Process changing for handling petitions, resolutions at AC2015

PandRcalloutBy Amy Forbus

A task force examining the way the Arkansas Annual Conference handles its petitions and resolutions will implement a change for 2015.

The Rev. Will Choate spoke at last year’s Arkansas Annual Conference about the need to examine the current process, which uses a debate structure based on Robert’s Rules of Order. Choate encouraged the gathering to express their passion for faithfulness in ways that model our core identity as people of faith.

“We might begin to recognize that before Jew or Gentile, that before slave or freed, that before male or female, that before gay or straight, that before pro-choice or pro-life, that before death penalty supporters or being against the death penalty, that before laity and clergy, and before Democrat and Republican—see, the point is that before we are all of those things, we are people, and that we are people made in the image of God,” Choate said on June 21, 2014. “And as the church, we are standing in the oneness of Christ. I don’t think there’s a better way to demonstrate that than how we talk to one another about the things we care about the most.”

New vision, different behavior

Choate, the pastor of Argenta United Methodist Church, chairs the petitions and resolutions task force of the annual conference planning committee. In a recent interview, he explained how the task force’s work grew from a vision developed over the past two years: that annual conference gatherings will focus less on business and more on worship and providing resources for churches.

AC2015_Final_Theme“As we looked at the agenda, our resolution process was the greatest threat to this vision,” Choate said. “Our task force was assigned to suggest how we might engage resolutions in a way that was in itself worshipful and a resource for those returning to their local, and diverse, contexts.”

It’s not about changing the rules themselves—Robert’s Rules of Order will remain in use—but rather the vision we have for their implementation, Choate says.

“Our current resolution process—with its avoidance of conversation and intolerance of competing positions—draws out the most immature parts of who we are,” he said. “While you can’t legislate maturity, you can create environments to foster it. Our hope is to move our conference into a more mature way of discussing and deciding.”

Process for 2015

The task force has met several times since June to discern how to talk about contentious issues in more loving ways.

“It was a beautiful gift to sit around the table with people on opposite sides of challenging issues and find unity in our desire for transformation and connection,” said the Rev. Brittany Richardson Watson, a member of the task force and pastor at Sylvan Hills UMC.

“Even though we may not have agreed on everything, we found common ground in our desire to handle petitions and resolutions in a way that was life-giving and Spirit-inspired,” she said. “I’m excited to see the ways these changes might transform not only these conversations, but also the culture of the Arkansas Conference.”

The task force has developed the process below for handling petitions and resolutions at the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference.

“These changes are not our arrival, but a step toward growing up in every way into Christ, and building the body up in love,” Choate said, referencing Ephesians 4:15-16, the task force’s guiding verses. “They are steps toward maturity.”

  1. Submitting petitions and resolutions: Like last year’s resolution form, this year’s form will require that all petitions and resolutions be rooted in Scripture. In addition, the annual conference planning team will give preference to resolutions that go beyond making statements and include action. The form is available at
  2. Discussion on the floor of conference: Before the conference discusses petitions and resolutions, the task force will lift up its vision for how the process can be worshipful and model the concepts of holy conferencing. The resolutions will follow, each including speeches for and against in keeping with Roberts Rules of Order. The speeches will be followed by the members of the annual conference forming small groups of six to eight persons for discussion and prayer around the resolution in question. This exercise will put people face to face, where they can gain a greater sense of the diversity in the conference, wrap the process in prayer and spend time with the guiding Scripture passage, Ephesians 4:15-16.
  3. Voting: This year, the annual conference will use electronic voting system with individual keypads, eliminating the need for members to stand and be counted in the event of close votes.
  4. Passing the peace: The act of passing the peace after the vote will emphasize that all members of the annual conference are brothers and sisters, united in Christ regardless of their opinions on a particular topic.

The task force hopes that the additional interaction by individuals and small groups will encourage a focus on commonalities, even amid disagreement. Yet Choate acknowledges the tension between taking a stand on an issue and respecting diversity of opinion.

“When a resolution’s goal is to change behavior, the energy for and against that change typically falls on a continuum between the desire to include and the desire to stand for something,” he said. “If the way we discuss and decide on resolutions doesn’t honor both of those desires, then we need a new way.”