By John Lomperis
In previous General Conferences, as in many other spheres of life, when people realize they are behind schedule and running out of time, there is a natural eagerness to get moving and catch up, even if that means working a little overtime. But as crunch time approached in Tampa, our General Conference leadership did not even adjust the schedule to allow delegates to put in at least a full day’s worth of daily work. At one point the Agenda Committee chair, to his credit, informed delegates how little of their plenary conference business they had gotten through and urged them to make the most of their remaining time. But then on the second-to-last night of General Conference, when delegates were increasingly anxious about how much work they were leaving unfinished, the Agenda Committee apparently failed to even assign enough work to fill up the seven-hour work day, thus forcing delegates to end their day’s work a half-hour early. On the final day, the Secretary of the General Conference, Fitzgerald Reist (who is also an ex-officio member of the General Conference Commission), twice went out of his way to use his immense clout to lobby delegates “not to think of getting through every petition, but of crafting every piece of legislative action well.” Between the important values of painstaking perfectionism on each petition considered and getting through as many petitions as possible, the General Conference leadership was rather lopsided in its emphasis on the former to the neglect of the latter. While I realize that noble motives drove many of the exhortations to avoid making overly rushed and sloppy decisions, we must not be naïve about the facts that (1) this could be overdone, and (2) theological liberals were vocal in their disappointment with the votes in the first, legislative-committee week, and were consequently eager to stem how much of the committee-passed petitions would make it to and through the second-week plenary sessions.
So delegates associated with the liberal Common Witness Coalition (the Reconciling Ministries Network, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and others) were only too happy to play along with such encouragements to not worry about leaving their work undone. Empowered by Dr. Miller’s commission, such activists aggressively pursued a cynical strategy of “running out the clock” to effectively defeat pending proposals they disliked by slowing the General Conference down to a snail’s pace. The head of RMN later admitted that in the second week, the Common Witness Coalition’s “legislative team adapted to strategically use” sympathetic delegates “to slow the system.” One MFSA chapter explained that in the second week, “it was clear that [MFSA activists] needed to switch to defense to block” petitions they opposed, and celebrated that “a great number of petitions and resolutions” they opposed “were not considered on the plenary floor as time ran out.”
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