As delegates prepared for the last day of General Conference 2016, the words of the immortal sage Jerry Reed may have run through their minds: We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there. Voting clocks shrank from 30 seconds to 10 and more than one presiding bishop urged delegates to speak less and vote more. Delegates rolled up their sleeves and plunged into a daunting collection of remaining petitions before the closing gavel fell.
Budget passes with slight increase
General Conference delegates on May 20 approved a general church budget of $604 million for 2017-2020, a slight increase over the $603.1 million approved at the 2012 General Conference. It is also an increase over the $599 million budget proposed to the 2016 General Conference delegates, which would have been The United Methodist Church’s lowest in 16 years.
“We will not leave divided because God is not finished with us yet!” Mountain Sky Area Bishop Elaine Stanovsky reminded those attending the last day of the 2016 General Conference.
She concluded that the real work happens once the 10-day event has finished and gave the delegates an assignment to “choose life” as they talk about what has happened here in Portland.
LGBTQ people gather for final demonstration
A large group of LGBTQ people circled the floor of the 2016 General Conference on May 20, singing, “I am not forgotten, you are not forgotten; God knows your name.”
Participants said the respectful demonstration was the final chance for LGBTQ people to surround and support each other before everyone leaves General Conference and returns to their local churches.
“Queer people got no justice from this General Conference. … This was an attempt to let them know we are still here,” said Jayson Dobney, an advocate for LBGTQ people in The United Methodist Church.
Votes of note
After prolonged, impassioned debate, delegates chose not to add a fossil fuels investment screen for the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits. The question came down to divestment vs. engagement as the better way to use church investments in influencing energy companies to address climate change. Ultimately, delegates voted 630-101 against amending church law to call for screening out investments in fossil fuels companies.
An amendment offered during debate on socially responsible investing that sought to divest from illegal settlements on occupied lands failed 559-167. Earlier in the General Conference, the Financial Administration Legislative Committee failed to support any petition calling for divestment from companies doing business in Israel. Delegates also adopted an amended petition on behalf of a Palestinian village, Wadi Foquin, where United Methodists support an Advance project and community development site. The petition calls on General Conference to send letters to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other State Department officials, U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and the Israeli Civil Authority to express “our concerns over the confiscation of land and destruction of life in the village.”
Delegates approved requiring that bishops in the central conferences who have reached mandatory retirement age must step down three months after General Conference. The change is effective immediately. Before, central conference bishops had up to a year following General Conference to retire.
By a vote of 509-242, delegates just exceeded the two-thirds threshold needed to support amending the article on “Inclusiveness in the Church" in the denomination’s constitution. The amendment adds “gender” and “age” to the list of qualities that will not be discriminated against in the life, worship and governance of the church. The amendment is structured to preserve United Methodist groups based on gender or age, such as church youth groups. Now, the constitutional amendment heads to annual conferences, where it needs two-thirds of the total vote of members to be ratified.
A petition calling for a mandatory vote on all proposed legislation sent to the next General Conference was approved by a vote of 406 to 361. All petitions submitted to General Conference “shall receive the vote of a legislative committee” and all petitions approved by legislative committees “shall receive a vote by the plenary session at that year’s General Conference.” Considering how many petitions weren’t voted on before this General Conference ended, one wonders if GC2020 will need to last a month.
In other news
General Conference 2016 said a fond farewell to outgoing General Conference secretary the Rev. Fitzgerald “Gere” Reist II, who has served in that position since his election in 2004. Incoming secretary the Rev. Gary Graves joked that he did not think he could do justice to the tradition of festive shirts Reist has been known to wear on the dais.
If you’re keeping score at home, the last piece of legislation voted on by General Conference 2016 was the passage of a resolution to update and combine several existing resolutions in the section “Caring for Creation: A Call to Stewardship and Justice” from the Book of Resolutions.
Butler is a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications. Contact him at [email protected] or 615-742-5470.