UMNS Photo by Bilha Alegria
By Heather Hahn
United Methodist News Service
Sept. 14, 2011
Leaders of five groups that represent the denomination’s ethnic constituencies caution that proposals to restructure The United Methodist Church are “too drastic.”
The leaders are responding to proposed legislation that the General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, will take up next year.
Among other proposed changes, the legislation would consolidate nine of the denomination’s 13 general agencies into a new United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry. The center would have a15-member board of directors, which would be accountable to a 45-member advisory board called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. The council replaces the Connectional Table, which was created by the 2004 General Conference and coordinates the denomination’s mission, ministries and resources.
The proposed consolidation and concentration of power in the 15-member board will reduce the participation of racial and ethnic minorities, the Inter-Ethnic Strategy Development Group said in a statement released Sept. 9.
The statement said the group feels “the proposed restructure of our church and the legislation ... is too drastic a change.
“It minimizes and will exclude the participation of racial ethnic persons, and works against the principle of inclusiveness that we see as one of the important values our church has to offer to the multicultural, multiracial society in which we live and do ministry."
Illinois Area Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, who helped devise the proposed changes, disagrees.
"The assumption that an operational change cannot embody our commitments to inclusiveness and diversity is fundamentally flawed,” he said.
The inter-ethnic group includes leaders of the denomination’s five official ethnic caucuses: Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano-Americanos, National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, Native American International Caucus and Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists.
“Altogether, the groups have about 4,000 members in the United States. The denomination has more than 12 million members worldwide, of which 7.8 million reside in the United States. About 686,000 United Methodist lay members in the United States are ethnic minorities.”
At this point, most of the groups still are tallying how many members will be delegates to the 2012 General Conference. They wanted to release their statement now to encourage all church members to “scrutinize the legislation,” said Pamela Crosby, executive director of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
Raúl Alegría, president of the denomination’s Hispanic caucus, stressed that the ethnic caucus leaders understand that The United Methodist Church needs to make changes.
“But we want to make sure the church not only in its structure but also in its annual conferences will continue to embrace the diversity that’s already in our communities,” he said. “We also want to empower and enable churches to make sure they are places where people from different ethnic-language groups can feel welcome.”