This is a post attempting to explain what has happened at the Conference, in procedurally accurate detail. I hope this will help people understand where we are, what could happen next and how you might play a part in that. I think it is accurate and fair but I have written it quickly as a lot of people are asking questions. If you see anything that you feel is wrong or misleading, please contact me as it is probably inadvertent and I will be glad to correct it. Throughout this process, we are keen to remain in loving fellowship with those who have different theological convictions, with the Task Group as well as with the Officers of the Conference and the staff and volunteers who support them.
Where were we before Conference?
The report published in the agenda of the Conference was an interim report, giving no indication as to the intended direction of travel of the Task Group but explaining the reasons why a new draft Statement on Marriage could not be brought to this year’s Conference and setting out some of the issues for consideration. The resolutions simply invited the Conference to receive the report and to approve the task group’s proposed way of working.
A Statement of the Conference is a formal teaching document which is intended to last for “some years”. They are made in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order 129. Under the provisions of this Standing Order, there must be formal consultation on a new statement for at least two years. In addition, there is the possibility if a lot of amendments are proposed, for the Conference to appoint a revision committee and refer the whole thing to them.
Had we accepted the report as in the agenda, a new draft statement would have come to Conference in 2019. The task group proposed to ask the Conference to suspend the requirement of consultation of at least two years so as to bring the final version in 2020. However, the Conference of 2019 may or may not have accepted this and the possibility of a revision committee being formed would still be real.
What did Dignity and Worth members do?
We submitted three notices of motion to the Conference. These became Notices of Motion 112, 203 and 204. Most of us arrived at Conference on Friday night or Saturday morning and immediately got to work collecting signatures. We collected 8 signatures on each one to ensure that the rules were satisfied even if their contents were deemed ‘new business’ (as in fact two of them were). We submitted them on Sunday well in advance (in Conference terms) of the deadline of 4:30pm on Monday.
Notice of Motion 112 gave the Conference the option of passing resolutions to implement same sex marriage. It could have taken immediate effect or been referred to the District Synods as provisional legislation under Standing Order 122 and then confirmed, amended or declined at the Conference of 2019 (and therefore come into effect then).
Notice of Motion 203 gave the Conference the option of directing the task group as to certain of the proposals it wanted to be included in what would be presented to it in 2019, namely what we have called a mixed economy approach.
Notice of Motion 204 picked up the question of the work on the inclusion of trans and intersex people directed by the Conference in 2016 and asked that it be given more resources and priority.
After the submission of the Notices of Motion there was quite a lot of negotiation and discussion with the Conference Records Office and the Law and Polity Subcommittee. We sought to be as cooperative and constructive as we could and we are grateful to the relevant staff and volunteers for their help. In the result, Notices of Motion 203 and 204 were published to the Conference on Tuesday morning as well as an outline of Notice of Motion 112 in the Order Paper. The full version of Notice of Motion 112 came out after tea on Tuesday afternoon.
What did the Task Group do?
The Task Group met several times (we believe) during Conference (as you might expect). They decided to bring an additional report (27A) which was printed on the Order Paper on the Wednesday morning. This meant we had relatively little time to absorb it and consider its implications before the debate in the afternoon. They did not let us know of their intention to bring this additional report so we had to discover it when the Order Paper came out.
The additional report proposed a different way of working. The important difference is that what the Task Group would bring in 2019 would be a report and recommendations not a statement. This means none of the requirements of Standing Order 129 apply and the Conference would have much more freedom in how to deal with it. The Task Group intend to propose (like in Notice of Motion 112) that it be provisional legislation under Standing Order 122. As a result “the Conference of 2020 would then be in a position to make a final decision with any provisions implemented with immediate effect.”
What did the Conference do?
The Conference considered the additional report and accepted the recommendation to proceed by way of report and recommendations rather than a statement.
The Conference considered Notice of Motion 112 and had a long, yet grace-filled and respectful debate. The Revd Gill Newton then moved (on behalf of all the Chairs and the Warden of the Methodist Diaconal Order) that the vote be not put. This is a procedural device meaning that the Conference formally doesn’t express any view on the proposal and the debate simply ends. Notice of Motion 112 was therefore no more.
The Conference considered Notice of Motion 203 and after a shorter (yet still grace-filled) debate, it passed it with strong support. This means the Conference has formally said it wants the proposals that come next year to include proposals for same sex marriage. In addition, as we have been aware of some confusion around services following same sex marriage or civil partnership, the Notice of Motion also gave the Conference the opportunity to confirm that these are permitted, including on Methodist premises.
The Conference considered Notice of Motion 204 and passed it, ensuring that work on trans and intersex inclusion will now move ahead and a full report will come to Conference in 2020.
While the result on Notice of Motion 112 was a disappointment (perhaps all the more so as it had begun to feel as if the tide might have been turning in our favour), we should recognise that the passing of Notices of Motion 203 and 204 represents significant steps forward for us.
Furthermore, the effect of the debate on people there and beyond has been very significant. Many people have a new or renewed commitment to justice for LGBT+ people in the Methodist Church and have perhaps realised that these questions cannot be left. Painful as it was for many to share their experience and to be publicly vulnerable again, I do believe that we have had a serious impact. Without the Notices of Motion, I don’t believe we would have had the additional report with its change to a report process instead of a statement one. This removes a lot of potential for the process to become bogged down again and will help avoid further delays.
What happens now?
A significant point raised in support of the proposal that Notice of Motion 112 ‘be not put’ was that churches, circuits and districts had not had opportunity for conversation about these questions. There is now a keen awareness that such consultation is vital and can begin immediately. We encourage all District Synods, Circuit Meetings and Church Councils to reflect on what their view would be of a mixed economy approach as outlined in Notices of Motion 203 and 112, and in our document Getting to the Mixed Economy.
The Task Group will bring its proposals in 2019. Obviously we do not know at this stage what they will be but they will have to include the things required by Notice of Motion 203. They will ask the Conference that their recommendations be treated as provisional legislation which would give a formal consultation in the connexional year 2019/20 with implementation following the Conference of 2020. It would be open to the Conference to decline that request and implement them immediately if the Conference wished.