Others — including Maxie Dunnam, Andrew Thomson (PDF), and Billy Abraham — have put forth well-reasoned policy arguments against Amendment I, the proposed constitutional amendment that would alter Article IV the United Methodist Constitution.
To their insightful comments I humbly add the following “procedural” argument against the amendment, related to the problematic manner in which the amendment was passed at the 2008 General Conference.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline sets a high bar for constitutional changes. First, any proposed amendment must pass the General Conference by a two-thirds super-majority. If an amendment receives that vote of confidence from the General Conference, it then must also receive a two-thirds super-majority from the delegates of all the Annual Conferences.
Put bluntly, Amendment I, which was approved on the final afternoon of the 2008 General Conference, passed in manner that clouded the outcome, making it unclear if the amendment legitimately received the support of the two-thirds of the delegates.
Consider the following. Many of the African delegates were forced to leave the conference early because they had been “given plane tickets mandating their departure before the end of the General Conference,” according to reporter Mark Tooley writing in the November 2008 Touchstone magazine.
Although it isn’t clear exactly how many African delegates were absent on that final afternoon, it appears that more than half of Africa’s 186 delegates were missing.
Tooley reported that “over 100 Africans missed the votes during the final afternoon on the church’s participation in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).” Those RCRC votes occurred almost immediately prior the vote on the Article IV amendment.
When the vote occurred on changing Article IV, only 834 of 992 delegates voted.
As previously noted, in order to pass the amendment required a two-thirds majority, or 66.7 percent. It passed with 66.9 percent, just two-tenths of 1 percent more than the super-majority needed. (This was a four-vote margin of victory, based on the number of delegates who voted.)
No matter the size of the margin, of course, the measure passed — and, under the rules, the outcome is considered a legitimate super-majority vote. Still, it is not difficult to conclude that the outcome would have been quite different if so many African delegates had not been missing.
Confidence in the General Conference vote on Article IV was further sullied by the confusion that existed during the debate and the voting process.
The confusion stemmed from the fact that, in the midst of the debate, the language of the measure was changed via an amendment from the floor. Although the change was considered a “friendly” amendment, it nonetheless altered several sentences of the measure, creating confusion among the delegates because the language now being debated (and ultimately voted on) was not the same language delegates had in their printed material.
Indeed, after the voting began, Presiding Bishop Charlene Kammerer (Virginia Conference) had to stop the process and declare the vote invalid because of what she described as “unclarity in the body.” (Interestingly, that first vote fell just shy of the two-thirds super-majority.)
One reason for “unclarity” was that less than four minutes transpired between the time the language was finalized and the vote was called. In other words, delegates had less than four minutes to consider the implications of legislation calling for a significant change in the UM Constitution — legislation they did not have in writing in its final form.
Moments after the invalid vote, and following a requested reading of the revised amendment, a second vote was called and the measure prevailed with a four-vote margin of victory.
To summarize: after only scant minutes of debate and with more 150 delegates absent, the 2008 General Conference — without having the final legislative language in print — passed a constitutional change by the barest of margins.
Even apart from any deficiencies of the amendment itself, the problematic procedure described above should give Annual Conference delegates reason enough to defeat Amendment I. A constitutional change wrought via such a sullied process is not likely to inspire the confidence of the church.
Use the audio player below to listen to the Friday, May 2, 2008 debate on changing Article IV (18 min.), with Bishop Charlene Kammerer presiding. (The audio has been shortened slightly by reducing the length of several extended pauses.)
Speaking last month in North Carolina, Eddie Fox, world director of World Methodist Evangelism, touched on the fact that some African delegates to the 2008 General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas, were effectively “disenfranchised” on the conference’s final day. Travel arrangements made on their behalf forced them to leave Forth Worth before the conference had ended.
Use the audio player below to hear Mr. Fox’s comments (1 min.), excerpted from longer remarks about various proposed constitutional amendments.
|•||Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments|
|•||Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08|
Related articles and information
|•||Full text of all 32 amendments, showing how each would alter the current language of the United Methodist Book of Discipline—material stricken through would be deleted; material in bold/blue would be added (PDF)|
|•||Voter guide from Concerned Methodists (PDF)|
|•||Constitutional Amendments | John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries blog (May 21, 2009)|
|•||Constitutional Amendments 2009 | William J. Abraham, Outler Professor of Wesley Studies, Perkins School of Theology (Southern Methodist University)|
|•||Transcript of the brief General Conference debate on Amendment I (PDF—see pages 2705-2707)|
|•||Amendment I (without the baggage) (PDF) | Andrew Thompson, Gen-X Rising blog (May 18, 2009)|
|•||African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness & other stories from the General Conference | Mark Tooley, Touchstone (November 2008)|
|•||Inclusiveness and membership decline (on the possible implications of Amendment I) | Riley Case (March 23, 2009)|
|•||Coming soon to your Annual Conference (article on Amendment I) (PDF) | The Kindred Connection (Winter 2009) (This is a publication of an arm of the Reconciling Ministries Network — “We envision a United Methodist Church which…accords all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, full participation in the life of the church.”)|