A four-part series on how General Conference 2016 has reshaped The United Methodist Church through 2020.
Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS
Future Prospects Part 4
A legislative committee meets on May 11 at the United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Not all of the 1,000-plus petitions submitted to General Conference were considered because the assembly ran out of time.
Parenthetical references to petition numbers may be viewed at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/legislation-tracking.
The Rev. Torrey Curtis, a retired United Methodist pastor and certified spiritual director in Weatherford, Okla., submitted a petition to the 2016 General Conference to provide that every United Methodist bishop have his or her own spiritual director. Rev. Curtis’s intention was to give support for the global denomination's top officials in their unique role as temporal and spiritual leaders.
His was one of more than 1,000 petitions submitted to General Conference 2016. Any United Methodist individual, church, annual conference, board or agency, or unofficial caucus group has the right to petition to change the Book of Discipline or the Book of Resolutions. However, many of those petitions never see the legislative light of day, often because there are simply more petitions submitted than there is time to deal with them – especially when other, more volatile issues capture delegates' attention. This was the case with Rev. Curtis’s petition, which, to his dismay, was not considered by the legislative committee to which it had been assigned. (Note: Per 2016 legislation, General Conference 2020 is mandated to vote on each and every petition.)
Unfinished business was a hallmark of the 2016 General Conference. Yet despite inaction on many fronts and a legislative calendar full of referrals, The United Methodist Church’s General Conference approved significant pieces of legislation in 2016. The following offers a quick overview of what did and did not happen legislatively. I make no promise of comprehensiveness and welcome reader feedback regarding corrections and omissions.
- General church budget of $604 million for 2017-2020. This includes $10 million for the central conference theological education fund.
- First-ever global apportionments in which central conferences will contribute approximately $4.24 per member per year for the Episcopal Fund and General Administration. The total annual contribution to the general church budget from beyond the U.S. is estimated at just over $1 million; the total annual contribution to the general church budget from within the U.S. is estimated at $150 million. (See ADCA 2016: 632.)
- Full Communion agreements: UMC & Uniting Church of Sweden (60061); UMC & the Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces) (60230)
- Creation of the Southeast Asia and Mongolia Provisional Central Conference with ministries in Laos, Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam (60290)
- Mission (¶ 120): "The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs." (60660)
- Deacons have fewer impediments to requesting sacramental authority from bishop (60489; amending ¶ 328)
- The 2016 General Conference instructs the General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women to withdraw immediately from membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (60837)
- More bishops for Africa, but not yet: “… As an integral part of [a Comprehensive Plan for Africa], the number of episcopal areas in Africa shall increase from 13 to 18 after the 2020 General Conference.” (60274)
- New Hymnal Revision Committee and a standing Hymnal Advisory Committee established to produce customizable and print-on-demand hymnal for use in U.S. (60106). Guidelines include “expansive and non-discriminatory language for humanity and God.”
Among the constitutional amendments coming to annual conferences for a vote are two that have to do with gender justice and equality. They are printed here in full.
Amend ¶ 4. Article IV. Inclusiveness of the Church as follows (60163):
“The United Methodist Church is part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons
without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any continent [constituent?] body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability status or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.”
Add new paragraph between current ¶¶ 5 and 6: (60659):
“As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten women’s and girls’ equality and well being.”
General Conference also adopted or approved the following documents and resolutions, commended for study across the denomination:
- Resolution, “Native People and The UMC” (60849)
- A detailed report on the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 (60047; ADCA 2016: 1235-1408).
- New ecclesiology study document, “Wonder, Love, and Praise”
- Resolution, “A Charter for Racial Justice Policies in an Interdependent Global Community” (60253)
- Resolution, “Caring for Creation: A Call to Stewardship and Justice” (60448)
- Resolution, “The United Methodist Church and Peace” (60477)
Additionally, a proposed $20M Standing Committee on Strategy and Growth (for U.S.), while approved by General Conference (61057), was voided by Judicial Council (JCD 1320).
General Conference also deferred, referred, or rejected many proposals, including:
- Any changes in church law regarding homosexuality
- Restructuring proposals, including making the US a central conference and “Plan UMC Revised.” (Thus, GCAH, GCORR, GCSRW remain intact as independent commissions.)
- Bishop term limits in U.S.
- Moving ordination to coincide with provisional conference membership, as recommended by the Ministry Study Committee
I previous articles in this series, I discussed changes to the Social Principles and nine different referrals pertaining to the “worldwide” nature of the UMC, including legislation to create a General Church Council to replace the Connectional Table in 2020 (60815).
Even as General Conference 2016 encountered divisiveness and distrust centered around debates on human sexuality, this church continues to engage in important ministries. Vital organs of mission, such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the General Board of Global Ministries have been funded for another four years. Bishops and annual conferences are enabled to do ministry in many diverse contexts. The UMC continues to invest in theological education and future leaders. This church continues to value vital conversations about race and ethnicity, cultural competency training, and advocacy for the full and equal participation of women at all level of church leadership. The Holy Spirit continues to work through the UMC.
The Rev. Dr. Darryl W. Stephens is Director of United Methodist Studies at Lancaster (Pa.) Theological Seminary and a clergy member of the Texas Annual Conference. He is author of Methodist Morals: Social Principles in the Public Church's Witness (University of Tennessee Press, April 2016).