Dallas, Texas: The General Conference Committee on Reference has determined that 78 petitions submitted for consideration by the 2019 General Conference are in harmony with the purpose of the special session to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri.
All those petitions must receive a vote in legislative committee, according to a 2016 provision in the Book of Discipline, and all those approved by legislative committee must receive a plenary vote. The Commission on the General Conference previously has decided there will be a single legislative committee.
The Committee on Reference’s report, which lists the petitions determined to be in harmony and which were not, is available online and will be published in the Daily Christian Advocate.
Last May, the Judicial Council ruled in Decision 1360 that petitions could be filed by any organization, clergy or lay member of The United Methodist Church if the business proposed to be transacted is in harmony with the purpose stated in the call for the special session, which is “limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Commission on a Way Forward based upon recommendations of the Council of Bishops.”
The Commission on the General Conference tasked the Committee on Reference with the responsibility for deciding whether petitions meet that standard. The reference committee met January 11-12 in Irving, Texas to review all of the legislation in advance of the special session.
“To my understanding, it’s the first time the committee has met outside of General Conference,” said the Rev. Chuck Savage, committee chairperson. Savage said they thought about how the committee’s work might create a template or a precedent should a similar situation happen in the future.
In total, 133 legislative petitions were submitted, 48 of which came from the Commission on a Way Forward (COWF). Of the 85 pieces of legislation brought forward by other petitioners, 34 were preliminarily determined to be invalid by the Secretary of the General Conference and the petitions secretary due to formatting or other issues. The Committee on Reference subsequently reviewed those determinations and declared those petitions were indeed invalid.
The committee ruled that all petitions included with the COWF report are in harmony. There was a unanimous vote to review the remaining 51 petitions to determine whether they should be included.
The committee established criteria to guide their determinations about whether a petition is “in harmony” or not.
To be considered in harmony, at least one of the following criteria must be met: the petition was submitted by the COWF; the content of the petition directly addresses inclusion or exclusion of LGBTQ persons; or the content of the petition seeks to correct or perfect COWF plans for the continuing existence of The United Methodist Church.
The process the committee utilized was to divide petitions into two groups: those that address disciplinary paragraphs included in the petitions submitted by the COWF and those that address other paragraphs or create new paragraphs.
Committee members independently reviewed petitions that addressed paragraphs that were already opened and brought forth for discussion any they believed did not meet the criteria. Petitions in the second category were considered individually to see if they met criteria that would deem them eligible for inclusion. One additional petition was found to be invalid during this review.
Of the 50 remaining valid petitions submitted by petitioners other than the COWF, 30 were determined to be in harmony and 20 were not.
The Committee on Reference is an administrative committee of the General Conference whose members are elected delegates (one clergy and one layperson from each central conference and jurisdiction). Of the committee’s 24 members, 19 were present.
Rev. Savage expressed appreciation for the way the committee worked together. “Among a group of people with many differing opinions, everyone was able to set aside their personal viewpoints and objectively evaluate each petition.”