United Methodist Pope and Problems of Consolidation

There has been much fanfare about the restructuring plan for the UMC that will be presented to the 2012 General Conference. I just had a conversation with someone who recently came back from a meeting with a general agency of the church where the plan was explained. We had a wonderful conversation about the history of the UMC and our polity as it relates to the proposed legislation.

I have to admit that I am personally involved in this process as both a member of the Connectional Table that approved the proposed new structure and as a member of the Legislative Writing Team that has composed it. Although I disagree with key sections I have been faithful in my responsibility to write good legislation with the hope that holy conferencing and the wisdom of General Conference 2012 will correct the troublesome parts.

A primary concern for me is that we are allowing a business model to dictate ecclesiology. I know we’re in terrible economic times but that doesn’t give us license to overturn our polity for the sake of saving money. Actually I think the money-saving is a smoke-screen to hand more power over to the Council of Bishops. Our polity is based on the separation of powers. Our two constitutional powers in the UMC are episcopacy and conferences. They must be held in perpetual tension and balance. Judicial Decisions as well as the 2008 Book of Discipline are clear in this matter. For instance, Judicial Decisions 689 and 1156 are important citations. There are more!

The Constitution clearly states that “The Annual Conference is the basic body in the Church and shall have reserved to it the right to vote… on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members.” (Par. 36) The separation of authority and decision making is integral to the United Methodist Constitution and law. While the boundaries can become hazy in any particular situation, the preservation of the separation of powers must be observed.  (Judicial Decision 689, rendered in 1993)

The separation of authority and decision making is integral to the United Methodist Constitution and law. (Judicial Decision 1156, rendered in 2010)

In addition, Par. 140 of the 2008 Book of Discipline states, “Under the constitution and disciplinary procedures set forth in this Book of Discipline, “The United Methodist Church” as a denominational whole is not an entity, nor does it possess legal capacities and attributes. It does not and cannot hold title to property, nor does it have any officer, agent, employee, office or location.” Par. 2509 of the same BOD says that we are a non-jural entity, that we cannot be sued as a denominational whole because we do not exist as a denomination! Rather, our polity has affirmed since our very existence that we are a movement, a group of separately incorporated mission outposts for the Kingdom of God!

Unfortunately, the IOT/CT proposals for restructuring will set up a 15-member CENTER for Connectional Mission and Ministry and have a set-aside Bishop as one of its members and perhaps its chair. This certainly overturns Par. 140 of the BOD by creating both an office/location and an officer! Another frightening thought is that this CENTER’s only oversight will come from a 45-member group (The General Council for Oversight and Strategy) that will meet just once a year. Its chair will be the same set-aside bishop who will either lead or be a member of the CENTER for Connectional Ministry and Mission. For legal and fiduciary protection this is a wrong-headed idea. Legal counsel has already observed that having a denominational CENTER and OFFICER leaves the denomination open for wholesale litigation possibilities. This is a streamlined business model to be sure and saves a ton of money by reducing the costs of separate boards and agencies having to send 565 people to meetings but the cost to our historic polity, balance of powers, and core value of diversity will be greater than any savings.

A 15-member CENTER can hardly be inclusive of all the voices of the UMC. If the purpose of the legislation is to make the denomination more nimble and connect it more closely with annual conferences and local churches then this widens the chasm in my opinion. Voices will not be at the table and will not be heard! Having a quasi-pope from the Council of Bishops may make business sense, but it violates our historic separation of powers. We are a spiritual movement that needs bishops who will be leaders but not with one set-aside bishop. We need ALL the bishops to be set-aside IN THEIR ANNUAL CONFERENCES! We all know how little time bishops actually spend time in their annual conferences. Where are the teaching days? Where is the personal contact and interaction across annual conferences and in local churches? If we want local churches to be mission outposts then bishops must see their primary duty as being in their episcopal areas. How about a promise not to spend more than 21 days outside the annual conference? How about a promise to spend teaching days with laity and clergy in every district at least twice a year? How about a promise to spend time in each district staying in homes getting to know people and scheduling time with every clergyperson in each district over a quadrennium or maybe even twice every four years? How about a promise to be in each charge over a quadrennium? All these things and more come to my mind as a way for United Methodism to regain some of its relevance. It will be possible through personal connections! Personal connections make United Methodist Connectionalism work!

