'Rule 44' decision postponed again


Just one day after postponing a contentious rules change for The United Methodist Church's General Conference, the matter was delayed yet again so amendments could be considered by the Rules Committee.

Debate on Rule 44, which would move proposals related to human sexuality into discussion groups comprised of small groups in hopes of building consensus, initially was tabled by a mere eight votes. A motion by a delegate from Europe led to a second vote, which this time had Rule 44 pulled back into consideration by 30 votes. Discussion quickly shifted to a series of amendments offered by delegates, including one that would allow LGBTQ pastors to speak in small groups without having to fear being charged with an actionable offense under the current book of Discipline.

At least three amendments were referred to the Rules Committee, with the expectation that Rule 44 would be debated for yet a third day on Thursday as part of the morning plenary session.

Wednesday's debate was an extension of discussions that started with the opening of the conference Tuesday, when, after several hours of questions, motions and points of order, the General Conference passed its rules of order for the 2016 session shortly before 9 p.m. May 10, minus Rule 44

People gather as part of a gathering to encourage General Conference delegates to
vote to change the Book of Discipline to allow for same-sex marriage prior to the
beginning of the conference May 10 in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Todd Seifert.

Sara Hotchkiss, business manager of the General Conference, addressed the more than 860 delegates and walked the people in attendance through how to use the electronic voting machines and how to operate an iPad at each table meant to help people register questions, points of order and a desire to speak either for or against an issue, among other functions.

What happened next was a debate that lasted well past the anticipated 6:30 p.m. recess time. A motion to remove Rule 44 from the blanket approval of rules eventually passed, but not before a motion to maintain 2012 General Conference rules led Bishop Warner Brown Jr., to place the session in recess for a dinner time that extended the session to a 9:30 p.m. time limit. The later time limit for recess for the evening was part of the 2012 rules.

Within the Rule 44 debate was a discussion on whether to complete action on it on opening night or pick up discussion Wednesday. Shayla Jordan, a lay delegate from Wichita, Kansas, stepped to the microphone and asked Bishop Brown to reconsider the timing and take up Rule 44 on opening night.
Great Plains Conference lay delegate Shayla Jordan asks a question
from the microphone during a plenary session at General Conference.

“I didn’t think we had a real feel for the body about whether we should take up the rule tonight or wait,” Jordan said. “I felt like if we could have gotten the rules out of the way we could turn to other things tomorrow that were already on the schedule.”

Jordan said she could see pluses and minuses to adopting Rule 44. One positive part of passing the rule would be the opportunity to “hear the story behind the person’s view” on human sexuality. On the negative side, she said she wasn’t sure the small-group approach really would solve any problems and that it would circumvent the intent of General Conference by not allowing advocates for new legislation to express their views.

“I don’t think it does justice for those who wrote legislation for General Conference,” Jordan said.
Contact Todd Seifert, Great Plains Conference communications director, at tseifert@greatplainsumc.org. Follow him on Twitter, @ToddSeifert.

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