Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Finishing up

I'm sure more thoughts on General Conference will occur to me in the days and weeks ahead. But every good thing must come to an end. Even if you don't agree that this has been a good thing, I'm still ending it!


For you who may have wanted some word on how a petition you were interested in came out, my friend Peter Milloy found one key website: http://calms.umc.org/2008/

Or you can get to it through the www.UMC.org website; go to 2008 General Conference; and then go to Resources for delegates; and finally click on Legislation tracking.

Not all the information is there on each petition sent in but by persisting, you'll probably find how a petition made out. If not, I'll ask Peter.


One of the things that happens at General Conference is that there is an omnibus motion to accept the items not yet debated in plenary but which have been handled in the legislative committees. It is made at the last minute of the business session.

This blog will be my "omnibus" action.

I kept notes on scraps of paper I could carry in my pocket. I also reported some things by e-mail to particular friends. Some of that information, though of more general interest, did not make it into the blog till now.

Some will go into relevant blogs as updates. In "A Word about the new Judicial Council" from Tuesday, April 29, I report the new officers.

Here I'll list the whole Council with who are the two top alternates in order of their election:

Members from election in 2004 - 2012:
Rev. Dennis Blackwell (Greater New Jersey Annual Conference) (Pastor, lead delegate to GC)
Beth Capen (New York AC) (Lawyer, active presence at all levels of conferences & local church)
Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe (new president) (South Carolina AC) (Dean of Chapel at Emory Univ.)
Judge Jon Gray (new vice-president) (Missouri AC) (alternate to JC in 1996 and 2000)

Members from election in 2008 - 2016
Rev. Kathi Austin-Mahle (Minnesota AC) (Conference staff)
Judge Angela Brown (California-Nevada AC) (Commander Naval Reserve,Retired; active judge)
Rev. F. Belton Joyner (new secretary) (North Carolina AC) (retired pastor, writer, on Cabinet)
Rev. William Lawrence (North Texas AC) (Dean, Perkins School of Theology, SMU)
Judge Ruben Reyes (Philippines) (Supreme Court member, professor of law)

First lay alternates 2008-2012:
Jay Arthur Garrison (Holston AC) (Conference Chancellor)
William White (Wisconsin AC) (Conference Chancellor)

First clergy alternates 2008-2012
Rev. Joe May (Mississippi AC) (Pastor, active on jurisdictional and general church levels)
Rev. James Karblee (Liberia AC) (Active on all levels of conference)

All the candidates listed good backgrounds. Only Bill White specified that he was not a member of "any particular advocacy group." I really think that helped him get so many votes!


When the rules for GC were being considered, a delegate sought the floor to amend the rule on use of cell phones. "Since texting is basically silent, I move we allow it. That way I can be in touch with my daughter who is a delegate on the other side of the room."

It passed.


As I was waiting to see a delegate, I sat in the hall outside the main entrance to the plenary. Sitting in another chair next to me, a retired pastor named Rev. Cecil Reed, chatted with me.

He introduced himself as the chaplain to President Jimmy Carter whenever Camp David was used. One time the head of chaplains for the Armed Services asked to be able to conduct services and preach.

President Carter said, "No, I really prefer Cecil."


Marshals and pages are a marvelous help at General Conference. The marshals are stationed at all entrances and exits to the arena as well as to the plenary. They control foot traffic, keeping visitors out of areas that would crowd the delegates in their work but allowing visitors to observe.

The pages are the carriers of messages. They carry notes to delegates from visitors, other delegates, and agency staff people (bishops maybe?). It rarely takes more than a few minutes for a note to reach a delegate.

These marshals and pages are there at their own expense. They share in a freewill offering taken toward the end of the Conference. That rarely provides more than 20% of their actual expenses.

All of these volunteers know that is the situation. They are happy to be at GC and to be able to help.

What is disconcerting is that the information they are sent about possible housing are about hotels that begin at $135 a night. What is not mentioned in the materials are the smaller chain motels across the street costing less than half.


Before GC began, I happened to go back stage of the podium/worship center. At previous GCs I attended, it was a good short cut from where I usually sat during plenary and the Cokesbury bookstore.

There were armed Fort Worth police officers in pairs here and there in that vast area, maybe a half dozen altogether. None challenged me but I got the impression I was not welcome to roam freely as I had in the past.

I didn't go that way again.

When President Sirleaf of Liberia came, there were officers all over outside and inside. There were extra volunteers to stop people from going in or out certain doors. I could understand that.

But two nights later, two armed officers were up in the bleachers where I was. They were watching the podium but not in a way I took to be "on the alert."

It took all the nerve I had to go over and ask if they found the plenary interesting. There was a polite response to the effect that it was not. I asked if they happened to belong to our denomination, thinking they came in to see how GC was going. They said no. I asked what their mission was. They looked at me strangely. That kind of ended the conversation.

A friend described his annual conference session where armed police were all over the meeting and worship hall the whole three or four days.

While I am sure there were officers around during the whole GC, that one night was the only time I saw them in our public space as a conference.

I still feel bad that someone thought they had to be there.


I wonder if our understanding of the church would change if we realized a pastor plus a church become a franchise holder. What value would the franchise be to the holder? Would someone please consider the administrative flow chart and then do the math.


I attended a meeting where several people spoke of their emotional and spiritual journey through having a son or daughter come out of the closet. One retired bishop used a line that might have made Revs. Jeremiah Wright and John Hagee proud (or not!). The bishop said, "My Lesbian daughter has two children and she's still a virgin. Take that, Pope Benedict!"


I found out that the reference committee did not send over all of the personnel procedures to the Judicial Administration Legislative Committee. Someone must have gotten to them to argue that administrative procedures were not involuntary. That had been the criterion on which was based my request for switching many petitions from the Ministry and Higher Education Legislative Committee.

It will be interesting to see if the problem that led them to switch so many other petitions will come back to haunt them - that different sections of the personnel processes, of Fair Process and Restorative Justice, will coordinate or have dysjunctions.

One new passage that apparently was passed into the 2008 Discipline allows the bishop to make a final determination about appointability. Some bishops have ignored Fair Process and they can ignore what seems to be a new fairly reasonable process of supervision.

The key phrase of the new passage is this:

" 4. If an elder fails to meet professional responsibilities (¶340), does not demonstrate vocational competence or effectiveness as defined by the annual conference through the board of ordained ministry and cabinet, and/or does not accept the appointment determined by the bishop, then an appointment may be forfeited and the provisions of ¶362 may be invoked. " (Paragraph 334)

That sure sounds like it could become involuntary in a hurry!

That may depend on what the meaning of "may" is (to paraphrase President Clinton's famous quote.)


One of the volunteers from the Central Texas Conference knows someone from Port Charlotte, FL, and wondered if she goes to our church. . . . Ours is the smallest UM Church in town and I haven't run into her.

