U.S. conferences disapprove structure proposal

Source: The Call 2

Youth and young adult members of the United Methodist Florida Annual Conference cast their votes on the 32 amendments approved at the 2008 General Conference.
A UMNS photo by Caryl Kelley.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green and Elizabeth Guye*
July 29, 2009

United Methodists in the U.S. have largely voted against 23 proposed amendments that would change the structure of the church, but voting is ongoing in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.

The amendments, proposed as changes to the denomination’s constitution, would pave the way for making the U.S. church one of several regional bodies around the world.

During U.S. annual conference sessions in May and June, church members also voted against an amendment to make membership in the church open to everyone without regard to sexual orientation.

Forty-four of the 62 U.S. conferences reported the results of their amendment votes to Newscope and United Methodist News Service as part of their annual wrap-ups of conference action. Eighteen conferences did not report their results on the amendments.

The church has 73 conferences in Africa, the Philippines and Europe. Since they hold their annual meetings at different times throughout the year, the final outcome of the voting won’t be known until spring 2010.

The 2008 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, approved 32 amendments to the church’s constitution. For a proposed amendment to be ratified, two-thirds of the aggregate number of voting annual conference members must approve.

The worldwide votes will be ratified by the Council of Bishops when it meets May 2-6, 2010, in Columbus, Ohio. Official results will be announced then.

Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops, noted all annual conferences have not voted. He also said the council office where the reports are being sent has not done any tally at this point and will not be doing any until the receipt of all conference reports.

“When the tally is done, it will be reported to the council and an announcement will be made during the council’s spring meeting,” Palmer said.

Votes on global plan

About 60 percent of U.S. conferences reporting voting results defeated the 23 amendments dealing with the worldwide church proposal. The amendments, proposed by the Task Force on the Worldwide Nature of the Church, would allow the organizing of regional conferences around the globe to create a uniform United Methodist church structure. The legislation would have made it possible to create a U.S. regional conference in the future.

Kansas Bishop Scott Jones, chairperson of the task force exploring the global nature of the church and proponent of the 23 constitutional amendments, said the results are incomplete because many conferences outside the United States have not voted. Once the voting is finished, church leaders should study carefully what the results mean, he said.

Whether the amendments are approved, the work of the study committee will go forward with the mandate that the General Conference gave it, he said.

“It takes the General Conference a long time to absorb a really big idea and the issues which gave rise to these proposals and need good answers,” Jones explained. “I fully expect the General Conference of 2012 to revisit these issues and move them forward.”

Those opposing the amendments applauded the early votes.

The Rev. Eddie Fox, world director of evangelism for the World Methodist Council, said the democratic process worked. “It is a very serious matter when we change the constitution,” he said.

Fox, whose office is based in Nashville, Tenn., believes the 23 amendments were confusing and had no clear plan or rationale for the constitutional change. “I am deeply grateful for this decision by the members of our church, which I believe have prevented us from taking an action which would have resulted in moving us away from the core values of the connection and setting us on a path of having national churches,” he said.

He called for a renewed focus on how to strengthen the worldwide connection of the entire Methodist movement.

“I pray that our vision, passion and concern will be on how the world Methodist communion can do its part in spreading the good news of Christ Jesus in a world which desperately needs healing, hope and salvation,” Fox added.

The Rev. Timothy McClendon, a member of the denomination’s Connectional Table, said the apparent defeat of the 23 constitutional amendments on the church’s structure “is a vote for connectionalism.”

McClendon, a district superintendent in Columbia, S.C., believes the proposed structure would create more divisions in the denomination, rather than uniting it. The church, he pointed out, has an opportunity over the next four years to create better legislation that defines who United Methodists are, honors differences and remains connectional.

Remaining amendments

The remaining nine amendments cover such issues as church and conference membership, annual and jurisdictional conference composition, and inclusiveness.

Proposed Amendment 1, on the inclusiveness of the church, failed to receive the two-thirds support in 27 of the 44 conferences reporting results. The amendment would make all people, upon declaring a relationship to Jesus Christ, “eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection.” Forty conferences voted against Amendment 8, which would have added the word “gender” to categories of church membership.

In 2005, a Virginia clergyman stirred conflict after he refused to receive a homosexual man into membership, saying the man would neither repent nor seek to live a different lifestyle. The pastor was placed on a leave of absence by the bishop. The Judicial Council ruled in October 2005 that United Methodist pastors have authority to decide who becomes a member of a local church and reinstated the pastor. That case triggered appeals to the Judicial Council, but the court declined to reconsider its ruling.

Among other amendments, proposed Amendment 19 — which would extend to provisional members and certain local pastors the right to vote for clergy delegates to the General and jurisdictional conferences — received substantial support from 26 annual conferences.

An amendment ensuring a minimum base of annual conference delegates for the election of bishops at jurisdictional conference was approved by 37 annual conferences.

Twenty-six conferences affirmed Amendment 2, which requires all churchwide agencies and constituencies to adopt ethics and conflict of interest policies.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. Guye was an intern for United Methodist News Service and the Media Group at United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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