United Methodist Consitutional Amendments & Polity

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This will be a long post but an important one. I’ve been working on this for some time, and starting writing about our church polity years ago. I had a piece published in the UM Quarterly Review and The Circuit Rider about the subject. I want all UM’s who will voting at this summer’s Annual Conferences to be aware of the gravity of their votes to change the UM constitution.
A Rationale to Oppose Proposed Constitutional Changes

The United Methodist Church has a distinctive connectional polity that promotes a unity of purpose throughout the denomination. Connectionalism is our vehicle for ministry. In these proposed changes to the constitution we are voting on connectionalism and how that supports our shared ministry. While we are a worldwide denomination, we must carefully protect those things that make us uniquely United Methodist. We believe that these amendments fundamentally harm our classic connectional polity.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment # IV, Par. 10 BOD –
Current ¶ 10 reads: There shall be central conferences for the church outside the United States of America and, if necessary, provisional central conferences, all with such powers, duties, and privileges as are hereinafter set forth.

If the amendment is passed and so declared by the Council of Bishops, ¶ 10 would read: There shall be regional conferences and, if necessary, provisional regional conferences, all with such powers, duties and privileges as are hereinafter set forth. (The change in name from “central” to “regional” takes effect January 1, 2013 at which time this parenthetical procedural note will be removed from the Constitution.)

Rationale to Oppose:
This amendment completely changes our structure by creating regional conferences across the entire church. This strikes at the heart of United Methodism. By mandating separate regional conferences, each with the ability to adapt the Book of Discipline as it so chooses (cf. Par. 31.5), this amendment would divide the denomination and cause the demise of one of our most hallowed hallmarks: Connectionalism. This amendment and the others hereinafter identified are the opposite of Wesley’s adage, “The world is my parish.” Separate regional parishes around the world would have very disparate agendas and priorities. We would look like the Anglican Communion that finds itself at odds among its various branches – compartmentalized and competitive. The US Episcopal Church is subject now to the missionary efforts of those from overseas that have a different understanding of theology and culture. This is where we are heading with Regional Conferences in the UMC.

Some of this separation has already taken place because conferences outside of the US can adapt the Book of Discipline (¶ 543.7). There is ambiguity about the purpose and scope of this ability to adapt the Book of Discipline. Some would say that the Book of Discipline limits such adaptations to organization and administration, while others suggest that the changes may be all encompassing. To allow the United States to have the same power would split the church. A better option would be to carefully limit the ways in which overseas conferences can adapt The Book of Discipline. For instance, there is at least one central conference outside the United States that does not have any female clergy, and another that either adapts or takes the opposite view of the Book of Discipline on contentious Social Principles. One central conference already states in their “version” of the Social Principles that “we are not of one mind on the practice of homosexuality,” and does not declare it to be incompatible with Christian teaching. Regardless of one’s personal perspective, one must note the confusion this places in the minds of those who call themselves United Methodist. Rather than expand the number of ways that we can disagree and divide, we should defeat this amendment and study ways to secure what we hold in common.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment # X, Par. 28 BOD –
Current Section V heading reads: Section V. Central Conferences and ¶ 28 reads: There shall be central conferences for the work of the church outside the United States of America with such duties, powers, and privileges as are hereinafter set forth. The number and boundaries of the central conferences shall be determined by the Uniting Conference. Subsequently the General Conference shall have authority to change the number and boundaries of central conferences. The central conferences shall have the duties, powers, and privileges hereinafter set forth.

If the amendment is passed and so declared by the Council of Bishops, the heading of Section V and ¶ 28 would read: Section V. Regional Conferences and ¶ 28. Article I. would read: There may be regional conferences for the work of the Church with such duties, powers, and privileges as are hereinafter set forth. The General Conference shall have authority to change the number and boundaries of regional conferences. The regional conferences shall have the duties, powers, and privileges hereinafter set forth. (The change in name from “central” to “regional” takes effect January 1, 2013 at which time this parenthetical procedural note will be removed from the Constitution.)

