demanded that if they wouldn’t allow Conservatives to leave, then they, the Bishops, needed to forge some new, credible path.
(Again, other ways to describe what happend in 2016, but this is the most honest…)

Then came three years of encouraging the adoption of what was called “The One Church Plan.” A special 2019 General Conference was called.

As with 2012, many Moderates from my own Conference were supporters.


 Every fiber of my political mind told me, “This probably won’t pass…”
(I know how to count votes…)

But every LEADER I knew kept telling me, “Eric, if you just knew what I know…you’d be excited for this plan…”

Well, I didn’t know what they knew. I had to concede that was true….maybe they really did know more than me.

Turns out, they did not.
It was a good plan, a good moral framework, honestly. It was easy to support…just the concept of everybody living together as one…conservative, moderate, liberal.

Even today, the basic guts of its assumptions…its “live and let live” framework should guide us, going forward…MY humble opinion.

But, it turned out to not have a chance. It failed miserably.

Conservatives counter-punched with their own “Traditionalist Plan” which DID pass…with their baked-in 52% coalition (25% of American voters. 75% International voters…)

And, everybody was shocked.

Moderates and Progressives alike protested. Took out newspaper ads, witheld their apportionments. Pastors I never expected to rally to the defense of the LGBTQ community were suddenly speaking bluntly about their support for Queer folks.

I think Conservatives had to admit to themselves that although they could control the “vote,” of the General Conference, they couldn’t control the “hearts and minds” of the General Conference.

This Traditionalist Plan put us even more out of touch with our American “mission field” than ever before.

Most American United Methodists…even most Christians…now supported Same Sex Marriage. Most were embracing of the LGBTQ community. The United Methodist Church was now officially deeply out of step with its culture, because of our own structure and a conservative minority of American Methoditss…and American United Methodists were unable to craft polity to speak to our mission field.

This is because of the lack of a Central Conference for the US. Any other region of the world could have crafted language to support the LGBTQ community. But the United States was prevented from doing this, but our own rules..that we crafted, defended, and created to keep control.

This is a metaphor, btw, that I have found to be DEEPLY true in many areas of life: The more we try to control, the less we WILL control….and the unintended consequences of our best efforts at control will often harm us more than they harm the “Other” we are trying to control.

So…then we had three years of disaffiliations by Conservative Churches….no doubt bitter that they could control the instituation, but not the hearts, minds, and souls of United Methodists.

And now, at this General Conference, 25% of American Conservatives are gone.
A huge and deeply impressive long-term effort to reach out to International delegates has taken place…

And, low and behold…at this General Conference, regionalism has passed.

The positive vote yesterday was by an overwhelming 78% margin in favor.


That is jaw dropping.

That means that even if every eligible voter had been in the room (including all those who couldn’t attend for whatever reason…) it STILL would have passed by 2/3rds.

How did this swing happen?

Well, you start with a now 60% margin among American delegates I mentioned earlier….

Then, you add in the many International delegates who were always in favor (many of these ideas came from the “Central Conferences”)….
Then, you add in the impressive outreach that’s been happening to other international delegates….
Factor in the Conservatives who are no longer here, and no longer causing fear and anxiety behind the scenes….
And finally, sprinkle in a few folks who probably switched sides because “Game Theory” suggests they will want to vote with winners…

And that’s how you get to 78%.

I can account for roughly 71% based on what we knew ahead of time.
It seems about 7% just switched teams for reasons we can’t discernably know.

There are additional pieces of legislation that still must be passed with respect to regionalism…but these early votes?
They seem to tell us the result is pretty much baked in now.

So, now, one last look back.
In 2012, I wrote several pieces pushing us to regionalism.

Here, I slammed us for pretending to be a “Global Church.”
It;s an interesting read to look at now…the end also has a video I made four years later, in 2016.

Friends, I am here to say: If regionalism passes, we will finally be a Global Church.

Every region of United Methodism will come alongside every other region, in a Global Unity that respects each mission field.

It still must be voted on by 2/3rds of all United Methodists Annual Conferences, over the next 18-months. But this vote, and the votes we’re seeing in American Juridictional Conferneces, make that doable. (much more on that, later…)

Friday, April 26: Parts New Social Creed Go on the Consent Calendar

This is also huge.
In preparation for a new United Methodist Church, we are hopfully voting in a new version of the Social Principles.
Paragraphs 164-165 are on the “Consent Calendar” for tomorrow. This means that unless 20 delegates object, and demand it get debated on the floor, it will pass without object. It got ON the Consent Calendar, because it passed with overwhelming support of the committee.

This new section, which sould be adopted by consent tomorrow, can be found online here. The section that should be approved by consent starts on page 151, and is titled “The Political Community.”

Of relevance for all of us who support the LGBTQ community is this section:

More tomorrow….

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