Friday, October 25, 2019

Recommended Reading: US Regional Structure Proposal

The Connectional Table has put forward a proposal to General Conference 2020 (or perhaps more accurately, two proposals) to create a new regional structure for the United States. Pages are available online continaing an announcement of the CT's intention to do so, its announcement of having done so, the text of the legislation, a narrative description of the rationale for the proposal, and frequently asked questions about the proposals.

The CT proposes a two-stage process: first, the creation of a standing committee of General Conference that would be the U.S. Regional Committee, tasked with screening all GC legislation that primarily impacts the US. In this regard, it would be a cognate to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.

Then, eventually the U.S. Regional Committee would be replaced by a U.S. Regional Conference, separate from General Conference, that would take responsibility for making changes for the US context to adaptable portions of the Book of Discipline, as central conferences do in their contexts. Depending on how quickly the church moves to the second stage, the first stage may not be necessary for long.

This legislation is interesting for two reasons:

First, although its origins predate the called General Conference in 2019, it is usually talked about as one of the "plans" for GC2020 to take up in the wake of GC2020. That is not really correct, as it is neither a comprehensive plan for the future of the church nor a response to GC2019. But it is tied to or in harmony with some of the other plans for the church, including the UMC Next plan and the Filipino plan.

Second, this proposal seeks to change the long-standing, US-centric structure of the UMC by creating a structure for the US that would parallel some of the powers of the central conferences. Note that the legislation still leaves the US in a separate class of structure by itself; the US does not become a central conference. In part this is necessary because of the continued existence of jurisdictions under this proposal. Thus, the US still remains a unique, if somewhat less priviledged part of the church under this legislation.

A main reason (beyond the issue of jurisdictions) for calling the proposed US structure a "Regional Conference" instead of a "Central Conference" is because of sensitivities to the term "central," given the racist history of the segregated Central Jurisdiction. Certainly it is laudable to want to make a clear statement against racism and a clear break with the church's racist history.

Yet, if it is not okay to have Americans in a structure with the name "central," because the Central Jurisdiction was a separate structure for black and brown people, then why is it still okay to have separate structures for black and brown people with the name "central" in other countries? Why not change the name for areas outside the US, too? Do we as a church think that echoes of second-class segregation are okay for those outside the US? It seems to me that we must commit ourselves to anti-racist practices not just domestically, but internationally as well.

Aside from the issue of the name, while the proposed legislation does not make the US function in quite the same way as the rest of the church, it seems a step in that direction and an important way to give the US some more missional flexibility in adapting to its context. The proposal is thus well worth a read.

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