Rationale to Oppose:
This Amendment presupposes that there may be Regional Conferences as the worldwide structure of the denomination. This actually fractures our denomination more than uniting it, and allows further fracturing by a 50% plus one vote of General Conference rather than a 2/3 vote of the entire denomination. It is also an expensive restructuring. It adds a Regional Conference structure in the United States on top of Jurisdictions that are all then amenable to a General Conference. This creates a costly extra layer of bureaucracy. In this time of financial uncertainty and struggle, the expense is not justified.

Further, this particular amendment is also ambiguous as it states that there “may be” Regional Conferences. There is a lack of clarity caused by saying in other amendments that there “shall be” Regional Conferences and then saying here that there “may be” such. The discrepancy leaves the denomination open to ways of organizing that may create harmful, unanticipated consequences that could threaten United Methodism’s core interpretation of connectionalism.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment # XIII, Par. 31 BOD –
Current ¶ 31 reads: The central conferences shall have the following powers and duties and such others as may be conferred by the General Conference:
1. To promote the evangelistic, educational, missionary, social-concern, and benevolent interests and institutions of the Church within their own boundaries.
2. To elect the bishops for the respective central conferences in number as may be determined from time to time, upon a basis fixed by the General conference, and to cooperate in carrying out such plans for the support of their bishops as may be determined by the General Conference.
3. To establish and constitute such central conference boards as may be required and to elect their administrative officers.

4. To determine the boundaries of the annual conferences within their respective areas.
5. To make such rules and regulations for the administration of the work within their boundaries including such changes and adaptations of the General Discipline as the conditions in the respective areas may require, subject to the powers that have been or shall be vested in the General Conference.
6. To appoint a judicial court to determine legal questions arising on the rules, regulations, and such revised, adapted, or new sections of the central conference Discipline enacted by the central conference.
7. To appoint a committee on appeals to hear and determine the appeal of a traveling preacher of that central conference from the decision of a committee on trial.

If the amendment is passed and so declared by the Council of Bishops, ¶ 31 would read: The regional conferences shall have the following powers and duties and such others as may be conferred by the General Conference:
1. To promote the evangelistic, educational, missionary, social-concern, and benevolent interests and institutions of the Church within their own boundaries.
2. In those regional conferences where there are no jurisdictional conferences, to elect the bishops for the respective regional conferences in number as may be determined from time to time, upon a basis fixed by the General Conference, and to cooperate in carrying out such plans for the support of their bishops as may be determined by the General Conference. In those regional conferences where there are jurisdictional conferences, bishops shall be elected by the respective jurisdictional conferences.
3. To establish and constitute such regional conference boards as may be required and to elect their administrative officers.
4. To determine the boundaries of the annual conferences within their respective areas.
5. To make such rules and regulations for the administration of the work within their boundaries including such changes and adaptations of the General Discipline as the conditions in the respective areas may require, subject to the powers that have been or shall be vested in the General Conference.
6. To appoint a judicial court to determine legal questions arising on the rules, regulations, and such revised, adapted, or new sections of the regional conference Discipline enacted by the regional conference.
7. To appoint a committee on appeals to hear and determine the appeal of a traveling preacher of that regional conference from the decision of a committee on trial. (The change in name from “central” to “regional” takes effect January 1, 2013 at which time this parenthetical procedural note will be removed from the Constitution.)

Rationale to Oppose:
This amendment clearly reflects a lack of clarity about our connectional structure. It blurs the powers of Jurisdictions and Regional Conferences. For instance, ¶ 31.4 says that regional conferences can determine boundaries of annual conferences whereas ¶ 27.4 and Judicial Decision 447 reserves that right for Jurisdictional Conferences. This is a contradiction that reveals the need for further study on these structural changes before we amend the constitution.
To further illustrate the particular problems of this amendment, the notion of each Regional Conference (¶ 31.6) having its own Judicial Court to adjudicate its particular adaptations of the General Discipline is simply unacceptable. It undermines both the church-wide Judicial Council and our unity. Different Judicial Councils with different agendas will fracture us. This amendment clearly threatens how we practice being United Methodist; creating confusion and Disciplinary contradictions.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment # XXIII, Par. 38 BOD –
Current ¶ 38 reads: The work of the Church outside the United States of America may be formed into central conferences, the number and boundaries of which shall be determined by the Uniting Conference, the General Conference having authority subsequently to make changes in the number and boundaries.

