1

General Conference Legislative Summary

Judicial Council members from left are the Rev. Dennis L. Blackwell, Beth Capen, the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko, N. Oswald Tweh Sr., Ruben Reyes, the Rev. Øyvind Helliesen, and the Rev. Luan-Vu Tran. Not pictured are Deanell Reese Tacha and Lídia Romão Gulele. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Judicial Council members from left are the Rev. Dennis L. Blackwell, Beth Capen, the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko, N. Oswald Tweh Sr., Ruben Reyes, the Rev. Øyvind Helliesen, and the Rev. Luan-Vu Tran. Not pictured are Deanell Reese Tacha and Lídia Romão Gulele. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

By Thomas Lambrecht-

In the aftermath of General Conference, it is good to take stock of what was accomplished and where things went awry. From the perspective of the Renewal and Reform Coalition, here is my assessment.

The 2016 General Conference was not the “do-nothing” General Conference that 2012 in Tampa was. Much legislation was considered and acted upon. Even so, many proposals were not considered in committee and a number of items did not get a vote by the plenary session before time ran out. That is why it is so significant that legislation passed requiring future General Conferences to act on all petitions.

The process of General Conference was marred by a three-day dispute over the rules and many points of order and parliamentary inquiries over the ten days. The bishops were uneven and inconsistent in their administration of the rules of order. The Howard motion to approve and act on the bishops’ proposal regarding human sexuality should have never been considered, since an almost identical motion had already been considered and voted down. It is time for the conference to hire a professional parliamentarian to ensure thorough knowledge of the rules and their consistent enforcement.

Too few voices were heard in the plenary sessions. It seemed like the same few people were always going to the microphone. On the other hand, it was good to see central conference delegates participating with more confidence and wisdom in the process, contributing a different perspective and helping the conference move forward positively. Members of our Coalition and others were privileged to help prepare delegates to make a more informed and knowledgeable contribution to General Conference.

In terms of Coalition accomplishments, the highlight has to be the election results. Five persons were elected to the Judicial Council, our denomination’s Supreme Court, and all five were recommended by the Renewal and Reform Coalition (Deanelle Reese Tacha, Reuben Reyes, Lidia Romao Gulele, Oyvind Helliesen, and Luan-Vu Tran). In addition, seven of twelve alternates elected were recommended by the Coalition. It is interesting to note that there are no white American males on the Judicial Council for the next quadrennium and that eight of the nine members were recommended by the Coalition.

In addition, all four persons elected to the University Senate were recommended by the Coalition (Kasap Owan Tshibang, Nathaniel Ohouo, Bill Arnold, and David Watson). Five of the ten persons elected to the Commission on the General Conference were recommended by the Coalition (Betty Katiyo, Beth Ann Cook, Joseph DiPaolo, Phebe Cosmiano, and Steven Furr).

Here are the major specific legislative outcomes of General Conference, from the perspective of the Renewal and Reform Coalition.

Abortion and Life Issues
• Petition requiring the General Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Women to withdraw from the abortion lobbying group Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice passed by a vote of 425-268
• Readoption of the resolution on “Responsible Parenthood” that contained clear pro-abortion language was defeated in committee and again in the plenary session by a vote of 310-445
• Resolution opposing gender selection abortion was readopted on the consent calendar
• Resolution supporting the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice was deleted by a vote of 561-167
• Statement was added to the Social Principles that pledged the church’s ministry to all women affected by abortion, whether or not they terminate their pregnancy. It passed on the consent calendar
• Other petitions to strengthen and clarify our denomination’s position on abortion were not considered or were tabled
• Resolution opposing the cloning of human embryos for research purposes was overwhelmingly adopted on the consent
calendar
• Resolution opposing assisted suicide was adopted on the consent calendar

