Denials, charges fly in GC2019 voting credentials review

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As General Conference organizers look into whether ineligible people might have voted during The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly in St. Louis, the South Congo bishop said his son was a duly elected reserve delegate. 

Bishop Kasap Owan provided a list of elected delegates and reserves that he said General Conference officials had before the Feb. 23-26 meeting started. His list of delegates elected in 2018 shows his son, Philippe Kasap Kachez, as the seventh “replacement reserve” delegate. Philippe is not listed on General Conference delegate attendance records

The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of the General Conference, said the list provided by Kasap is part of what’s being reviewed by the General Conference Commission, so he cannot discuss it. Delegates to General Conference are elected by annual conferences, which are regional units of the church. Conferences can elect any number of reserves, but General Conference will only pay the expenses of primary delegates, Graves said.
 
The conferences list delegates and reserves and the order of election in their conference journals, which are provided to the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination’s finance agency. However, GCFA does not have the journal of the 2018 South Congo Conference meeting.

Graves said March 14 that after an in-depth review, it appears possible “a very limited number” of ineligible people, who earlier were correctly denied delegate credentials, later were able to obtain them. He declined to give a more precise figure.

In the review, Graves, along with the General Conference business manager, other staff and an independent auditing firm, cross-checked credential cards, name badge bar code scans, attendance forms, reserve delegate seating forms and other resources.

The revelation of potential voting regularities comes after a highly contentious General Conference in which delegates aimed to set the denomination’s direction in its longtime debate over homosexuality.

By 438-384, the voters adopted the Traditional Plan, which reinforces the denomination’s bans on same-sex weddings and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and adds enforcement measures.

Bishop Kasap provided a copy of his son’s response to a New York Times article about the voting irregularities

In his response, Kasap Kachez said that he was a baptized member of the Jerusalem Parish since July 2008 and was elected as the seventh reserve delegate to the special General Conference 2019. He said he had not expected to attend and moved to Brussels, where he started a business. He said he was asked to serve on the delegation after other delegates and reserves from South Congo could not get visas or did not have a passport.
 
However, the Rev. Kalaba Chali, who worked as a General Conference translator, said Kasap Kachez told him he did not go to a United Methodist church in the Congo because he lives in Brussels and that he came to General Conference because his father asked him “to come and vote against the lesbians.” Chali grew up in the Congo and is now a member of the Great Plains Conference in the U.S.

Kasap Kachez said in his response that Chali asked his help in offering African delegates $100 to vote for the One Church Plan, which would have left questions of marriage up to individual churches and clergy, and ordination up to conferences.
 
Chali said he never discussed any of the plans with Kasap Kachez and certainly never offered to pay delegates to vote for a particular plan.
 
Chali wouldn’t name other delegates who he believes were involved in the irregular voting, saying the people who reported these problems to him fear retribution if they speak out. “They will be at risk. They could lose their jobs; their lives could be in danger,” he said.

But he said he had contacted the General Conference Commission and offered to cooperate fully with their investigation.
 
New York Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, who serves on the commission, believes “there is a fair amount of question about what remedies are available to us.”

There are no specific denominational rules that address impropriety in voting at General Conference, he said, nor is any potential solution found within Robert’s Rules of Order that fit the church’s top legislative body.

“I think there’s an active conversation around what are the viable alternatives of how to respond to this,” Bickerton added. “I think that’s a ‘wait and see.’”
 
The Council of Bishops issued a statement March 14 in response to the allegations of improper voting, saying the bishops work to help the delegates do their best work and try to be a voice for fairness but don’t plan or oversee General Conference. 

“We are not casting blame on a region of the world or a part of the body of Christ. In honoring the sacrificial gifts of the delegates to the special session, the preparatory work of the Commission on a Way Forward, and the importance of the special session’s stated purpose, we do have an absolute and unwavering desire for transparency and the truth in discovering what has taken place in the special session of the General Conference,” said Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, president of the council.

Bickerton stressed that he trusts the integrity of General Conference itself and believes the commission has done its best in organizing both GC2019 and the upcoming General Conference 2020. He expressed disappointment, however, that people “would not use their best judgment” in organizing a delegation to General Conference. “One breach, however, small, affects us all.”
 
Bickerton believes this latest revelation after the division and pain of General Conference has caused further damage.

“It does nothing to help us with our integrity, both internally and externally,” he said. “The tone, tenor and decisions of the General Conference have really hurt our public witness at this point.”
 
Bishop Kasap said the questions arose because the One Church Plan failed.
 
“Do you think that if Philippe did not vote The Traditional Plan would not have passed? Please!” he wrote in an e-mail to UMNS.

Graves said the number of possible ineligible voters was too slim to affect the final outcome on the Traditional Plan or the defeat of the rival One Church Plan.

However, voters later decided by a two-vote margin, 402-400, to substitute a minority report for Petition 90066, disaffiliation legislation that would allow churches, within limitations, to leave the denomination while keeping church property.

Both the Traditional Plan and disaffiliation legislation face a review in April by the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court. The requests for constitutional review came before the issue of ineligible voters became public.

The court had earlier identified constitutional problems in both the Traditional Plan and the original version of Petition 90066.

Brown is news editor for United Methodist News Service and Bloom is assistant news editor. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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