To this point, I have seen those who oppose Rule 44 described as extremists, arrogant, leading a misinformation campaign, being afraid of their feelings or the feelings of others, and having contempt for the heart. As one who is opposed to Rule 44, these feel like personal attacks that are inaccurate projections.
Proponents of Rule 44 argue that the proposed legislation is valuable because it will enable all delegates to have a voice and to hear each other’s stories with respect and love. But the most passionate supporters of Rule 44 are not engaging those they disagree with in this way. So, why would we expect this to change when we shifted from discussing Rule 44 to discussing even more personal and contested topics?
For the record, as a professor at Candler School of Theology I really enjoy hearing students, colleagues, and pastors share their stories of how God has worked and is working in their lives. The major thrust of my work to translate my academic work in service to the church has been seeking to equip local churches to engage each other in small groups where they can do life in the deep places and seek profound growth in their love for God and for each other. A major emphasis of my life’s work to this point has been seeking to help The United Methodist Church reclaim actual Christian conferencing. I do not oppose Rule 44 because I am opposed to people sharing their stories with each other. I just don’t believe that General Conference is the time or place where this essential work can be done effectively. To be clear: None of the descriptions mentioned at the beginning of this post accurately describe the reasons I oppose Rule 44.
I oppose Rule 44 because I believe it is based on a deeply flawed understanding of what Christian conferencing is. The initial role out of Rule 44 made it pretty clear that Rule 44 was one of the most visible attempts to bring Christian conferencing to General Conference. I realize that the Commission has walked this back since, but based on my experience with Faith and Order and the Council of Bishops, I believe I am correct that this was the initial intent of Rule 44. Moreover, I have seen multiple people online defend Rule 44 for precisely this reason. I do not believe there is a way at this stage to separate the inaccurate understanding of Christian conferencing from Rule 44 (ie, the impression that enacting Rule 44 would be reclaiming Christian conferencing). And though it may seem irrelevant to some, I remain sincerely convinced that getting Christian conferencing right is extremely important. If it is an instituted means of grace, as Wesley understood it to be, it is the same category as Holy Communion. We would all be appalled if Holy Communion were described as all of the food that is consumed at General Conference. We should be similarly concerned when Christian conferencing is described by the Commission on General Conference as everything that happens at General Conference because it trivializes the meaning and significance of this precious means of grace.
I also oppose Rule 44 because I am convinced that it will not work in practice. We tried something similar in 2012 and it was experienced as harmful to some who participated. With current tensions and the way the debate is framed, there is just no chance that topics like human sexuality can be engaged honestly and forthrightly without someone feeling offended, silenced, or hurt. I have heard from several people who have experience with the initial attempts to introduce Rule 44. Opinion is divided on whether the practice is in fact helpful in accomplishing its own ends. Tyler Best has just written about his experience as a small group leader of Rule 44 (were it enacted). He provides concrete evidence that General Conference is too complicated and too tense of an environment to pull off the best intentions behind Rule 44.
I remain opposed to Rule 44. I realize that my way is not the only way of thinking about this and that you may disagree with me. I do not demand that you agree with me. I would ask that you recognize that I simply disagree with you and that you not attribute more sinister motives to me.
Edit: Needing a 2/3 majority to pass, Rule 44 failed to receive approval by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The vote took place on May 12, 2106 with 356 voting in favor of adoption and 477 voting against adoption.