GC Journal - Final: Making sense of a General Conference that made few changes

GC Journal - Final: Making sense of a General Conference that made few changes

The Revs. Mike Slaughter (front) and Adam Hamilton speak to support legislation acknowledging that United Methodists disagree on issues of sexuality. The proposal was rejected. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Fla.

See easy list of GC coverage.

After days of discussion and compromise, the 988 delegates of General Conference failed to pass a much-anticipated restructure plan for the United Methodist Church.

They voted not to change the church’s position regarding homosexuality. They decided not to divest from companies whose products are used by the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Meeting April 24-May 4 in Tampa, delegates from five continents also rejected a proposal for setting aside a bishop to serve as full-time president of the Council of Bishops.

However, General Conference made a bold, controversial decision during their 10-day meeting by eliminating guaranteed appointments for clergy. 

They engaged in an "Act of Repentance" toward indigenous people; "entered into full communion" with historically black pan-Methodist denominations; and created a national ministry plan for Pacific Islanders. 

Holston members also rejoiced when their conference was pegged for leadership in the Imagine No Malaria campaign and their resident bishop presided over an evening plenary session.  

The Rev. Carol Wilson, delegate vice chair and executive assistant to Bishop James Swanson, tried to put the outcome of the 10-day global meeting into perspective.

"This was a General Conference that came with many big ideas," she said. "At the end of the day, we gained some clarity on the directions that will move us into the future, and we took some first steps."

Del Holley, head of the Holston delegation, noted that General Conference is a "reminder of who we are as a denomination and a challenge to find ways God might use us to make disciples and transform the world."

See list of Holston stories and photos. 

War of words

Wilson and Holley made their comments on the delegation's Facebook page, in the days after the tumultuous finale of the big meeting, as many delegates and members tried to sort our their feelings and responses online.

For the first General Conference ever, United Methodists all over the globe were able to view -- and participate -- in candid social-media commentary while the live streaming rolled. The commentary did not reflect the often careful language of denominational leaders. 

"Some of the posts coming through Twitter on the live streaming page are absolute filth and name-calling," a Kingsport reader wrote on the delegation's Facebook page. "I find this completely unacceptable."

"I know with the Twitter stuff I saw during voting that ugliness was coming in heavy on both corners," one Etowah pastor noted. "I wouldn't have dared to enter the coversation because nobody wins in that case."

Through Facebook, delegate Megan Watson pleaded with commentators to guard their words.  

"Regardless of how we may feel in each position we hold, I ask that that we remain respectful of all persons," Watson said. "This is a safe place for all to discuss issues, and I ask that we do not negatively speak about a single person or group."
Yet, for the 14 members and six alternates of the Holston delegation, there only seemed to be praise and gratitude, repeated and shared by members from various perspectives and locations.

"Thanks to the Holston delegation for modeling the love of Christ in the midst of diversity, for tackling very difficult problems with much prayer and grace, and for generally showing us what the Body of Christ in the form of the UMC can be," a Tazewell District pastor wrote. "Thanks to Del Holley, especially, for leadership that set the tone."

Bishop James Swanson also weighed in on Facebook:

"Dear Holston Delegation, your faithful service and witness did not go unnoticed by me or by others. You demonstrated patient love, a willingness to dialogue with those you disagree with, a desire to search for God's way forward, and an unwavering faith in the Holy Spirit's ability to lead the United Methodist Church into a fruitful future. Thank you."

After General Conference: Where do we go from here? Share your thoughts on The Call's Facebook page.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.