Why did the proposal laying out consequences for non-compliance in 2017 fail? There were a number of reasons. First of all, there was a lack of transparency in the process. The Unity Oversight Committee, which had been tasked with coming up with a document, “received” it from an unspecified location (presumably above) only three days before the Council. The GCEC only got the 14-page document at the time when discussion and voting was to begin. No translations were available, so GCEC members whose first language was other than English had to absorb the document in English (or with simultaneous audio translation) while listening to the discussion and trying to make up their minds all at the same time. Obviously, the document had not received significant review or feedback from UOC, GDCO, or GCEC, so people did not feel ready to assess its implications. While the document was general in focus, it seemed clear that it was aimed primarily at unions who were ordaining women. In the course of discussion, Legal Counsel revealed that 81% of church entities were out of compliance with some policy or other, particularly in the area of finances. So the document did not seem to cover most cases. Questions were also raised whether it was according to policy to remove voice and vote from a member of the GCEC. The latter objection raised the possibility that the document designed to enforce compliance was itself out of compliance. So the GCEC returned the document to UOC for further consideration over the following year.
General Conference leadership learned a great deal from that failure, specifically four things. 1) GC actions need to be transparent. Springing a document on the GCEC at the last minute smelled of manipulation and possibly even an attempt to deceive people into voting for something they didn’t have time to understand. The GCEC made it clear that was unacceptable. 2) GCEC made it clear that leadership needed to be even-handed. A massive new bureaucracy to simply deal with a pet issue of top leadership made no sense, especially when there was widespread violation of policy in other areas. 3) If leadership wanted to have any credibility in dealing with compliance issues, it needed to be legal and compliant itself. Leadership is not above the law. 4) Leadership attempting to force issues or solve problems without wide feedback will not work, not matter how well-intended. Leadership must listen to all levels of the church before acting in behalf of the whole church. Some people wonder if leadership is capable of learning from its mistakes. The actions and events of the following year would help to answer that question.