A four-part series on how the 2016 General Conference has reshaped The United Methodist Church through 2020.
Photo by Maile Bradfield, UMNS
Future Prospects Part 3
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the denomination's Board of Church and Society, presents the Global Social Principles to the May 16 plenary of the United Methodist 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. Most petitions on the Social Principles was deferred in anticipation of the global document to be considered in 2020.
Parenthetical references to petition numbers may be tracked at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/legislation-tracking. Underscored text indicates legislative additions; strike-through text indicates deletions.
General Conference 2016 legislated very few changes to the Social Principles compared to previous years. Two factors contributed to this reduction:
- Petitions related to the church's stances regarding LGBTQ people and ministries were deferred as part of the bishops' "A Way Forward," and;
- The anticipated development of a global Social Principles document due in 2020.
Several petitions relating to LGBTQ persons and ministries passed committee but were deferred as part of the bishops’ proposal, “A Way Forward.” Deferred petitions on LGBTQ-related issues included proposed changes to
- Paragraph 162.J Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Sexual Identity (60886 and 60777);
- A new subsection titled “Homelessness” (60688—see related petition amended beyond recognition by the North Georgia Annual Conference); and
- Paragraph 165.D Justice and Law (60795).
The latter petition urged the UMC “to speak out to stop violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.” What a prescient and timely witness this would have been in light of the recent tragedy in Orlando.
No doubt, interest in amending the Social Principles has also waned in light of the ongoing (and belated) intention to begin developing a new, global version of the document. As I discuss at length in my book Methodist Morals, the Social Principles is a US-centric document and has been recognized as such for decades. For example, the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe petitioned General Conference to address this problem in 2000. They are still awaiting action: “The General Board of Church and Society will continue to give priority to developing Social Principles for a worldwide church and will refer this work to the General Conference 2020.” (60062)
Meanwhile, General Conference continued to amend the Social Principles in 2016, even as a new document for a “worldwide” church is supposed to be under development. Six petitions (60682, 60114, 60680, 60662, 60681, 60164) pertain to ¶ 161 The Nurturing Community; two petitions (60535, 60116) pertain to ¶ 162 The Social Community; and one petition (60395) pertains to ¶ 164 The Political Community. Given the uncertain future of the entire document--will the Social Principles be completely re-written for a “worldwide” UMC by 2020?--one wonders whether these changes will be the last to the Social Principles as we have known them.
General Conference 2016 legislated the following changes to the Social Principles:
¶ 161.Z Bullying (60682) – new subsection
Bullying is a growing problem in parts of the connection. It is a contributing factor in suicide and in the violence we see in some cultures today. We affirm the right of all people regardless of gender, socio-economic status, race, religion, disability, age, physical appearance, sexual orientation and gender identity to be free of unwanted aggressive behavior and harmful control tactics. As the Church, we can play a pivotal role in ending this problem. We urge churches to seek opportunities to be trained in responding to the needs of those who have been bullied, to those who perpetrate bullying, and to support those in authority who may witness or be called to intervene on behalf of those who have been bullied. Churches are urged to connect with community associations and schools in this outreach.
We encourage churches to adopt a policy of zero tolerance for bullying, including cyber-bullying, within their spheres of influence; stand with persons being bullied; and take a leadership role in working with the schools and community to prevent bullying.
¶ 161.A Culture and Identity (60114) – new subsection
We believe that our primary identity is as children of God. With that identity comes societal and cultural constructions that have both positive and negative impacts on humanity and the Church. Cultural identity evolves through our history, traditions and experiences. The Church seeks to fully embrace and nurture cultural formation and competency as a means to be fully one body, expressed in multiple ways. Each of us has multiple identities of equal value that intersect to form our complete self. We affirm that no identity or culture has more legitimacy than any other. We call the Church to challenge any hierarchy of cultures or identities. Through relationships within and among cultures we are called to and have the responsibility for learning from each other, showing mutual respect for our differences and similarities as we experience the diversity of perspectives and viewpoints.
¶ 161.C Divorce (60680) – amend as follows
God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital, marital, and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve healthy relationships
strong marriages . . .