Sometimes the world is not as small as we thought.


During one of the worship services, a Native American church group sang a lengthy benediction in their own language and music.

One of the things I like about our church is that we give reason and opportunty for languages and musical forms to be preserved for future generations. It may not be enough given all the pressures that are washing away these ancient cultures. But it is something.


I heard an interesting phrase.

A bishop worked for years to get a project up and running so that this GC could authorize it. In the legislative committee, he found out that the project was headed for rejection because it wasn't from "inside the tent."

A bishop is seen as "not inside the tent?"

In every hierarchy, even those at the top, have their own hierarchies!


I will report on specific changes related to personnel work in more detail after our Associates in Advocacy meeting next week. They may require several postings as this report on General Conference did.


It's about time to mark this three oh (reporterese for sending the article for editing and publication).

I have enjoyed the journey through General Conference and trying to share some thoughts about it.

There are other reports in blogs and in the various media, church and secular, that have details about things in which you may have been more interested.

If you stayed on this long, I thank you and hope it was worth your time and attention.

As always, feel free to contact me to question, correct, challenge, or exchange thoughts.

I now return the blog to its original intention, commentary of the current church scene. And this blog will be transferred over to our website for future reference sometime soon.



I referred earlier to the problem many delegates had with the cool temperatures and low humidity they experienced here at GC.

But what of the rest of the delegates, particularly those from the US? Was clothing an issue for those prepared for the temperatures?

Actually, the next biggest issue was foot comfort. I saw a lot of cross training shoes on men and women. Walking is an issue which shiny stylish leather shoes do not really resolve comfortably!

The clothing was mostly informal, long khaki pants and short sleeve shirts not tucked in were most common among the male delegates and visitors. I would say forty percent were so dressed.
By the third day of conference, I went shopping for two cotton slacks and two dark cotton shirts. Along with my New Balance 608s, I was set for the rest of the time I was there.

Suits and ties were on about 20% of the male delegates and ninety percent of the male bishops.

That kind of tells you who belongs to which street gang! (Update: I wish I’d thought of that during GC. I might have been able to put numbers and names to that possibility. The other explanation has to do with appearing professional and that would cross all lines of formal and informal groupings.)

The American women clergy tended to wear heels and “business” apparel, by which I mean anything from dark suits to colorful skirts and jackets. There were times I saw some of the women in jeans with their hair down and in sweat shirts, but those were not very often because women constituted a large percentage of the presenters on the conference floor and in the leadership of the committees and sub-committees.

Among the folks from overseas, the Europeans tended to dress less formally, men and women. The Central and South Americans did not seem to dress distinctively. Nor was I aware of Asian garb except on some of the women who wore filmy skirts that hung to their ankles and looked like they would catch in the escalators. I was always nervous following them because I did not have a scissors to cut them loose if their skirts got caught.

Far and away the most color came from some of the African delegates, especially the women. Some women wore headdresses made of the same colorful materials of their fulsome dresses. They were worn with dignity and grace. (I also felt some degree of arrogance among them . . . .)
The African men wore many different things. Most were in suit and ties much of the time. Those from the poorer countries probably only had one or two such outfits bought specifically for GC. But some had very colorful garb native to their country which they wore on occasion. Those same delegates also ended up wearing khakis, short sleeve shirts, and sports jackets to face the cold dry air of the arena.

On the warmer days, some of the visitors wore shorts common among us Floridians.

I did not wear my shorts downtown. But I did start out wearing my suit and nice slacks we had bought for me to wear in 2004.

After the rainstorm soaked my suit coat and slacks, especially after seeing how the delegates tended not to be dressed up, I stuck with the khakis, dark short-sleeved shirts, and comfortable walking shoes.

I mailed back most of my good clothes well ahead of flying home. I did keep my suit and shirt and tie in case the Judicial Council invited me in to discuss the two papers I offered to them, one on basic approach to dealing with cases and the other on the issue of recusing.

No surprise, the suit stayed in the closet the rest of the conference.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Are We There Yet?

Sometime in the near future, I will see if we can transplant these blogs over into the AIA website so they can be archived there. They may be instructive as we all plan for 2012.

But the task of sorting through GC actions on Fair Process remains before me. As I read the Daily Christian Advocate and hear from others who watched GC, I am sure other things worthy of mention will find their way into this blog for 2008.

I am looking forward to our Associates in Advocacy annual meeting on May 20-21 when we will go over all the germane legislation and see if we can get it sorted out. If you want to be a part of that confab which will be held near OHare Field in Chicago (actually Elk Grove Village), contact me or check the website (www.aiateam.org) for more information.

My postings will probably be sporadic over the next two weeks as they have been much of the time over the past two. So be patient, dear readers (I have now had two who told me they checked it every day). We will soon be done.

Another result . . .

The Church tried to navigate a course down the middle through the rocky waters of the homosexuality debate.

The right defeated a statement for the Social Principles that would have said that Christians of deep conviction were on both sides of the issue. The legislative committee reported that out as their motion. But as I described earlier, the right seemed to have been supported by the presiding bishop and that motion failed.

However, the right was unable to stop some new definitions from being added to the Social Principles, one for homophobia and one for heterosexism.

The right has been claiming it is not homophobic for many years, pointing to how it has ministries to homosexuals through congregations in the Transforming Church movement. They have been far more clear about their concern over "practicing homosexuals" because that behavior is the problem, not the orientation to it.

So instead of finding another middle path which calls on all sides in the church to realize homosexuality is on a continuum with heterosexuality so that all of us are more or less both gay and straight, sometimes in the same person's lifetime, something science is now trying to call to our attention, the GC chose to add "heterosexism" to our vocabulary.

Now the left wing has a new feather to pound on the right wing with while the main body of the church is trying to fly. The problem they see with the right is that it is heterosexualist, prejudiced against homosexuals.

Next GC, someone on the right will probably succeed putting into the Social Principles some kind of term for progressives who are prejudiced against conservatives!

We must love to be in conflict!

We perpetuate it by not sitting down and looking at all the evidence and experience and reason (and tradition if anthropologists are right about how other cultures have treated homosexuality through history - not just through that of the Middle East).

The right takes Old and New Testament passages as their authority and stops there despite their own family members being homosexual!

The left stops at thinking all homosexuality is from God and no homosexual has a choice in the matter, despite years of experience showing some people choose the lifestyle in order to be part of a vocation or because it becomes an excuse to avoid something else in life that they cannot deal with.

Come on, People. Let's talk about the whole range of information that has built up so we can settle this conflict.

Pasting new labels on one another is not doing much good.

