Author: Rev. Dr. Mark R. Holland, Executive Director Mainstream UMC
New revelations of voter fraud have further damaged the legitimacy of the United Methodist General Conference. There are individuals within our denomination so desperate to consolidate power in the church that they are posing as someone else to cast votes. One must ask if voter fraud is simply an outgrowth of other unscrupulous behavior by traditionalist organizations at General Conference?
The Current Issue:
Members of the General Conference in St. Louis had enough credible suspicion of bribery for votes that a motion was made for the Ethics Commission on the General Conference to look into it. Notably, only 52% of delegates voted for the motion. Think about that. A remarkable 48% of delegates voted NOT to look into suspected voter bribery! The commission was unable to pin down those particular allegations, but now a different group has substantiated fraud.
Following General Conference 2019, the New York Times exposed possible voter fraud and a United Methodist task force was assigned to investigate. The task force found four clear cases of individuals posing as someone else and voting in their place. By rule, this negates any votes on petitions that fall within the margin of error of the fraud. This includes the disaffiliation petition, championed by traditionalists, that only passed by 2 votes.
The General Conference refuses to release the names or annual conferences of those who committed the fraud, citing ongoing investigations (i.e., more possible fraud). All insider views are that these fraudulent voters are from one or more traditionalist conferences in Africa where 31 delegates were unable to secure visas. The head of the delegation and the bishop of each affected annual conference were notified of who did not receive visas. Yet, there they were voting. Many people obviously knew they were sitting at a table for four days with people wearing someone else’s name tag. If the integrity of General Conference is to be restored, all involved must be held accountable, including those who funded the travel for the individuals in question. This must have been an expensive four votes.
Money and Influence Have Compromised General Conference for a Generation:
The members of the traditionalist “Reform and Renewal Coalition” within the United Methodist Church walk an unscrupulous line to advocate for their agenda. These groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to target central conference votes over the last 20 years. Their activities raise the same red flags we see in our US government with lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions. This activity becomes especially troublesome when you factor in the poverty experienced by many central conference delegates.
A little US money can look like a lot depending on where you are from. According to a 2015 study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 19 of the 23 poorest countries in the world are in Africa. To look at some of the places we have a United Methodist presence, in Congo a person earns about $400 per year; in Zimbabwe, $600; and in Liberia, $700. The money being thrown around for advocacy at General Conference is a major concern. There needs to be a deep and honest conversation about the dramatic income inequality among delegates and how advocacy can exploit this discrepancy.
Here are just a few of the publicly known, unscrupulous activities by traditionalist US advocacy groups to influence central conference votes at General Conference:
- 2004 Good News Magazine Board of Directors publishes “Options for the Future, with some Strategic Implications.” This is the blueprint for taking over the church by manipulating votes. This document hopes, among other offensive things, “The majority party within the church would essentially expel the minority party in order to create unity.” And further, “The orthodox have mastered the legislative process…hoping that those who could not support or live with these requirements would leave the denomination.” (page 5) Read the entire unscrupulous document here: http://hackingchristianity.net/2019/02/the-betrayal-of-good-news-how-a-2004-blueprint-created-the-gc2019-endgame.html
- 2008 “Renewal and Reform Coalition” buys cell phones for international delegates at General Conference in Fort Worth. They bristled at calling this bribery, but if text messages could be sent to help delegates vote properly, that was just a happy side-effect. Read about this here: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/doubts-arise-following-gifts-of-cell-phones
- 2012, 2016, 2019 Good News/Wesleyan Covenant Association hosts pre-General Conference gatherings for non-US delegates funded by US donors. In 2019 Tom Lambrecht says, “This opportunity allows central conference delegates to be empowered to express their convictions and to participate on a more equal footing with American delegates.” Lambrecht is the author of the Traditional Plan. Let’s be honest. He did not solicit donations for this gathering to present a balanced perspective on the One Church Plan. These well-funded gatherings are designed to influence votes for their agenda. Read More: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/africa-initiative-gathers-delegates-before-gc2019
- July 2018 Good News President Rob Renfroe boasts that the Traditional Plan will be supported “unanimously by our African brothers and sisters” at General Conference 2019. How did he know? Read his troubling article here: https://goodnewsmag.org/2018/07/failure-of-leadership/
- August 2018, 2019 Good News/Wesleyan Covenant Association/Institute for Religion and Democracy/Confessing Movement fund the Africa Initiative gathering in Nairobi, Kenya. This is a very expensive political event that funds travel for African delegates from all over the continent to drum up support for the Traditional Plan at General Conference. They just funded another gathering this year for the same purpose. Read more here: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/african-leaders-support-traditional-plan
- Every year at General Conference Good News provides breakfast and often lunch and dinner for international delegates. This “hospitality” is an elaborate ruse to pass out their voting cards (in multiple languages) and tell people how to vote. Remember that the per diem for each day given to delegates for meals represents about a month’s wages for some international delegates. A two-week general conference worth of per diems can be worth almost a year of income. Providing free meals to protect per diems is not technically bribery, but it raises the same red flags as lobbyist dinners in Washington DC. Here is an article about a GC 2019 political rally…er…breakfast: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/good-news-gc2019-breakfast-draws-big-crowd
Clearly there are traditionalist US advocacy groups willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence votes at General Conference in support of their marginal agenda. Historically, Centrists and Progressives have refused to engage in these kinds of distasteful practices. The result has been near block voting from delegates in Africa, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe in support of an agenda most Americans have left behind. There is reason to wonder if this most recent voter fraud is a direct outgrowth of the already unscrupulous behavior that continues to plague our church. We will likely never know.
Meanwhile, the legitimacy of the United Methodist General Conference hangs in the balance.
Mainstream UMC is one of the only voices calling out the unscrupulous behavior in our church. We are up against much better funded, longer-standing advocacy groups who have been falsely shaping the narrative for a generation. Your donations matter. Please support Mainstream UMC at www.MainstreamUMC.com/donate. Thank you.
Read about the General Conference vote to investigate bribery allegations: That vote was Yes, 417; No, 388 to send the allegation to the Ethics Committee for review (The commission’s Rules Committee doubles as the Ethics Committee at General Conference). The vote is on page 501 of the DCA. Here is the link: http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/general-conference/2019/DCAs/022719-DCA-V2-N4-pg425-528-ENGLISH.pdf
Read the Article about fraud from the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/14/us/united-methodist-vote.html
Read about the most recent GC voter fraud here: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/improper-voting-at-gc2019-voids-key-vote
Read more about the recent GC voter fraud here: http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/general-conference-commission-takes-action-following-task-force-review
Here is the report from the GC Fraud Task Force: http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/news-media/press-center/documents/Final_Report_of_COGC_on_Task_Force.pdf
Here is an article about next steps in the GC fraud probe: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/bishops-agency-respond-to-gc2019-vote-probe
Read more about the study by the International Monetary Fund here: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-23-poorest-countries-in-the-world-2015-7
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