The proposal coming to GC 2012 is out of touch with 21st century flat-world thinking, and bishops and leadership have to be in touch to be relevant! There are cost-savings with the proposal but more centralization into smaller less diverse entities does not offer the hope for change that I’m looking for. It changes us from a spiritual movement into a more bureaucratic quagmire than we already are. I say free  up our bishops to lead on the local level. Don’t vote for a constitutional change that would allow one of them to be set-aside for quasi-pope duty. Don’t vote to abrogate the power of General Conference to set budgets and let the Council of Bishops be able to do it between sessions of the GC. Would you want your pastor to have the authority to change your local church’s budget? Heaven’s “NO!” Our connectionalism works best when the distance between leadership and people is bridged not widened. Connectionalism works best and is more theologically sound when it is horizontal not top down. We have tried top-down and it doesn’t work. I know that I can’t say everything that I need to say in this space, but I wanted to put some food for thought on the table as people are gearing up for next year. May God be with us as we discern together!

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Core Principles of the UMC – MD4C

Many of you know that I’m on the Worldwide UMC Study Committee. There are 20 of us who are trying to discern the direction and shape of our denomination across the world. We are progressing with our work by beginning with a very important question: What are the core principles of the United Methodist Church?

I can think of many such as connectionalism, the constitutive principles of conference and general superintendency, personal & social holiness – sanctification in personal life and justice ministries in the world, evangelical witness (Making disciples for Jesus Christ/MD4C), Wesley’s Scripture Way of Salvation (Stages of Grace), the Quadrilateral as a means of doing theology, hymnody as a vehicle for doctrine, itenerancy and sent ministry, our Doctrinal Standards, the General Rules, minimum standards for credentialing clergy, accountability by local churches and clergy to our covenant community, inclusivity, gender equality, proportional representation, and multiculturalism. I know there are more core principles, but these are the ones that jump out at me.
The question posed to us that is also EXTREMELY important surrounds the reason we’re working on our ecclesiology. You may remember that this study committee arose from the constitutional amendments that were put before each annual conference over the past year. Those amendments would create one or more (Judicial Decision 1100) US regional conferences. The votes have not been certified by the Council of Bishops and won’t be until their May 2010 meeting. The last numbers that I heard were that they were failing by a huge majority.
There are those on the left (However you define such labels) who would love for the US to have the ability to adapt the Book of Discipline (Par. 543.7) as the Central Conferences outside the US do. The primary goal as stated by several members of our committee is so that a separate US regional conference would be able to change its position on self-avowed practicing homosexuals. Conservatives don’t mind the shift to regionalism for a much different reason: money. Right now the areas outside the US pay very little into apportioned general church funds; only a sliding scale amount into the Episcopal Fund. While conservatives would love to keep African votes on human sexuality, the economic downturn has made the price too steep. Unfortunately the same argument works even in the US. There are some from the US Jurisdictions that are larger who are tired of paying the freight for jurisdictions that are declining. Either way, and I KNOW that what I’m saying is overly simplistic, the rationales for moving away from our connectional polity are driven either by sexuality or money, AND THOSE ARE TERRIBLE REASONS TO CHANGE OUR ECCLESIOLOGY.
It seems to me that it would be more simple to change Par. 543.7 and be more clear about what is adaptable and what isn’t, and call all central conferences “jurisdictions.” I don’t want us to lose the non-negotiables of what I think are our denominational hallmarks/core principles at the expense of rearranging the deck chairs on the UMC Titanic, creating regional conferences that are antithetical to Wesley’s “The World is my Parish.” The bigger questions about all of this are “Why are we doing this? What is our vision why this will enhance the missional effectiveness of the UMC?” Duh?
But as quick as I am to pooh-pooh the whole effort, I have to admit how complex this is. Sure, we don’t need a US-centric hierarchy or focus; but I ask the question: Would we still legitimately be UNITED Methodists if we allowed too many regional permutations of who we are? What is unalterable and what is adaptable? What are our core principles that should remain intact. Help me out, weigh in!