We all have to face up to the reality that we are working out of prejudice rather than humble seeking of truth and justice.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Lobbying by individuals

Successful lobbying at General Conference usually depends on the establishment of a very wide and strong network, often a coalition of a number of groups. I've discussed some of those in another blog.

Then there are the rest of us, each trying to bring our light to shine on some issue or other.

Some individuals have followed the rules wisely and been able to get a petition to stay alive despite much opposition and get them through the legislative process. They are usually delegates with the authority that entails. They can make motions on the floor and they have voice. Without a committed delegate on your side, you are at the mercy of the process no matter how wise nor well prepared your petition may be.

The truth and fullness of the petition to censure Dr. Holsinger helped it make it through the special rule passed early in the conference and got it as far as a sub-committee where it was debated. Without enough delegate support, it may have been misinterpreted as partisan or seen as moot because Holsinger was not even on the ballot for Judicial Council. Or it may have been misconstrued because no one provided the arguments of the reference committee about it's being within the new rules.

I don't know yet.

Petitions from individuals rarely get beyond the sub-committee.

Other individuals come in person to monitor the progress of their petitions. They usually know delegates in the legislative committees and have prepared them to sustain the petitions as long as possible so they will get full consideration.

One such colleague has successfully taken concerns to the Judicial Council where his arguments have prevailed on narrow but important matters. Having that history, his presence and his petitions carry a weight that is greater than any most individuals have. He has name recognition among many in the legislative committee.

This year he even invited the whole legislative committee to dinner at his own expense to offer a lecture on how Fair Process works and where its failings are. Only a handful came but his effort meant they were far more ready to deal with all petitions in that area.

About the only thing you can say about my efforts this time around is that I have been persistent. Knowing some of the folks in key positions hasn't hurt. But I don't see the progress that is needed.

Over the years, something of mine enters the Discipline because someone else thought it was a good idea and offered it through a general church agency or caucus. That may be the only way some good ideas are accepted: someone of stature presents it as their own. And maybe they did think of it on their own. I try to provide ideas that are self-evident.

I still have no idea how my petitions fared. The few I tracked were rejected. But some may have been incorporated into other petitions that were passed. Sorting through the petitions that passed is a major project. I have been too tired to do it yet. I'm still napping most afternoons.

One of the delegates who has heard from me since I first started trying to influence the General Conference with my 30 to 50 petitions every four years gave me a hug and teased, "Without you, Jerry, we'd be all done by now." She laughed when I replied, "Well, you can't say I didn't give General Conference a chance to get it right."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lobbying by groups

An individual trying to get something through General Conference that could change things for the better is thought to be impossible.

Far and away, the most effective at bringing change are organized groups.

The most powerful lobbying group is the Council of Bishops. Their lifetime election gives them so many advantages. They hold the power of appointment over every clergy person at General Conference. They are respected by the laity, especially those who sometimes gain considerable stature in the church by becoming important in the structure.

I am amazed that lay people in positions of serious authority can sometimes be unable to face up to the injustices that come to their attention. I take that to mean there is a dependency on the bishops for their status.

Watching efforts by reasonable people to deal with some of the imbalances caused by the money it takes to have bishops for life shows that it is often very hard to get General Conference to agree.

Getting bishops into the legislative committees as parliamentarians almost died because of the inability to gather enough for this General Conference. But they will be the parliamentarians as of 2012.

And their candidates for Judicial council won.

The next most effective lobbyists are the conservative coalition. Behind them are millions of dollars that support some of their efforts. The cost of cell phones for hundreds of overseas delegates was not raised from the donations of the pastors and average laity. Nor is renting a whole hotel just a block from the conference center. That had to have been done long before the GC Commission realized that the two major hotels would not be ready in time.

The conservative coalition provided free breakfasts for any delegates who wished to have them. And they have worked hard to get their delegates elected from the various annual conferences. Their national communications network is second to none. They provide glossy printed materials to hand out to the delegates while most lobbying groups have materials produced by computer but then reproduced by copy machines.

The conservative coalition got some of their legislation through despite having fewer delegates than in previous General Conferences. They did so by successfully lobbying and marshaling foreign delegates for many of their key votes on homosexuality.

Methodist Federation for Social Action and groups seeking justice for homosexuals did not have the financial resources but they have been at lobbying longer than the other groups. Their communications network is not backed up with massive funding like the conservative coalition, but they are closer to the public relations model of "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" than the other two groups and so tend to be more persuasive on nearly all other issues than the wedge issues raised by the conservatives and the institutional control issues raised by the bishops.

The progressive coalition's successful negotiation of the "witness" demonstration and doing it without arrests this time was quite effective. Their success at voting out Judicial Council members that had been a major conservative block for the last eight years is as good as the conservatives' taking over of the Judicial Council eight years ago.

Beyond those three, there were few others that gained attention.

In particular, the Women's Caucus did not seem active this time around. Beyond having monitors on inclusiveness who were given time to report their counts of speakers' gender, status, and nationality, there seemed to not be much new in the way of legislation.

That monitoring did have a major impact on this GC. Few middle aged white men were elected to leadership on the legislative committees and sub-committees!

Those roles usually help people who want to be bishop gain "face" time and their performance in those roles is a serious factor in winning election to the office of bishop. If so, many more women than usual will become bishops in July's jurisdictional elections.

The "Spotted Owl" group was very effective and their effort to shorten the time required to become an Elder appears to have succeeded. Their goofy knit caps should go into some kind of "Hall of Fame" for specific issue lobbyists.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

AIA as a bridge group

The laws of the church tend to slow down the way we'd rather mishandle a problem than to learn from the past how better to solve it.

As Dr. Curl and other of my Perkins professors taught, "The Discipline is made up of attempts to solve problems in better ways, 200 hundred years worth of wisdom."

Associates in Advocacy seeks to remind church people about that and seeks to facilitate working through the Disciplinary process under every circumstance.

That means we work with people whose opinions on a wide variety of issues differ greatly.

We have helped advocates defend very conservative evangelical pastors and we have helped very liberal pastors. We have helped men and women, lay and clergy, young and old.

The list of advocates I keep are also across the spectrum of belief which underlies our denomination. I have high regard for all of them even when one or another gives up on me because I happen to have a theological stance of my own which may disagree with theirs.

That still does not stop me from my first question of someone who calls, "What has happened?" We don't have a belief requirement before we will respond to a pastor or lay person in trouble in our system. One of the most liberal pastors in our group is defending one of the most conservative pastors in his conference. I have recommended one of the most conservative advocates in our association as one who can help her sort out a situation to one of the most liberal bishops.

The real problem within our system is not the width of the denomination's theological views. The real problem is injustice. And neither wing has that as its intent.

There are "controllers," "rigidniks" as they are identified by a friend, who operate on their own rules and refuse to allow anyone else including their respective institutions to give them guidance. Those kind use the conscientious of their respective persuasions to be their foot soldiers in their war against their enemies, playing on their beliefs in a cynical way to gain and keep control.

