MCUSA Convention Day 2
Posted on July 1st, 2015
Today’s morning delegate session had more preparatory time, including responsive reading, hymns, sharing from Mennonite Health Services, prayer, and discussion of discernment processes.
The resolution under consideration was the "Faithfulness Amid Endless War" resolution. It received strong support, and good commentary.
An amendment was put forward, adding a fourth bulleted section, worded as such:
“Calls for an immediate ban on research, development, production and deployment of robotic and autonomous weapons, including military drones, and associated Artificial Intelligence technologies—placing them in the same category as chemical and biological weapons"
It was said that this amendment was pre-approved by the resolutions committee. Unfortunately, despite pre-approval, the delegates were not given time to discern this item, discuss it with their constituencies, etc. There were just a few minutes to discuss. Then, consensus was measured and a vote was taken to include it. Roughly 2/3 of those who voted, voted for inclusion of the amendment.
Then, we were quickly on to voting for the resolution itself, with the amendment added. Approval for the overall amendment looked roughly like 4/5ths.
It was later revealed that the person who put forward the amendment was not a delegate, and therefore was not supposed to speak at the microphone, and certainly not supposed to put forward an amendment. However, the parliamentarians ruled that things should stand.
There are several issues with this amendment, which is why I voted against it (and the final resolution), despite being a strong proponent of the resolution beforehand.
- While the original resolution had called drone warfare “emblematic", this amendment treats technology as the problem, rather than a symptom of the underlying problem
- This amendment reinforces negative external presumptions that Mennonites are scared of and misunderstanding of technology
- The wording fails to make clear distinctions between creative and destructive uses of technology, as is evidenced by the broad wording on AI
- It ignores the complexity of how robotic warfare introduces new challenges, but can also reduce destruction and loss of life, and fails to give a measured analysis of the situation on the whole. Mennonites tend to understand harm reduction in areas such as sex & drugs, but are failing to do so, here. The chief concern with biological and chemical weapons is that they are indiscriminate and cause collateral loss of life. Robotic warfare, on the other hand, allows for precision strikes.
- This amendment enhances the “speck & plank" problem by putting more focus on asking others (especially non-Christians) to stop something, rather than putting more focus on our contribution to the problems of empire and endless war, such as:
- Limiting our reliance on violence to defend our ways of life
- Considering how we contribute to a culture of fear
- Giving up our seats of privilege
- Addressing our limited empathy for foreigners, people of other religions, and even criminals
- It calls for state violence to prevent some instances of state violence
The afternoon session started with the nominees for churchwide boards and affirmations thereof. The positions were accepted with 728 (94%) affirming all nominees, 40 accepting none, and 2 abstaining.
There was a quickly-introduced resolution to offer grace and mercy to the executive board, based on their confessions early in the conference. This passed overwhelmingly. That resolution is now available here.
The next set of time was devoted to the Purposeful Plan. This included discussion of elements in it, discussion of accomplishments, and discussion of goals for 2015 to 2017. In open mic time, two recurring themes were requested: more focus on creation care, and more focus on relationships with communities & people in the margins.
Next, we moved on to the Israel-Palestine resolution.
My table group affirmed the general idea of this resolution, especially liking the offering of an American church voice that is not in lockstep with the Israeli government. However, there were reservations. We were concerned about the “speck & plank" and accusatory nature of this document, questioned if this is truly a top priority for a USA church, and expressed concern about the passage regarding divesting even from the “people on the ground" in the settlements (since sanctions tend to first hurt the least privileged, not those in charge).
There was a lot of interesting sharing from delegates at the microphones, too. There was, again, a lot of support, but also a number of critiques. Churches that had lots of people employed by companies considered to be benefitting by the military action (e.g. Caterpillar) genuinely and respectfully inquired as to whether the church should be willing to offer financial support for those that would look for new jobs. We heard a number of concerns regarding the hypocritical nature of the document, since the USA continues many military actions and has its own history of capturing and occupying. We heard from people who wondered why attacks on their communities and destruction of their churches don't get this level of attention. We also heard concerns about the wording, perceived anti-semitism, and concerns for future the future of inter-faith relations.
The moderators measured consensus at this time, and it was split relatively evenly between support, rejection, and caution.
There was a discussion of weather we should postpone, with more mic time for each viewpoint. A motion was put forward to table until the next convention (in 2 years). The moderators measured consensus on this, and it was relatively equally split between support and rejection (with a smaller amount of caution). This postponement went to table ballot vote, with table leaders bringing in ballots for counting. (I’m not sure why table leaders weren’t just permitted to give a count for their table.) We will hear the results, tomorrow.
We then heard about the Hopi Mission School.
Finally, we had the admonishment about non-delegates taking time at the microphones. Someone was again found to have done so. They threatened that we would need to start monitoring that realtime, which would slow the process down.