Form Follows Function – Worldwide Study Committee

Tomorrow I preach at 9:45 and 11:15, then head to Simpsonwood outside of Atlanta for the first meeting of the Worldwide UMC Study Committee. Many of you know how big an issue this is for me personally. I have written about our connectional polity for years with articles in “The Circuit Rider,” “Quarterly Review,” and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. I have worked for our eccelsiastical unity helping create The Connectional Table, and have worked with many others in presenting reasons why the proposed consitutional amendments to create a diocesan parochialism in the UMC is a terrible idea.
I agree that there must be cultural adaptations that honor diveristy, but if that occurs at the expense of connectionalism, count me out. The big question before the Study Committee is not, according to the agenda I received, the history of what got us to this point, or which side, liberal or conservative, wins the battle over human sexuality that is shaking all main-line denominations. The big question for me is what structure will help us make disciples for Jesus Christ. Form follows function!
As for sexuality issues and the global church, every 30 years there is some hot-button issue of one ilk or another. Maybe this one will never go away, but the issue of women’s ordination and inclusion of people of color have at least been alleviated in offical church law if not in actual practice. As a matter of fact, all one has to do to put the brakes on the worldwide proposal as presented is to note United Methodist history’s reaction to women’s ordination. One of the reasons that the Korean Methodist Church went autonomous and left the UMC was over their rejection of women’s ordination.
So, we will always have issues that divide us. How about us focusing on ways to stay united? I think that focus should be on Christ and offering Christ to a confused world. Therefore, we must have clarity about our mission. Is our mission to offend no one or please SOMEONE (Jesus)? Certainly the Gospel is for all people and the reconciliation of everyone to God, but let’s not confuse how we do it with why we do it. If United Methodists lose connectionalism we have lost our distinctive vehicle for offering hope to the world. Our “why” of being reconcilers without boundaries of right and wrong, humanism without the need for atonement, will supercede our allegiance to Christ and will result in us offering false hope or no hope to anyone. Our real “why” behind how we structure ourselves better be bringing people to a real experience of Christ reagrdless of who they are. The best way to do that is not to give in to the relativism of national churches, but through a common connection to John Wesley’s “Scripture Way of Salvation” lived out!

Satellites, I-Phones, Clay, and Us

I just got a call from a reporter for the United Methodist News Service wanting to interview me about the apparent defeat of the 23 Worldwide UMC Constitutional Amendments voted on by annual conferences. As I write this, it appears that they are going down to defeat by a 65-35% margin. As I said to the reporter, “This is a victory for connectionalism.”

Connectionalism isn’t just a UM hallmark. It is the way God made us. We have been created in God’s image to be interconnected. American Indians have long embraced this worldview. Reciprocity in all things means that four-leggeds, two-leggeds, winged creatures, fish, and all of creation co-exists. To live is to be in perpetual connection. Sure, there are cultural differences and God must embrace diversity or there wouldn’t be so many different types of creatures, colors, or clays. I say “clays” because I’m a potter – duh!
 
I have used clays like Standard 153, 114, locally dug and pugged earthenware, Loafer’s Glory, Little Loafer’s, B-Mix, a little bit of everything. I change every now and then, but I prefer the feel, bite, and color of Little Loafer’s the best. Anyway, we’re all clay – made from the dust. Adam literally means dirt. In our connectionalism we all belong at the table and our interdependence extends to our connection to every molecule of the planet, even the cosmos.
 
The 40th anniversary of humans on the moon reminds me of how Spaceship Earth is but a little slice of the heavens. Watching the stars last night in SC’s lowcountry and seeing a satellite zip by was God’s megaphone to me of interconnectedness. Watching fellow cabinet members during our retreat this week stay connected with the outside world through I-phones and Blackberries verified our connectedness, and the need for the satellite.
 
The rub, however, whether you’re parenting a teenager or an aging mother, is how much to stay connected without losing individuality. How can we make room for God’s gift of diversity while embracing the fact that every thing, every creature is made of the same cosmic dust? That is my challenge, our challenge – holding in tension the facts of distance and closeness without spinning apart or melting into an amalgam of enmeshment. Such is life, C’est la vie, n’est pas?

The Mountain is Calling!

>The tyranny of the urgent things is killing me. By this time every year I have already been to Mt. Mitchell at least 3-4 times, but not this year. Cindy’s mother has been sick and in and out of the hospital at least 5 times in the last three months so that’s been a priority. Appointment-making for the Cabinet was tough this year with so few retirements and churches cutting salaries out from under positions. There were fewer moves but more attention needed and received for each one. Lately, I’ve been under the gun of trying to make a R-1 Visa application work for a new Korean pastor. We have to resubmit all kinds of info and I’ve pored over detail after detail because we really need this to work out. The Korean pastor is a model of faithfulness. He gave up being a medical doctor in Korea making $300k to being a full-time local pastor here with a Duke M.Div. making in the $30k range. He’s a great guy and that church is going to grow!