Some of our clients are those who were dumped after helping a controller get what s/he wanted.

Sometimes I avoid speaking out on the hot button issues because others do it so well and I don't want to take sides on some matters.

But as one who believes in the Golden Rule and the General Rules, I am not always content to be silent when I see my conservative or liberal colleagues being used for someone else's rise to power.

I set up this blog not for my opinions but to report what is relevant to the Church in terms of justice matters.

That sometimes opens the door for my opinions. It becomes hard sometimes to avoid crossing that line.

So I've taken a chance by offering opinions.

Excoriate me if you will but if you are in trouble with the Church, call and I'll provide the best help our association can offer.

One result . . .

As I wrote earlier, General Conference had a tendency to give something to both wings of the church. While the main body steered down the middle, the wings got an extra feather or two.

Here's one for the "right" from Riley Case in a recent newsletter from the Confessing Movement:

"One significant abortion-related petition added the phrase to the Social Principles section on abortion: 'respects the sacredness..of the unborn child.' The significance is that the unborn child is called an unborn child and not a fetus."

What I've never understood is why a Roman Catholic doctrine based on Original Sin, which says that a baby's life has priority over the mother's because the mother has accumulated more sin over her lifetime since the mother's baptism than the child and the baptized child has far less, is now a plank of the right wings' platform.

The United Methodist Church has held a balanced and wise policy on abortion for as long as I can remember. We have wanted abortion to not be used unless there was a significant medical problem that endangered the mother or child. We believe that only after serious counseling with pastoral and appropriate professionals should abortion be used.

Adoption is our first recommendation when a mother is not in a position to care for the newborn.

One of the reasons this balanced view was taken by our denomination was because of "Our belief in the sanctity of the unborn human life . . . . But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother. . . ."

Isn't the real issue not just nobly taking a stand but seeking how best to insure that abortions only follow humane counseling? And at the same time seeking what is the best outcome for any human life that is born?

The alternative is to leave everything in God's hands and not interfere with the natural course of events. But that logically leads to taking a position that says we should not intervene medically in any situation.

I believe there are folks on both sides of this set of arguments who are deeply Christian and compassionate. They would not be likely to take the extreme logical position.

What bothers me is that there are some who do not want to admit the truth of that reality and want only to have one side win, their side.

That is a symptom of "party spirit" which the Scriptures say is not a gift of the Holy Spirit!

Logical inconsistency is not the worst of sins, though it leaves us open to making horrendous mistakes. What pains me is the way it can be used to block deepening the discussion.

For example, the "evangelical" wing has been pecking away at the Social Principles a phrase at a time, focusing over the years in getting the General Conference to finally say "the sacredness..of the unborn child" without beginning the conversation about how to help individual pregnant women avoid future pregnancies that are unwanted, how to get China to stop its rural populations from practicing gender selection abortions, how to raise the economic level of families that cannot afford another mouth to feed without harming the children they already have, how to help a young woman face families bent on disowning them for having a baby out of wedlock, how to ease the "tragic conflicts of life" which make abortion seem the only way to resolve them even if it means crossing state lines to go into back alleys to medically incompetent people willing to help with an abortion.

One of the great qualities of our denomination is that it has attempted to take wise stands based on experience, reason, and tradition, and Scripture, mainly Jesus' teachings. That puts us into offering more complex answers because no simple answers take into account the harm that come can from just thinking in black and white.

Frankly, I wonder if the desire to win and to not want to face the possibility that there are Christians on the other side of the argument is to make abortion a wedge issue to undermine the denomination and split it.

But the General Conference plows on, giving one side this feather but being misconstrued so that the right wing feels like it can best help the denomination fly by beating the left wing into submission.


In 1952, several students from Latvia attended my hometown Waukesha's High School. They escaped the Russian take-over of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. That history came back to life when I had the honor of going to dinner with Tarmo Lilleoja.

Tarmo was elected as one of two delegates to General Conference from Estonia. I met him at the Reference Committee. He represented the Ministry Legislative Committee. So I saw a good deal of him the first week.

Tarmo's command of English is very good so we had an extensive conversation about him, his family, the church in Estonia, and his country's history.

When the Russian occupation ended in 1991, Estonia was left in a shambles, its economy ruined, its infrastructure in desperate need of help, and its humanitarian needs tremendous. The influx of aid from Europe and England was handled through the church which had maintained its connections during the occupation. He became one of the administrators for that program.

Estonia being a small nation of around a million and a half citizens, it pulled together, restoring its original governmental system from before the Russian occupation during WWII. It held elections and became re-established very soon after the Russians left.

It meant a great deal to Estonia that its ambassador to the US was recognized here as Estonia's government in exile from the time the Russians took over in 1944. The rest of the world recognized the Russian-formed government after WWII. The US decision made it easier for Estonia to become re-established as an independent nation and it explains how it is that Estonia has been a part of the "Coalition of the Willing" in our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tarmo said that the German take-over had been peaceful. Estonia was seen by them as a former German colony (Germans had invaded Estonia in 13th century). During WWII, Estonians were conscripted into the German army. When Russia invaded, they hunted down and killed many of those former "German" soldiers. Russia's occupation was cruel.

Other times in history going back to Middle Ages were frequently under Russian domination. The Bolsheviks tried to keep Estonia within Red Russia, but failed. Estonia established its independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917.

He told me his dad had been conscripted by the Germans but somehow escaped detection by the Russians. However, they conscripted him without realizing he had served in the German army.

During the Nuremberg trials, Estonian conscripts guarded the German officers. One of the officers recognized his guards who had also served under him. But he never told on them.

Tarmo has three sons, all as different as they can be. One has exceptional athletic ability and Tarmo was in touch with college coaches while he was here to see if they had a scholarship program for which his one son would qualify.

Tarmo's wife is dean of the United Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia. When I told him I wrote a manual for first-time pastors, he said she might be interested in seeing it so I sent him a copy by e-mail.

It is long past time that we were more clear about how the churches in other countries are not "mission" churches but full-fledged national churches like ours is. We are fortunate to have a relationship with them.

I have no trouble looking at that relationship being as equals.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Value of this General Conference

Probably the most important value was that so many United Methodists got to meet so many others and rediscover just how many wonderful fellow Christians there are world wide!

I've mentioned the saints I've met. The volunteers from the Central Texas Conference are way up there on my list. The folks I have known as far back as 1984 who still attend General Conference are mostly among the saints. I dealt with a number of media folks working for our denomination and they proved to be worthy of genuine esteem. The friendships across national lines may become invaluable.

