Thursday, June 28, 2012

Final plenary and GA2012 wrap-up (Sean)

Sunday evening we wrapped up our participation in this year's General Assembly with the final plenary session, #5.  Expecting, as is so often the case, the session to run over by a few minutes, we fixed our dinner ahead of time and made plans to have a final cocktail hour with our friends and generous hosts in Des Moines around 8:15 or so, Central Time.  As it turns out, however, we finished early, and got a break in the middle to boot.

That's because the meat-and-potatoes business part of the meeting, passing amendments to the bylaws, uncharacteristically flew by without debate.  I was relieved, in particular, to read the amendments to Article XV (sorry, as I was, to have missed the debate on these changes last year), after I spent so much energy discussing the problems with that section right here in this blog three years ago.  They were spot-on, and now that these have passed, we can return to revising Article II next year.

So all three sets of bylaw amendments passed handily and, as I said, without debate.  Of course, a half hour was budgeted for debate on each of the three, and we suddenly found ourselves more than an hour ahead of schedule.  Because we had informed our partner organizations (for the Justice theme of GA) approximately when the discussion of the Responsive Resolution on the Doctrine of Discovery would transpire, the moderator felt that we could not simply proceed to that order of business so far ahead of schedule, and instead she called for a half hour stretch break before going into her report.

Unlike the bylaw amendments, the Responsive Resolution generated a good deal of debate as well as proposed amendment.  As with so many of what I like to call "mom and apple pie" resolutions that we've taken up over the years, it is hard to dispute any of the sentiments embodied in the resolution, and, unsurprisingly, several spoke in favor of it.  The voices opposed fell roughly into two camps. One argued credibly that this was not really a Responsive Resolution at all, which generally can only be proposed in situ in direct response to a report of an officer or committee delivered at the Assembly, but rather an Action of Immediate Witness in what amounts to an end-run around this year's proscription on the AIW process.

The other opposing camp felt blindsided by the resolution, arguing that congregations did not have enough (or, in some case, any) time to review it and develop an opinion on it.  The rebuttal to that argument was that a link to the resolution had been included in the pre-GA packet sent to congregations in March.

For the record, I voted against the resolution, not because I disagreed with the premise or the text, but because I firmly believe that it was out of order,  and I am nothing if not committed to rules and process.  I do remember marking my own words after the 2010 Assembly that, despite a lot of lip-service about having a minimalist GA with only a small handful of attendees and absolutely no business taken up that was not legally required by bylaws, that we would end up having a mostly full-size GA and a way would be found to include non-essential business.  That has proved to be true.

Beyond that, I could not help but be somewhat irritated about how the notion of immigrant justice and/or immigration reform somehow morphed into repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.  While certainly there are common elements, it seems a far cry from what we came here to achieve.  Lastly, as you have heard me say in regards to many "mom and apple pie" resolutions, it appears to me that there is little to be done on this matter by a denomination such as ours, in stark contrast, for example, to immigration reform or reproductive rights, wherein our voice is an important one in the chorus.  Resolving to oppose (or support) so many things dilutes our focus and compromises our ability to be effective where we can have the most impact.

Nevertheless, the Resolution passed by a wide margin, and so it will be.  An actual responsive resolution introduced by an actual delegate in actual response to a report at GA did not fare as well.  While it was not shot down outright, it was far enough out of left field that a motion to postpone debate indefinitely passed readily; at this writing just three days later I can no longer even recall the gist of it.

The remainder of plenary comprised reports, final credentials, and the inevitable jubilant invitation to the next GA, in Louisville, Kentucky, complete with a humorous slide showing the various phonetic pronunciations of Louisville.  We hope to be there, again representing the CLF.

Before I conclude my report on this year's GA, I would like to make a couple of observations about remote participation.  First is that we need to do a better job of ensuring that remote delegates have access in real-time to the same information that on-site delegates are seeing.  For example, the real-time captioned translation of native-language speakers, while available in the hall, was not visible to us.  Along these same lines, any items that are handed out to delegates as they enter the plenary hall should be made available to remote delegates before the start of the session.  That would include any text revised by mini-assemblies, the ubiquitous Social Witness handouts, etc..  If there is time to print 1,000 copies, there is time to upload it to the web site.

On a more positive note, having the real-time chat available was great, and the support folks did a bang-up job, so kudos to them.  I am sure all this will improve as it becomes more routine.  All in all, we'd much rather be at GA in person, but this was a reasonable alternative for us, and I would encourage more congregations or other CLF delegates to use it if travel to the site is not feasible.

Lastly, before I close I will note that we also participated in the annual CLF business meeting, normally held at GA but this year held yesterday by teleconference.  Being able to join in to this made our GA virtual attendance that much more complete, and it's always good to hear other CLFers gathered together.  I'm sorry we missed in-gathering this year, but being on the call helped just a little.

Here endeth my formal report to the CLF Board on my participation as a delegate to the 2012 General Assembly of Congregations.  Thank you for allowing us to be of service and we hope to do so again in the future.

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