UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose
Retired UMC elder Gil Caldwell raises in the UM Reporter a line of argument that I have seen cropping up in a few places.
Paragraph 543.7 of the Book of Discipline, page 346 says this of Central Conferences: “A central conference shall have power to make such changes and adaptations of the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and the mission of the church in the area require ….” If we are serious about “the special conditions and the mission of the church” in the Western, Northeastern and North Central Jurisdictions where states and the District of Columbia have approved or are considering marriage equality for same sex couples, then these Jurisdictions are challenged to preserve the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church vis-a-vis same sex couples through affirmation and action.
The language that permits central conferences to modify parts of the Book of Discipline to meet needs of annual conferences outside the United States has attracted attention as an important issue¹. General Conference authorized a study to determine exactly what changes have been made in different central conferences. This is important work as we come to terms with being a global church. It may or may not reveal problems that need further attention. It may also clear up some rumors.
But I do not understand arguments like the one raised by Caldwell. A jurisdiction in the United States is not a central conference. They each have their own governing provisions in the Constitution and other sections of the Book of Discipline. I suspect anyone who has read the Book of Discipline or taken a UMC polity course knows this. The argument Caldwell is making was an argument that should have been made at General Conference. Calling on jurisdictional conferences to void the Book of Discipline makes no sense to me.
¹Here is the full sentence from the Book of Discipline (2008) that Caldwell quotes in part: “A central conference shall have power to make such changes and adaptations of the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and the mission of the church in the area require, especially concerning the organization and administration of the work on local church, district, and annual conference levels, provided that no action shall be taken that is contrary to the Constitution and the General Rules of The United Methodist Church, and provided that the spirit of connectional relationship is kept between the local and the general church.” Taken as a whole, this sentence is hardly a green light for massive changes in church doctrine.