Whatever machinations or political moves or failures of this quadrennial event, the relationships that we developed will mean something to us for years to come. I really think this is the highest value we received for our time in Fort Worth.

Despite shoving the censure of President Bush under the rug, this body of United Methodists made some policy votes that say how we feel about what the Bush Administration has done:

96% voted that war was incompatible with Jesus' teachings

96% voted urging peaceful resolutions be sought with Iraq, North Korea, and any other world nations and against pre-emptive military actions

96% voted to reduce man-made greenhouse gases

98% voted in opposition to building the Bush library at SMU because of the separation of church and state. (See update below.)

Similarly high percentages voted for protecting undocumented workers and their families with broader immigration reforms

While General Conference voted to retain "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" (60%), it also voted to add definitions of homophobia (fear of homosexuality) and heterosexism (discrimination against homosexuals) (60%).

As in so many past General Conferences, this one maintained a steady course down the middle as these delegates perceived it, giving something to the left and something to the right.

But finally, it stayed together. Considering that serious attacks to divide the church by use of hot button issues for the last 36 years, maybe the second greatest value is that we did not divide.


So far, I have not found confirmation of this vote. Though reported this way in the Fort Worth newspaper, the official record of GC says that the vote was to refer the motion by that margin for consideration by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July.

The Ministry and Higher Education Legislative Committee, the one that tended to support what the bishops wanted, made the original referral accepted by the plenary without debate.

Most scholars and church law experts believe that the final decision about the Bush facilities at SMU belongs in the hands of the "owners," the jurisdictional conference.

The South Central College of Bishops voted several months ago to okay the placement of the Bush presidential library at SMU. Their action is seen by many to have been inappropriate and a way to get around the Bush Foundation from having to wait till July before starting to build the Bush facilities at SMU.

How could they now rescind a vote they thought was legitimate and have to tell that to President Bush's people?

Perhaps there was some concern to protect the bishops because they wouldn't have to face that if the Bush facilities were under construction by July and thus a vote by the jurisdictional conference would be moot.


In 1988, the General Conference accomplished something, establishment of Africa University. The twentieth anniversary of that decision was celebrated as a significant event in the life of our denomination.

We celebrated a large number of such anniversaries: 40th anniversary of the dissolution of the Central (Negro)Jurisdiction and their integration into the rest of the American church; 60th anniversary of Advance, our special process of offering ways to collect money for specific mission projects; 40th anniversary of the Commission on Religion and Race; 100th anniversary of the Social Creed; 100th anniversary of United Methodist Men; and the 100th anniversary of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

I'm not sure we will celebrate anything that was done at this General Conference in twenty or forty or a hundred years.

The most important decision made this year was to call Central Conferences "regional" conferences, with the implication that the U. S. church is one "region" among many, and no longer the dominant one. That change in terminology must be supported by the annual conferences, a result which will not be known until mid-2009.

The reality, of course, is that the U. S. church will still be dominant in four years when a task force examining the implications and future direction of United Methodism will report back with possible concrete steps to decentralize the denomination.

As was mentioned earlier, there are those who want the American church to dominate world Methodism in order to dominate its theology and its resources. They have four years to disrupt the study commission and then to torpedo any plan that undercuts their dreams of complete control.

Otherwise, this General Conference will go down in history as doing little for which to go down in history.


I'm not the only one who felt the effects of the exhausting pace of General Conference.

Rev. Rebekah Miles of Arkansas wrote the following for UMNexus Blog:

"A person who has lost a lot of sleep will experience the same impairments as someone who’s had a couple of margaritas. If you go 24 hours without sleep or go a week with only five hours of sleep a night, like many General Conference delegates, you are just as impaired as someone with a .10 percent blood alcohol level.

"Sleep deprivation is linked to poor judgment, increased irritability and anxiety, and lowered productivity and social skills.

"In one study, researchers found only one difference between those who went 24 hours without any sleep and those who went for a week with only five or so hours a night: Those with no sleep at all recognized that they were messed up!"

She said that the effort to save money by shortening the General Conference only produced a frantic pace that wore out everyone. They had to pack the same amount of work into fewer days and five hours of sleep a night was not enough.

Despite my getting back every day but one to the parsonage where I stayed, napping up to three hours on occasion, it still has taken me days to recuperate.

Okay, so I am an old duffer and can't handle the pace. Rev. Miles looks to be in her mid-thirties, the prime of her life. And she still speaks of the wear and tear she suffered. Another friend observed in a telling way how he felt three days after, "I survived."

I found my ministry at General Conference was trying to get the volunteers who were there from 7 in the morning to 11 at night to take naps. The coordinator of volunteers was so tired she told me that she told all the volunteers about resting during the day, though none of them remembered her having done it.

That illustrates Rev. Miles' point. Sleep deprivation makes us do goofy things like rationalize because we are too tired to think straight. That coordinator was always there and put in 16 hour shifts nearly every day of the conference.

I've commented that bishops have to be hale and hardy to stand the rigors of their jobs. At General Conference, the bishops have a place to sit during the plenary sessions, up on the stage in front of everyone. But there were seldom more than a dozen or so of the fifty active and one hundred retired bishops in their seats during plenary sessions. Even they couldn't handle the pace!

Finally, many legislative committees reported out on petitions with total votes of 37 out of the 100 assigned to them. There were a lot who did not stay around to the end of those sessions. Beside the two censure petitions, one can wonder what else did not get a full committee's consideration.

Monday, May 5, 2008

More to come

Despite my silence of the last few days and despite GC concluding, I have a few more observations to send your way.

I'll keep this one very short.

Scrutiny of articles in the media, both church and secular, show how widely we cast our prophetic net over the evils of our society, asking our churches to face them and do something about them, such as torture, trafficking in slavery, poverty, pre-emptive war, etc.

But the GC was unwilling to deal publicly with the misbehavior of two very public figures who call themselves United Methodists and failed to look seriously at many petitions intended to improve our unjust personnel practices.

I guess it is okay to hang out other people's dirty laundry and hide our own . . . .

Friday, May 2, 2008

Hard at work

Yesterday after the "witness" demonstration, it was eerily silent in the plenary. I had the feeling the event had an impact on everyone. Four bishops wore rainbow stoles and stood in solidarity with the demonstrators and their supporters in the bleachers.

When I went back last night after taking a needed long nap at the parsonage, I found the delegates still very quiet, but, if you can imagine, the 800 remaining delegates were even quieter this morning.

There were no whispered conversations. There was no restless movement of bored delegates.

Every eye was forward. Every body was fully attentive to what was going on before them.

They were in full work mode.

It stayed that quiet and intense the whole morning. And the presiding bishop worked the plenary well. They passed the budget!

