The Hidden Challenge to a General Conference Session in the Midst of a Pandemic

The Hidden Challenge to a General Conference Session in the Midst of a Pandemic

Written by: 
Published:
January 18, 2021

When the Executive Committee of the General Conference recently decided to postpone for a second time the General Conference Session, there were many contributing reasons. Naturally, the most significant reason was the travel restrictions emanating from the continuing coronavirus pandemic. It’s hard to bring people together from around the world if people can’t obtain visas, get on planes, and fly to a central location.

But another major reason for the delay lies in the requirements for the Session that are spelled out in the General Conference Constitution and Bylaws. Any changes to those stipulations can only be changed at an in-person session of the General Conference. In other words, a GC Session needs to be held to make any changes to the way that a GC Session can be held. That is why the Session could not simply be moved to an online Zoom meeting as had been done for the Church’s Executive Committee.

Last fall, when the Executive Committee was reviewing motions and items to be placed on the agenda for the GC Session, one of the first items that was voted was to send to the Session an amendment to the Constitution and Bylaws that would allow for people to use electronic devices to digitally attend in real time General Conference Session meetings and committees. This item has to be approved at an actual GC Session before it can take effect.

The quorum requirement to start a GC Session is one third of the total authorized delegation of about 2,700. Therefore, a quorum to open the Session will need to exceed 900. After the Session is open the delegates present constitute a quorum. Here is Article V, Sec. 3:

Sec. 3. At least one-third of the total delegates authorized hereinafter under Sec. 5. of Article V, must be present at the opening meeting of any regular or specially called General Conference Session to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. Once the Session is declared open, the delegates remaining present shall constitute a quorum.

Even getting 900 delegates to Indianapolis in May 2021 would have been challenging, let alone 2,700 delegates from around the world. It is important to remember that the vast majority (over 90%) of the church membership is outside of the United States. Hopefully, by June of 2022, the coronavirus vaccine will have been distributed around the world to make it possible for delegates from all divisions to be present.

No matter what the state of the vaccine, however, one of the first items on the agenda for approval will be this motion to allow electronic attendance. Once that has been voted, any of the delegates who have not traveled to Indianapolis will be able to participate electronically.

In the meantime, the current officers and leaders normally elected at the General Conference Session remain in their positions. According to Lowell Cooper, a member of the Executive Committee, “The most recent GC Executive Committee action authorized a postponement to 2022 in light of prevailing circumstances. Part of the action addresses a corresponding extension of the term of elected office to the newly scheduled GCS 2022.”

Now that the Executive Committee has held several Zoom sessions, the realities of online meetings have become apparent. Virtual presence, as compared to physical presence, will make the conduct of a GC Session somewhat more cumbersome, Cooper says. “It is possible to conduct business in a virtual session but the larger the group the more cumbersome it becomes to manage the course of a meeting. International conditions may make it necessary for us to figure out how to do this well — whether in 2022 or beyond.”

He also notes that beyond the conducting of church business, the bonds of church family can be nurtured most effectively in meetings of physical presence. And that is perhaps why waiting until 2022 will make for a more significant meeting.

 

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Image: The 2015 GC Session, photo by James Bokovoy, courtesy of the North American Division on Flickr.

 

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