Happenings Around the Church August 11, 2009

A House Divided
By: Dr. Riley Case

Enough of the votes on the Constitutional Amendments have now been reported by the annual conferences so that it is possible to announce the results.  The Constitutional Amendments that deal with two issues of special interest to evangelicals have failed.   This is good news for those of us in The Confessing Movement.  It appears that the church will live to see another day.

The amendment that would change para. IV (inclusiveness) in the constitution has at this time not even received 50% of the vote.  It needed 66.7% of the vote to pass.  The amendments on the world-wide nature of the church that would have created Regional Conferences and thus segregated out overseas churches from considering issues relating only to the United States failed overwhelmingly, with somewhere around 40% of the vote (also needing 66.7% to be ratified).

Some in-depth analyses of the votes will be coming from several corners (Maxie Dunnam will have an article in The Confessing Movement newsletter).  But here to start on this analysis are some preliminary thoughts.

We are a church deeply divided.  The amendment on inclusiveness was an unnecessary amendment.  It would have mandated inclusiveness, asserting that anyone who wanted to join a United Methodist Church could, and pastors, or anyone else for that matter, would have no say about whether persons were ready for membership, or upheld United Methodist standards in belief or practice.  Furthermore, since the amendment would be inscribed in the constitution, all manner of complications could result if a Judicial Council declared that the constitution negates standards, say, in regard to ordination.

Yet this amendment was supported by the General Conference, by the bishops (based on an earlier bishops’ statement), by boards and agencies, by liberal annual conferences, and by many of the caucus groups.   It was opposed by the evangelical renewal groups and more conservative conferences.   The votes reveal a serious disconnect in the church.   That is to say, the bishops, the boards and agencies, the seminaries, the liberal conferences, and almost all the caucuses except for the evangelical groups, cannot command even a majority of the votes of the annual conferences.

This serious divide should be reason for some soul-searching.  There are two different understandings of the faith operating within United Methodism.  Is there a way to bridge the gap?

The seriousness of the divide is shown in the extremes that some conferences voted for or against Amendment I.  Memphis voted against the amendment 73%-27%, Alabama-West Florida voted against 80%-20%, and North Carolina voted against 77%-23%. On the other hand, Idaho-Oregon voted 95% to 5% and Desert Southwest 94%-6% for the amendment.

It might be worth mentioning that the two Georgia conferences together have more members than the entire Western Jurisdiction.  It might also be worth noting that the Western Jurisdiction conferences are decreasing in membership at an alarming rate.  According to reports from the conferences, the conferences of the Western Jurisdiction lost 2.6% of their membership in 2009 and 5% of their worship attendance.  The denomination as a whole lost .8% of its membership in 2007.

The votes for the amendments that would have changed the constitution of the church to mandate Regional Conferences also divided by regions and by theology.   The plan came to the General Conference from the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table and passed the General Conference with votes to spare.  The purpose of the amendments was to address a real problem in the church, namely, that much of what the General Conference does is so US-centric that overseas delegates have a difficult time relating to issues that relate specifically to US churches.  The proposed solution was to retain a General Conference which would deal with issues of a global nature, and “regional” conferences that would deal with issues that are regional in nature.

However, it appears that another agenda was also at play.  Like homosexuality.  Progressives are arguing these days that issues relating to homosexuality are culturally influenced and therefore these issues should be dealt with in the Regional Conferences and not in the General Conference.  To put it another way, if the Africans were removed from considerations about homosexuality in America, there might be enough progressive votes to change the church’s stance.

There were other concerns as well.  Details about finances, levels of bureaucracy, and how practically the conferences would function were not yet worked out.

For whatever reasons, the amendments failed.  Alabama-Florida voted against the amendments 95%-5% and Kentucky 92%-8%.  On the other hand, Idaho-Oregon voted for the amendments 95%-5%, and Yellowstone and Wyoming conferences 91%-9%.

In these amendments, it will be interesting to see how the overseas conferences voted.  These votes have not yet been recorded.

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