But that does not mean there was no laughter. The other day, a French-speaking African delegate was at the microphone to make argument in the discussion but the presiding bishop could not hear the translation. Usually, the translators voice is heard immediately after the delegate speaks. Suddenly over the loud speaker came, "Can you here me now?" That broke up the Conference. I did notice many from outside the US wondering why we were laughing.

On another occasion, a delegate was speaking about a mis-statement which the bishop had allowed to go uncorrected. The delegate told the bishop he was deeply offended and that he would see the bishop at his (the delegate's) office at 8 a. m. the next morning.

Superintendents and bishops are known to make such demands.

The presiding bishop responded immediately, "Is there someone else who wants to speak?"

Everyone laughed.

Most of the bishops do have a sense of humor and some have a marvelous sense of timing so that they can make something come out funny in the moment.

This morning's intensity had some of those moments. I did not make notes on them, I'm sorry to say.

But as we were getting down close to the noon break, the bishop announced the winner of the auction of an autographed basketball, the proceeds of which were going to "Nothing But Nets," the now-national movement to buy mosquito nets for African children vulnerable to malaria. Then he gave the total raised during GC: nearly half a million dollars!

That drew a tremendous ovation. He rose, dribbled the basketball, and passed it to the bishop whose conference had raised the largest amount of money. He dribbled the ball to the podium as the cheers continued.

They were not the Harlem Globe Trotters! But they looked like they'd done it before.


I used to be on our conference's journal committee and be responsible for reporting on the accuracy of the minutes of the conference secretary. Rev. Bill Stevens, who was ours for many years, began each day's minutes with something like, "The sun shown brightly and the air was cool as conference members took their seats."

I have been remiss in not saying more about the weather.

This is Texas so you can imagine how the weather has been here. And it was.

The first night, the chair of the GC Commission talked to us about all the basic things of managing the Conference, including keeping an eye on the weather. He said, "That is what we are doing now."

We were aware of the sound of rain on the roof of the arena. The streets were slightly wet when we left the arena later that night.

The next morning, the newspaper reported tornadoes had touched down on towns north of Fort Worth.

That day and for several days following, the temperatures were in the low fifties each morning and the air was very dry. Delegates from tropical areas and many others were shivering in their seats and looking for anything to cover their shoulders and arms because the arena was so cool, even in the plenary and meeting rooms.

T-shirts and sweatshirts sold out at Cokesbury. Someone brought in boxes of small blankets.

Cokesbury brought in jackets that I would wear in Wisconsin on a cold fall or spring day. They sold out!

They were worn the rest of the two weeks.

There was one day that a gully washer hit as I was taking the train back to Richland Hills. As I walked the three blocks to the train, the wind blew what was a light rain against my suit slacks as I cowered under an umbrella, something contrary to my training in ROTC during college, but which kept my head dry anyway.

But as I got off the train, it was a major down pour. And the wind was strong and swirling enough that it tore up the umbrella and made it impossible to close the car door for several seconds.

There were no reports of tornadoes the next day.

Since then, the skies stayed cloudy for several days and it was cool again.

These closing days, the sun has shown brightly and the jackets and shawls have been worn only inside the arena. But the wind outside is blowing something fierce. One of the hundred foot wide tributaries of the Trinity River had whitecaps!

Like Wisconsin where I grew up, Texas has the saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."


I met a young woman wearing a stole of rainbow colors. She was working a computer on which she was able to show the "witness" demonstration that occurred yesterday. (She found it on one of the UMC websites.)

As we discussed the event, she commented that she has heard some crazy rumors, especially from overseas delegates.

They said that if she wore the multicolored stole, she was homosexual.

They said that she was not a United Methodist but an outsider trying to disrupt the church.

They said she would try to convert them to being Gay.

Someone has been misrepresenting the ones in the movement seeking fair treatment of homosexuals and requesting a "place at the table" where their concerns could be addressed.

I'd guess that at least 80 percent of the wearers of the stoles are parents and siblings of Gay individuals or are supportive of proving fair treatment for Gays and Lesbians.

I'd guess that 100% of those wearing the stoles around GC are United Methodists. Everyone I know personally certainly is a member of the UMC.

I have never seen any wearer of the stoles button-hole another person and talk with them about becoming homosexual.

Such rumors are truly bearing false witness against our neighbors.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Censure of President Bush

Thanks to the kind services of the office of the Petitions Secretary, the censure petition on President Bush was dealt with and did not just disappear . . . though it did in reality once it was referred to the Judicial Administration Committee.

Like the petition re: Dr. Holsinger, the Bush petition was not supported by the sub-committee and then was rejected by the whole legislative committee.

Maybe the petition was treated as a political document, presumed to be put in by partisans who oppose his policies. Those kinds of petitions really have no place in General Conference.

Some feel the petition was prophetic, a proper challenge by conscientious Christians who see the violations of Christian faith and practice in the administration of this President.

You can kind of guess what I think.

How is the GC going to feel if after he leaves office, George Bush is found to have been guilty of war crimes against humanity, torture, and knowingly lying to his country and the world?

And we couldn't even have the guts to ask him to repent and go into counseling or drop out of the church!


The logistics of eating are most difficult.

An early blog referred to the bishop who preached the opening sermon and then presided over the opening plenary which followed immediately after. She had not eaten since breakfast and was desperate for something to eat.

I heard several times of delegations from overseas arriving and, having had little or no food during their long flights, were depending on promised meals upon their arrival which did not happen right away.

A friend greeted me tonight with, "I need some cookies. I haven't had time for supper and I can't go out till after I've finished what I'm doing."

I am fortunate to be staying with a pastor and can drive to the grocery store or to a nearby cafeteria/restaurant anytime I am at the parsonage. That way, I can slip snacks into my bag along with my Discipline and conference materials.

But most of the delegates and staff can't get away. They are working from 8 in the morning or earlier until 11 pm or later every day.

The restaurants around the arena are two or more blocks away. Most of the delegates handle that well, walking six or more blocks sometimes to get to some of the more tasty places. Not all of us are that energetic or able.

That leaves two choices, 1) have an outlander like me shop on a regular basis for needed finger foods to have at the table or 2) hit the cookies.

Women and men all over the Central Texas Conference baked thousands of cookies. The baskets holding packages of three cookies are no longer piled high but they still are laid out as a snack for delegates and staff and visitors.

Today, I worked my way through three little bags, one as a mid-morning snack, one as lunch, and one for "pie time."

Ann and I established "pie time" some months ago as a way to reward ourselves for eating smaller meals and as a way to make sure we get all the calories we need.

Eating too few calories causes the body to think it is starving so it changes everything into fat anyway! Eat just enough calories and your body uses them all up and you can lose a little at a time.

My normal diet does not include homemade cookies.

But for General Conference, hey, they are a manifestation of the grace of God!

Tedium and fantasy

GC is at that tedious stage. It takes forever to work through a petition that gets to the floor.