Conference whipped me, not at all for the usual reasons. It wasn’t the parliamentarian bit although I can’t have a brain-break when I’m trying to follow all of the discussion and anticipate what amendments or motions might be made. Actually Conference was pretty bland, except for the good preaching and the hoopla over the consitutional amendments. I’m glad we came out 85% to 15% against the worldwide UMC ones. A lot of my energy at conference went to clergy in the Columbia District. I was all over the map literally with 3 trips to McLeod’s Emergency Room in Florence, to driving back after a conference session to see one of the clergy in a Heart Hospital in Columbia. There hasn’t been any let up since last week. Cindy’s mother was back in the Emergency Room, one of our clergy had a heart procedure, another had a purported mild heart attack and hospitalized. Another’s mother died, and another former clergy died yesterday. Wow! I’m praying for everyone to get healthy and stay that way!

So, this coming Tuesday (Cindy doesn’t know yet, so it’s iffy), I’m headed to Mt. Mitchell to be alone, sit and read, hike out to Mt. Craig, and stoke the fire. Yes, at 6684 feet, you need a fire even in June. As John Muir said, “The moutains are calling and I must go!” Where do you go to to escape the tyranny of the urgent?

No Where to Go!?

>I have been enjoying my time spent with each of the clergy in the Columbia District, doing whatever they want to do. We have been to the zoo, the State Museum, The Columbia Museum of Art, visiting the homeless, shut-ins, hospitals, taking communion to people, sitting in on church visioning, learning to make pottery, etc. It has been good.

On one trek, a pastor took me to Congaree Creek Park where clay has been dug for several hundred years. One of the more interesting things I have seen in all of the activities over the past several months of being on these outings with pastors was something I saw in the middle of the remants of the old clay mining operation. Sticking out from a huge tree were two railroad track irons about ten feet up. They were evidently used as part of a means to get the clay out of the nearby pit.
All kinds of metaphors have been coming to mind. First, they reminded me of my trip to Coventry Cathedral in England which was bombed by the Nazis in WWII. As the rubble of the cathedral was cleared in the chancel there were two burned beams that had fallen and made a cross. It is still viewed today as a sign of Christ’s sacrifice and the need for human forgiveness. Second, I thought of our denomination, especially as Constitutional Amendments will be voted on at this year’s Annual Conference. We’re at a crossroads. I don’t oppose the amendments on the worldwide nature of the UMC because of liberal or conservative reasons. I oppose them because they would switch us from Connectionalism to a pseudo-Presbyterian/Anglican regional understanding of who we are as a church. Regions would be able to adapt how we live out the Gospel with such division that we would be living a false advertising, “The UNITED Methodist Church.” We wouldn’t be united if these pass.
There are other crossroads that we face in life with the economy, jobs, day-to-day decisions. Those rail lines stuck up in a tree are useless. I don’t want our church to end up a dead sect, useless to God. We’re never exactly where we’re meant to be on this side of heaven, but, pray God, we’ve got to do more than be picked up by history as an appendage to a tree. We have to stay alive, grow in Christ, live the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, or… look at the picture.

Gender Justice and Regional Conferences

This is another piece I’ve been working on about the constitutional amendments and gender justice:

This year there will be a flurry of proposed amendments to the United Methodist constitution that will be voted on by lay and clergy members of annual conferences across the connection. Since many of these amendments affect the structure and polity of the worldwide denomination, one must be aware of how our current structure and proposed amendments impact issues of gender justice for women. In our deliberations it should be recognized that there is a history of gender justice issues against women in general and particularly full clergy rights for women in the central conferences. Judicial Council Decisions 155 and 172 (http://www.umc.org/, “Our Church” tab – Judicial Council) are examples of this controversy from decades ago that precipitated the desire for autonomy from some of our former central conferences. However, this is not just a sad saga from our not-so-distant-past. There are current situations both overseas and in the United States that threaten gender justice for women. Therefore, these amendments are not new issues, but call us to sharpen our understanding of United Methodist ecclesiology and its specific ramifications for women.
 
This has personal importance. My daughter is an Elder in the South Carolina Annual Conference. It would be an anathema if she were not welcome to serve as a clergyperson in any of our annual conferences whether in central conferences or jurisdictions. In addition, we declare (¶ 215.4, 2008 Book of Discipline) that any baptized or professing member of any local UM congregation is a member of the “global United Methodist connection …” By our common baptism we are all, male and female, called to be servant leaders. This means that there must be no discrimination or gender bias across the connection.
 