If the amendment is passed and so declared by the Council of Bishops, ¶ 38 would read: The work of the Church may be formed into regional conferences, the number and boundaries of which shall be determined by the General Conference. (The change in name from “central” to “regional” takes effect January 1, 2013 at which time this parenthetical procedural note will be removed from the Constitution.)

Rationale to Oppose:
Judicial Decision 1100 (Fall 2008) has stated that the proposed amendments would create a US Regional Conference or Conferences. To have more than one regional conference in the United States, let alone in the rest of our Connection, causes the UMC to function more like the Anglican Communion and its relationship to the US Episcopal Church. The specter of schism looms large if this amendment passes.

We could spend millions discerning property ownership rather than making disciples of Christ. There would be potential for United Methodists from one Regional Conference to send clergy into another region to start congregations that are allied with its own particular theology. We would have a United Methodist turf war, and end up trying to evangelize each other rather than the unchurched; sending missionaries to our “misguided” counterparts maybe only a few states away rather than reaching out to our hurting world.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment # XXVI, Par. 48 BOD –
Current ¶ 48 reads: The bishops of each jurisdictional and central conference shall constitute a College of Bishops, and such College of Bishops shall arrange the plan of episcopal supervision of the annual conference, missionary conferences, and missions within their respective territories.

If the amendment is passed and so declared by the Council of Bishops, ¶ 48 would read: The bishops of each jurisdictional and regional conference shall constitute a College of Bishops. In regional conferences where there are jurisdictional conferences, the jurisdictional colleges shall arrange the plan of episcopal supervision of the annual conferences, missionary conferences and missions within their jurisdictions. In regional conferences where there are no jurisdictional conferences, the regional conference College of Bishops shall arrange the plan of episcopal supervision of the annual conferences, missionary conferences, and missions within their respective territories. (The change in name from “central” to “regional” takes effect January 1, 2013 at which time this parenthetical procedural note will be removed from the Constitution.)

Rationale to Oppose:
This amendment should be defeated because it presupposes and endorses that there must be Regional Conferences. The passage of this amendment and any others that do more than change the name “central” to “regional” are unsupportable if one holds that our connectional unity is vitally important.

This amendment also reveals the continuing inequity between the church in the US and overseas, allowing for jurisdictional conferences in the US and only regional conferences overseas. This contributes to a US-centric paternalism that is adverse to the unity of the church.
Conclusion: It is important to defeat these amendments and allow the Worldwide Nature of The UMC Study Committee to make its recommendations to the 2012 General Conference. Then, if so inclined, and connectional polity is protected, we can change the constitution. Defeat Amendments IV, X, XIII, XXIII, and XXVI.
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One thought on “United Methodist Consitutional Amendments & Polity

  1. >tim-i think your specific points are on target. why not work out those knotty issues you raise on the way towards re-structuring? in principle (not application) why should we resist de-centralization? is not any effort to share ecclesiastic power at the most local level both wise and just? does it not ensure maximum flexibility and adaptability? does it not allow for greater degrees of incarnational ministry, innovation and creativity? opposing the concept on the grounds that it could or will lead to schism is an “appeal to probability”. opposing it because the details/applications are imperfect is a “nirvana fallacy”. and the motivational appeal to avoid schism by opposing the concept is an “irrelevant conclusion” since we could still face schism anyway without the amendments. these all seem to be logical fallacies if i understand you correctly. do i? if not please share more. i’m still trying to make up my mind in prep for AC.

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