I spent an hour or so trying to see what might be done to speed up things, like spread the tables out so the large-bodied delegates can actually get from their seats (always in the middle) to the aisle where the microphones are, like putting one parliamentarian next to the presiding bishop instead of two at a table behind her/him, cut the number of delegates, increase the number of microphones, etc.

As things are now, it seems like the bishop is driving a 40-mule team and she's a city girl! (Or he's a city boy!)

A symptom of my trouble earlier this week popped up so I made a hasty but ginger exit to come home. On the way, as a way of coping with the pain (fortunately not enough to need a pain pill yet), I started a new fantasy, the General Conference of the near future!

In it, the only thing on the table before each delegate would be a laptop with built-in camera and microphone. The screen of the lap top would provide a space for the motions being worked on, sent to each laptop by the conference secretary.

On the key pad would be the voting buttons.

In addition, if a delegate wanted to amend, the amendment could be written on the laptop and forwarded to the secretary and, if the presider recognized the second to that amendment, it could then be broadcast. With the touch of a button, the delegate would transmit his/her desire to speak as well as who s/he is and where s/he is from so the secretary would get it immediately and the delegate would not have to repeat name, conference, status, and region twice as they now do.

When the delegate wishes to speak, s/he speaks into the laptop's mike which then goes into the loud speaker system, has the laptop's camera put the delegate's face on the large screen, and the statement can then be made.

The presiding bishop would have a console which would light up when someone wanted to speak, would have a way for them to be prioritized by when they come in, and have the names of the delegates come up on screen with the signal requesting the floor.

The laptops would probably belong to the convention center and not be open to e-mail, games, porn sites, etc.

The tables could be as close together as they are now but no one would have to squeeze out just to speak.

The need for bulky books and papers would be minimized (they might still be needed for legislative committees - my fantasies have not extended to those just yet.

Ah but what of the break which is always more than a half hour and gobbles up a lot of time? I'd suggest personal or group exercise trainers who could take the stage at a moment's notice every half hour or so and conduct a minute or two of stretch and isometric exercises with everyone remaining at their tables.

The worship and celebrations would probably not change but they wouldn't have to except to be sure that the participants of processionals and leadership would need to be more carefully choreographed to come and go a little more quickly.

You get the picture. And I think this is possible now with current technology.

Should I pass this thought on to the Committee on the General Conference?

African delegates

Most of the European delegations tend to agree with the left wing of the American Church. Those from Central and South America, Asian countries, and Africa tend to be strongly opposed to homosexuality.

Most of those who spoke against the proposal that Christians should agree to disagree on this issue were African. One opened his statement by saying that homosexuals were the spawn of the devil. Fortunately, the discussion went uphill from there, though the underlying tone was, as I wrote earlier, the Scriptures are God's word and to not accept their prohibitions on homosexuality is unchristian.

There are moderates from all those same countries who tend to be no less than uncomfortable about homosexuality.

So there they sat in the midst of these protests by U. S. delegates and visitors. They are very unsure why the American church has such strong feelings and that there are so many who are for homosexuality.

But many African delegates have no such doubts. The power and depth of their commitment to not tolerate homosexuality has made the right-wing very pleased and has made them allies.

Part of the right-wing agenda is to transform the United Methodist Church into a Scripture-believing global church.

With the help of many African delegates, the right wing won this series of battles.

But the GC went ahead on the recommendation of legislative committees to regionalize the global church. Instead of us calling the rest of the UMC outside the United States "missionary conferences" (that terminolgy was laid to rest a couple decades ago) or "central conferences" (our current terms), GC voted today to shift to "regional conferences" to equalize the way we now see the church. Each regional conference stands as an equal with the church in the US.

I think the rest of the world is most glad to separate from us so they will have less to have to explain when they go home from GC! They'll be able to say, "Those crazy Americans are no longer the dominant force in the UMC. We are all equal. And we don't have to deal with homosexuality their way."

Suddenly, maybe the "African strategy" employed by the right has effectively broken up the hegemony they seek to control the whole denomination.

The Demonstration

I mentioned in a blog yesterday about the reaction a number of people had to the Judicial Council Decision in which the Council told the Conference it did not have the authority under the church constitution to establish any kind of accountability for the Council or its members.

The anguish which led to the singing of "Jesus Loves Me" during the reading of that lengthy decision to the Conference lay in the fact that the people believed this Judicial Council supported a pastor who allegedly refused church membership to practicing Gay man.

The progressive wing of our church still sees the right wing as prejudiced. And when the right wing wins one of these legislative or judicial battles, it is grievous to left because many of them have adult children who are homosexual, including at least two retired bishops.

Today, after a series of votes yesterday which basically sustained the church's two-fold stand on homosexuality (they are people of sacred worth but we don't want them marrying our kids), the left wing folks met with the bishop who was to preside today in an effort to be able to hold a peaceful demonstration.

Those negotiations led to a break during which the delegates remained in their seats as the protesters filled the central aisle and the cross aisle between the four sections of seating in the plenary. One of the spokespersons for the demonstration was given five minutes at the podium during which he spoke and prayed in a most quiet and gracious manner.

When he was finished, the demonstrators filed out of the arena, a group of about twenty remaining a few extra seconds around a table that has been used for Holy Communion, set in the middle of the "cross" of the aisles. But they too left quietly and the Conference went into their usual morning break.

A video stream of the Conference in session did not show the demonstration. When the presiding bishop was asked, he said he had not been aware that the video-streaming had been cut off. He said he was aware that GC policy has been to not video during breaks.

Censures - What happened?

Carefully scanning all the actions of the various legislative committees that have been reported so far, I found no reference to anything about the Bush censure. It may be reported sometime before the end of GC. Or it may sort of disappear in a cloud of actions which occurs at the conclusion of the Conference. Or maybe it just disappeared.

The Judicial Administration Committee received the Holsinger censure petition.

It faced consideration by a sub-committee, whose deliberations have not come to my attention so far.

When the petition went before the whole legislative committee, it was rejected almost unanimously, again, one person not voting.

The committee then put their disposition on the consent calendar which allows their decision to become the will of the General Conference when each day, the GC votes to uphold the consent calendar. A number of people can sign a request to withdraw it from consent calendar before that vote in hopes that the petition would then come to the floor.

There is no record of that having happened.


I learned from a person in the legislative committee that the petition on Holsinger did not arrive "alone" before the sub-committee. Holsinger wrote a letter and included three documents which supported his actions and contradicted some of the assertions in the petition. He sent them to every member of the legislative committee.

That caused enough confusion about the facts of the matter that the committee. already stressed for time and workload, did not feel it could be a finder of fact and make a reasonable judgment. They felt that the accusations should have gone into the judicial processes of the church, namely, formal complaints against him as a lay person. The jury would have been laity from the district and not from his church. The trial would have been on that level.