“Connection” is the operative word in deliberating these amendments from an ecclesiological and justice perspective. In my second quadrennium as a member of the denomination’s Connectional Table, in my role as a District Superintendent, and as an Adjunct Professor for “United Methodist Discipline and Polity” at Candler School of Theology, it is keenly apparent to me that we are and must be a connectional church. Each of these venues adds to my perspective on connectionalism. At the Connectional Table the effort is made to holistically bring resources and mission together for the entire United Methodist Church. Then there is the fact that District Superintendents are one of the most visible signs of the connection between the greater Church and the local Church. From a local perspective in SC, 4 out of 12 District Superintendents are female while the AC percentage of female clergy is near 20%. Unfortunately, as a District Superintendent, there are those churches that are still reluctant to have a woman as their pastor. In polity class one sees the Wesleyan distinctive of sanctification shaping our way of being and doing church. After all, our book of polity is not called a Book of Suggested Rules, but a Book of Discipline. The theological underpinning of our book of polity’s title and the reason we care about social issues is wrapped up in our historic understanding of sanctification: God makes disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.
 
Connectionalism is the primary vehicle for this distinctive theological emphasis in the United Methodist Church. It is our connectionalism that promotes a unity of purpose across the denomination. With these worldwide structure amendments we are voting on connectionalism and how that supports our theology. Key in this discussion is whether or not sanctification looks the same in every context. There are things that are universally good, and things that are contextual. The problem is in deciding the difference. This is where one encounters potential difficulties in our current ecclesiology and that which is proposed. These present and proposed difficulties directly impact gender justice issues. At issue is the little-known but factual diversity of adaptations of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. ¶ 543.7 states that “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.”
If these particular amendments pass, not only will central conferences be able to adapt the BOD, but so will the United States regional conference or conferences (Cf. Judicial Decision 1100, Fall 2008). This fragmentation and diocesan ecclesiology will divide our denomination and reverse Wesley’s adage, “The world is my parish.” This fragmentation leaves great room for latitude and could cause divergent opinions to run amok. It is usually the marginalized who suffer the most in a hands-off approach to local autonomy. Left to do as each area of the church pleases breaks our connection and the checks and balances necessary to protect those who need it most. To ensure connectionalism and gender equity perhaps we need to clarify with absolute certainty the non-negotiables of our entire denomination. With sensitivity toward cultural relevance, ¶ 543.7 needs to be tightened up.
 
It does not even cover the Social Principles, and, because of that, they differ across the connection. These adaptations are accepted because they are not in violation of the constitution or the General Rules. However, some adaptations of the Social Principles may violate the “spirit of connectional relationship” mentioned in ¶ 543.7. Te Social Principles are not church law but they do impinge on church law in deciding the character of those who serve on the Church Council (¶ 244.3) and the use of United Methodist property (¶ 2532.3). Now to be sure, there are no Social principles that have been discovered or Special Advices, an additional set of rules/guidelines that many central conferences have, that overtly discriminate against women. However, the numbers tell a provocative story. They beg one to ask what is the state of our connection if these amendments are approved and regional adaptations are allowed.
What happens to regional attitudes toward women? For instance, there are no female clergy in one European annual conference. The number of female clergy in two African annual conferences is miniscule, 7 out of 438 or .015%, and 7 out 134 or .05% respectively. The total female percentage reported by the thirteen conferences for which we have up-to-date records is 11.6%. This includes conferences in Europe, Africa, and the Philippines. There is nothing that is written in those Central Conference or Annual Conference’s Social Principles that officially denies women’s ordination or clergy privileges. However, the fact remains that a number of annual conferences outside of the United States have very few clergywomen. The U.S., if it were a separate Regional Conference, has statistics that are telling in terms of gender justice, too. There are 44,842 clergy in the U.S. UMC, and 10,378 are female, or 23.1%. The percentage of female laypersons is 57.6%. Of U.S. Bishops, 28% are female, and, of U.S. District Superintendents, the percentage that is female is 26.8%. The issue of gender discrimination is certainly a question to ponder as we vote to change our constitution and ponder our historic connectional identity as United Methodists. Perhaps the better path is to allow the Worldwide UMC Study Committee to complete its work for the 2012 General Conference before we constitutionally codify a system that perpetuates the possibility of gender discrimination.

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.