Ensuring the Integrity of General Conference
By Keith Boyette
March 19, 2019
Trust is essential for the operation of any organization, especially a church. The United Methodist Church has long experienced a trust deficit. In the lead up to the 2012 General Conference, a consulting firm advised a denominational task force focused on the restructuring of the UM Church that trust in our leaders and agencies was dangerously low. The absence of trust impacted the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops as we approached the 2019 special General Conference. Now the lack of trust is on display as we live into the aftermath of the St. Louis meeting.
Late last week, an article was published in the New York Times under the headline, “Improper Voting Discovered at Methodist Vote on Gay Clergy.” The article reported, “[A]t least four ballots were cast by individuals who were not authorized to vote, according to interviews and a review of the church’s records.” By the time the Commission on General Conference (COGC) met on Saturday, March 16, statements had been submitted which brought into question the conclusion announced in the Times’ headline. The COGC has formed a task group that will review the process of credentialing delegates at General Conference and will make recommendations for future meetings to enhance the integrity of the General Conference.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association supports efforts to ensure the General Conference is conducted with integrity. It believes any violations of its rules should be promptly reported, investigated and addressed. We believe the COGC has established robust means to guard the conference’s integrity and we commend it for its ongoing efforts to fortify those means where necessary.
The WCA believes it is essential for delegates to observe the rules of General Conference with respect to proper credentialing. This process is especially complicated for international annual conference delegations that travel from outside the United States to attend the meeting. They must surmount numerous obstacles to ensure they have the full complement of delegates assigned to them, and reserve delegates in case of an illness or emergency. In a world with heightened security protocols around international travel it is often difficult for some delegates to meet all these requirements in a timely fashion. It was no surprise, therefore, when the secretary of the special General Conference announced that 31 delegates were not able to attend the gathering; they were all international delegates (DCA at p. 415). But again, we are confident the COGC will repair any deficiencies in the credentialing process.
Relatedly, before, during and after the special General Conference allegations were made that official United Methodist entities, agencies, or advocacy groups were engaged in “vote buying.” It is regrettable that in the heat of conflict rumors like this surface. These rumors undermine the trust so essential for constructively moving forward. United Methodists should know that the Committee of Ethics of the COGC has already dismissed a generalized complaint about vote buying prior to the adjournment of the 2019 General Conference (DCA at p. 432). The WCA is confident there are no factual bases to any of these allegations, and it has not and will not traffic in destructive innuendo or rumors. We trust others will do the same.
The rhetoric following the conclusion of the special General Conference makes clear we are not a unified church and that there is little likelihood that continued legislative action will produce a unified church. Efforts to find a way forward that would result in an end to the conflict so we might separately pursue our principled convictions and visions would be a far more productive use of our time and resources. We remain open to engaging in such a dialogue with persons of good faith.
Rev. Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an ordained elder in the Virginia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.