The lone abstention was the co-chair of the sub-committee because she was from the Kentucky Conference! She had the ethics to not involve herself even though the one reporting about this to me indicated she was furious with Holsinger.

The history of censure resolutions before General Conference was not known by the legislative committee. No one was prepared to deal with the issue of the GC's jurisdiction or precedents so the motion to reject the petition because "it came to the wrong place" was an easy decision for the group.


There are two petitions which ask the General Conference to censure individual United Methodists. One is directed at President Bush.

At plenary the other day, a mellifluous southern gentleman rose to take umbrage at the scurrilous attacks on one private individual in the other petition. The General Conference has in the past censured public officials so there is a precedent to do some censuring.

We really do not have a very good mechanism to deal with public officials who do things worthy of sanctions. To bring them through a complaint process puts the matter into their local church, which somehow seems an odd place to handle a complaint that could be national in scope. Seeking to get the General Conference to acknowledge the validity of a complaint at the level of a censure is about as likely a way as any to draw attention to a miscreant.

But this genteel churchman would have none of it for someone he did not name. He asked that the Rules Committee establish a rule to prevent such rapacious, vile, and obscene petitions against a private individual to be refused for consideration by such an august body.

The presiding bishop referred the matter to the Rules Committee. The next day, they brought such a rule for the body’s consideration.

In essence, it said that any petition for censure against a private individual could be withdrawn by the petitions secretary if the petition was found to be obscene or defamatory.

Further, the determination of the petitions secretary was to be reviewed by the Committee on Reference for affirmation. The committee could overturn or affirm the determination. They would make the final decision about forwarding the petition for censure to the proper legislative committee or withdrawing it.

Both censure petitions had come in before the rule was passed so they were regarded as valid under the old rules and had already been published among the pre-conference materials.

Both petitions had been seen by all those who took the time to read the huge books of petitions.

The first censure petition related to President George W. Bush. Since it was related to a public figure, it needed no review under the new rule and was referred to the proper legislative committee. The questions about obscenity and defamation were not asked but neither would have applied.

The second petition was referred to the petitions secretary for determination and his determination would then be reviewed by the reference committee . . . of which I had previously been critical, though this year’s group seems exemplary and diligent.

I was there when the petitions secretary reported his determination to the committee. I sat fascinated as they parsed the decision and reasons behind it that he gave.

He said that he determined the individual was a public figure based on his nomination to a national government office. He said he found no words or pictures that were obscene. He said that while the material contained highly critical words they were not actually defamatory.

The group spent more than an hour carefully going over every angle, every question, every definition, every bit of legal knowledge (two lawyers that I would trust in any circumstance are on the committee), every concern they had.

They carefully avoided arguing the merits of the petitions since the Conference would make that determination. They just wanted to be sure the guidelines of the new rule were met.

Then they went over it all a second time as they prepared to vote and then to publish their grounds for their decision. I can’t think of anything they didn’t do to be sure they got it right so no reasonable person could second guess their motives.

You can't stop unreasonable people for second guessing in any case!

It was obvious from the discussion that several were strongly opposed to the content of the petition but they took part. They joined in the effort to be sure that their task was defined and that their decision “had legs.”

They finally came to a vote which except for one abstention was unanimous. The petition was determined as proper under the new rule, and was then forwarded to the appropriate legislative committee.

Oh. The petition. The individual toward whom the request for censure was made is Dr. James Holsinger, president of the Judicial Council, and nominated for Surgeon General of the United States by President George Bush.


The committee fully expected that the press would be all over their decision and went to the trouble of discussing how members could respond to media queries, mainly referring the reporters to minutes that would become public records upon approval the next day or to the chairperson for accuracy.

Their decision did not appear in the Daily Christian Advocate the next day. I posted the above blog that morning only to withdraw it when I discovered there was no other publication. I figured the decision would not be news until the matter was voted upon by the General Conference. I waited.

Food comment

Yesterday, I took a friend to lunch. We went to the cafeteria of the city hall where I'd heard that the mayor often ate lunch. The prices were lower than the local restaurants.

It was quiet and by one o'clock when we arrived, we were among the few eating there. The setting was great for the conversation we had about ministry in an African urban setting.

I've been slipping bags of snacks to him for his delegation so that they would have something to revive them during the long plenary sessions. Their favorites have been cheese slices and low calorie cookies that aren't too sweet.


Because of my medical issues and because I have set for myself certain tasks to be done while I am at GC, I have spent little or no time attending the special celebrations and events used to inspire and waste time of the delegates.

I think a little too much time is devoted to ceremonial activities, but I am probably in the minority on that.

I did attend the celebration of Rural Life Ministries on the second night of Conference. I've mentioned that some of the best talent in the world is brought in to share their gifts with the delegates. I was impressed with what happened that night.

Frankly, I was tired and walking outside the plenary arena headed for the train station but could hear the preacher. He was so well-spoken and yet down to earth that I decided to go and listen for awhile.

He would have gotten a thumbs up from the editorially minded writers' group to which I belong.

He built his sermon on the story of his three year old granddaughter who was helping his wife plant zinnias.

The little girl followed along as Gramma carefully dug small holes in the flower garden and showed her how to put three seeds just so into those holes.

"These flowers will be so pretty when they come up," Gramma said.

When they finished the row, Gramma went inside to fix lunch. The little girl took the basket of zinnia seeds and thought it would be a good idea to have pretty flowers in other places too so she took a handful and spread them across the yard. She took another handful and spread them across the driveway.

Two months later zinnias were growing under the oak trees, in the vegetable garden, in the lawn, in the cornfield next to the flower garden, and even in the cracks of the driveway.

"Exuberant generosity," is what the preacher called it. And he went on from there to encourage such a way to be in the sharing of our talents in our ministries as a church.

As he finished (I learned later that it was Bishop Kenneth Carder), the lights went up and a grand processional began with banners made up of pastel-colored paper butterflies, 25,000 of them representing the number of tiny churches in all parts of our country, waving in the air above dozens of standard bearers (a lot of banners can be made out of 25,000 paper butterflies).
In the procession were other banners identifying the many special rural ministries sponsored nationally and regionally in the United States.

Circling around and back and forth among the procession were eight tricycles which were powered not by foot pedals but by hand pedals. We were told that these tricycles were being used in all parts of the world to help people travel when they had no legs or feet from disease or injury from land mines.

After the processional, a series of people of stature in our denomination took turns saying a word about who they were and what tiny rural church and town they came from. Among those celebrated that way were Richard Petty and his wife.

I got home two hours later than I had expected and was thrilled to have had the chance to witness that special time.

It isn't a bad idea to have some of these kinds of things going on.