¶ 161.G Family Violence and Abuse (60662) – amend as follows
We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. We encourage the Church to provide a safe environment, counsel, and support for the victim and to work with the abuser to understand the root causes and forms of abuse to overcome such behaviors. Regardless of the cause or the abuse, both the victim and the abuser need the love of the church. While we deplore the actions of the abuser, we affirm that person to be created in God’s image and in need of God’s redeeming love.
¶ 161.K Ministry With Those Who Have Experienced an Abortion (60681) – amend as follows
We urge local pastors to become informed about the symptoms and behaviors associated with post-abortion stress. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth. We further encourage local churches to make available contact information for counseling agencies that offer programs to address post-abortion stress for all seeking help.
¶ 161.__ Pornography (60164) – new subsection
Scripture teaches that humans are created in God’s image and that we are accountable to God through right relationship. Sexual images can celebrate the goodness of human sexuality through positive depiction in art, literature, and education. We deplore, however, images that distort this goodness and injure healthy sexual relationships.
We oppose all forms of pornography and consider its use a form of sexual misconduct. Pornography is sexually explicit material that portrays violence, abuse, coercion, domination, humiliation, or degradation for the purpose of sexual arousal. Pornography sexually exploits and objectifies both women and men. Any sexually explicit material that depicts children is abhorrent and victimizes children. Pornography can ruin lives, careers, and relationships. We grieve the pervasiveness of Internet pornography, including among Christians, and especially its impact on young people and marriages.
The Church is called to transformation and healing for all persons adversely affected by pornography. Congregations should send a clear message of opposition to pornography and commitment to safe environments for everyone. We encourage strategies to eradicate pornography, to support victims, and to provide open and transparent conversation and education around sexuality and sexual ethics. We also believe that people can be rehabilitated and should have the opportunity to receive treatment; therefore, churches should seek ways to offer support and care for addressing issues of addiction. Further, all churches are encouraged to review and update appropriate child, youth, and adult protection policies to reflect The United Methodist Church's position that the use of pornography is a form of sexual misconduct. By encouraging education, prevention, and pathways to recovery for all affected by pornography, we live out our Wesleyan understanding of grace and healing.
¶ 162.H Rights of Immigrants (60535) – amend as follows
We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all. We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.
¶ 162.A (60116) – amend as follows
Rights of Racial and Ethnic
Groups Persons: Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system. Racism manifested as sin, plagues and hinders cripples our growth relationship with in Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself. Unfortunately, historical and institutional racism provide support for white privilege, and white people, as a result of the color of their skin, are granted privileges and benefits that are denied to persons of color. We oppose the creation of a racial hierarchy in any culture. In many cultures, white people are granted unearned privileges and benefits that are denied to persons of color. Racism breeds racial discrimination. We define racial discrimination as the disparate treatment and lack of full access and equity to in resources, and opportunities, and participation in the Church and in society based on race or ethnicity.
Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life. We commit as the Church to move beyond symbolic expressions and representative models that do not challenge unjust systems of power and access.
We commend and encourage the self-awareness of all racial and ethnic groups and oppressed people that leads them to demand their just and equal rights as members of society. We assert the obligation of society and people within the society to implement compensatory programs that redress long-standing, systemic social deprivation of
certain racial and ethnic groups persons. We further assert the right of members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups persons to equal and equitable opportunities in employment and promotion; to education and training of the highest quality; to nondiscrimination in voting, access to public accommodations, and housing purchase or rental; to credit, financial loans, venture capital, and insurance policies; and to positions of leadership and power in all elements of our life together and to full participation in the Church and society. We support affirmative action as one method of addressing the inequalities and discriminatory practices within our the Church and society.
¶ 164.A Basic Freedoms and Human Rights (60395) -- insert after the first sentence of existing text
Blockades and embargoes that seek to impede the flow or free commerce of food and medicines are practices that cause pain and suffering, malnutrition, or starvation with all its detrimental consequences to innocent and noncombatant civilian populations, especially children. We reject these as instruments of domestic and foreign policy regardless of political or ideological views.
Coming next in Part 4: Despite Lots of Inaction, Significant Legislation Will Shape 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).