Authority of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters
The title should be, “This Is Embarrassing”
Years ago, General Conference set up a standing committee to be able to vet petitions about Central Conference matters to be sure they were sensible and would work to benefit the central conferences rather than be disruptive or inappropriate.
Someone thought it was a good idea to change when Central Conference bishops had to retire and sent in a petition. It should have been sent to the standing committee but it went straight to the legislative committee from where it was put on the consent calendar and got passed by General Conference.
When the mistake was discovered, it had to be referred to the Council to halt its application because it would have caused a number of central conferences to be without a bishop with a half year or more before they could elect a new one. (Read the dockets, you all. That’s where the fun stuff is, the real reasons for the necessity for a ruling by the Council.)
How could such a thing happen? I know the Petitions Secretary. I think of him as a competent and careful guy, though I do not think he is immune to General Conference politics. He should have made the correct referral. But maybe he did. The Committee on Reference is the second place where a referral could have been misdirected. There have been some times the committee fought off bad suggestions about referrals of petitions to the wrong legislative committees and other times they succumbed. The third place a petition can be shifted is from a legislative committee where someone should have known to get the bad petition properly vetted by the standing committee. But from the “title” of the petition as it is given in the decision, it never left the legislative committee. (Referrals are indicated by the initials of the various legislative committees in which the petition was reviewed added to the ‘title”.)
Why could such a thing happen? Carelessness is far and away the most likely. It did not seem to be a significant enough issue considering the tensions facing the denomination and slipped through the cracks. But as I said, three different folks/groups had a shot at getting the referral to the standing committee right and they all missed.
Having watched the denomination for sixty years, forty of them focusing on the underbelly because of my experience in advocacy, whenever I see something related to the bishops, my inclination is to look for the hand of one of several manipulative bishops playing some kind of game for his/her own benefit. But I have no concrete grounds in this case to tie this mistake to any agenda.
So for now, all I can say is that it was an embarrassing mistake and it has been resolved. The Council would have been better off resolving it a year ago when it first came up rather than deferring it to the February session. There is a good chance the matter was not going to actually impact any retirements during that year. However, I am wondering if the Council can consider establishing a way to handle relatively simple cases like this in the interim. They have an emergency process which they have used for the Bishops when they request attention on their own sense of urgency (such as JCD 1360). But now the Council faces appeals of cases which are under a time factor from pastors that need nearly immediate review (such as JCD 1373, and items I am aware of that are on or should be on the docket for Fall, 2019). I think it is within their authority to set up a “rapid response team” to deal with such needs with some kind of checks-and-balances.