Erin Hawkins, chief executive officer of the General Commission on Religion and Race,
leads a training for delegates on cultural sensitivity during the opening plenary of the
2012 General Conference in Tampa. Fla. A UMNS photo by Skyler E. Nimmons. Click on image to enlarge.View more photos
TAMPA, Fla. (UMNS) - After more than an hour of discussion - in addition to almost two hours the previous night - delegates to the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church on April 25 approved the rules to guide the work of the legislative committees and full assembly through May 4.
In a sometimes confusing process of keeping amendments, motions and suspensions of rules in order, Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster of the Charlotte (N.C.) Episcopal Area directed discussion of recommendations brought back to the body by the Rules Committee of the Commission on General Conference in response to discussion on the evening of April 24.
18 amendments proposed
During their first business session, delegates proposed 18 amendments to the organization and rules of order. The rules committee brought recommendations on those amendments for consideration during today's plenary.
After more debate over issues addressed the previous night and numerous procedural clarifications, delegates finally approved the rules as originally presented by the committee.
Before the vote, Goodpaster said the business of setting the rules is "tedious" but important. "It is how we govern ourselves while we are together," he said.
With the work ahead of them in mind, several delegates expressed concern over the time spent considering the rules.
"We have to be good stewards of our time, and we need to get on with the business of not perfecting the rules, but how we perfect the church," said the Rev. Sam Powers, Oklahoma Annual (regional) Conference delegate, after urging the body to pass the rules as presented by the committee.
In both sessions, some delegates called for revising several rules, including those stating the number of representatives from the central and jurisdictional conferences to serve on administrative committees and the deadline for dealing with legislative items.
The conference did not approve an amendment to add two people from two U. S. jurisdictions and two central conferences in Africa with more than 1.5 million members to committees.
Those favoring the amendment said it would enable more people to be present at the table and have a voice. Those opposed said basing membership on the size of a conference or jurisdiction would penalize smaller conferences, arguing that representation should be equal, regardless of size, and that it would incur unwanted expenses in a time when General Conference is focused on reducing costs.
Another amendment - to remove a rule mandating that any legislative issues not addressed by committees by the end of the evening session Saturday would not be considered by the body - also did not pass.
Letting some legislation die would take away the voice of those submitting petitions said Judy Nutter of the West Virginia Annual Conference, who proposed the amendment.
Gerald Rinehart, delegate from the East Ohio Annual Conference, said the rule could be interpreted by non-delegates as a "lack of integrity and trust with the leadership they've elected."
"I think our duty is to consider each and every thing that is brought to us," he said. "That way we can give it a pretty full and honest report once we get out of here."
The Rev. Debbie McLeod from the Florida Annual Conference said the body should trust legislative committees to prioritize their work and the rule was necessary to ensure petitions with the greatest impact are addressed.
"We also have individuals who have presented hundreds of petitions that are borderline ridiculous, so I think we need this rule," she said.
Other delegates said that concerns with the time-limit rule could be addressed by another rule that specifies an issue may be brought before the assembly for consideration if 20 delegates support it.
The committee's recommendations were approved as originally presented with a vote of 849-69.
*Parham is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant based in Apopka, Fla., and a member of the United Methodist News Service team at General Conference.
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