Africa and Central Conferences
• Of the 71 legislative committee officers elected, 22 were from central conferences
• New apportionment formula was adopted for the central conferences, which up until now have made only voluntary payments to the general church
• Funding for the Central Conference Theological Education Fund was increased from $5 million to $10 million for the quadrennium
• Central conference theological education will also be supported by any apportionment income from the central conferences in excess of $750,000, which is the amount needed for the General Administration Fund
• Proposal to mandate translation of the Book of Discipline into the official languages of the general church was referred to the UM Publishing House
• Move to require proportional representation by jurisdictions and central conferences on all general boards and agencies was rejected in committee
• Attempts to provide that central conferences could elect their own representatives to the general boards and agencies (other than the General Board of Global Ministries) passed in committee but did not receive a vote in the plenary session
• Petition to study the Connectional Table membership and propose a revision in 2020 was adopted on the consent calendar, meaning that the current underrepresentation of the central conferences will continue
• Several resolutions supporting economic development in Africa were approved on the consent calendar
• Commitment to add five new bishops for the African central conferences in 2020 was approved, 678-128, while efforts to add two new bishops there in 2016 failed 393-417
• New Central Conference of Mongolia and Southeast Asia was established
• Proposals to establish new annual conferences in Cote d’Ivoire and Uganda were referred back to their respective central conferences, while a new annual conference of Rwanda was established
• Proposal modestly increasing African representation on the Standing Committee for Central Conference Matters was approved 709-83

Biblical Authority and Doctrine
• Language proposed to be added to the Preamble of the Social Principles reaffirming the Bible as our authority for both faith and morals was narrowly defeated in committee
• Revisions to “Our Theological Task” in the Discipline emphasizing the role and definition of biblical authority were referred to the Committee on Faith and Order
• Efforts to add “for the eternal salvation of persons” to the church mission statement were overwhelmingly defeated in committee
• Proposal to add the Nicene Creed as one of our doctrinal standards failed in committee
• Effort to prohibit UM seminaries from having degree programs designed to train leaders of non-Christian religions was rejected in committee
• Provision giving the charge conference the responsibility to promote awareness of and agreement with our doctrinal standards and general rules was adopted on the consent calendar
• Petition requiring affirmation of our doctrinal standards by local church leaders was rejected in committee
• Proposals to assure that candidates for ordained ministry personally believe and affirm our doctrinal standards were not considered by the committee
• Proposals to require that most seminary faculty be Trinitarian Christians and to evaluate seminaries on their effectiveness in promoting United Methodist doctrine were not considered in committee

Bishops
• Proposal that each jurisdiction must pay for the expenses of its own bishops was overwhelmingly rejected in committee
• Constitutional amendment giving the Council of Bishops the authority to hold fellow bishops accountable was overwhelmingly adopted
• Petition allowing the Council of Bishops to place a bishop on involuntary leave or involuntary retirement was adopted 761-21
• Provision allowing the Council of Bishops to process a complaint that has not been timely processed by a particular College of Bishops was approved 695-111
• Constitutional amendment to institute term limits for bishops (8 years with the possibility of one reelection) achieved a 61 percent approval, but a 2/3 majority was required

Human Sexuality
• Several dozen petitions advocating for the affirmation of same-sex behavior were tabled in committee
• Petitions supporting “A Third Way,” allowing pastors to perform same-sex weddings and annual conferences to ordain practicing homosexuals were narrowly defeated in committee
• Almost all petitions regarding sexuality were tabled in the plenary session in favor of forming a commission to address the divisions over this issue
• Proposals to delete the prohibition against using church funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality passed in committee, but were tabled in the plenary session along with all other sexuality petitions
• Strong resolution combating sexual and gender-based violence was approved on the consent calendar
• Proposals to change the definition of marriage to “two persons” were rejected in committee and then tabled in the plenary session
• Four different versions of a Jurisdictional Solution to resolve our differences over human sexuality by creating new or different jurisdictions were strongly rejected in committee
• Proposal that the General Board of Discipleship develop a list of recommended resources that promote the church’s official stance on human sexuality passed in committee by a 64 percent majority, but was tabled by the plenary session
• Revision of a resolution addressing teen suicide related to sexual orientation passed overwhelmingly in committee, but was tabled by the plenary session
• Petition imposing a mandatory minimum penalty for clergy convicted in a trial of performing a same-sex wedding was tabled by the plenary session
• Provision allowing a congregation that conscientiously disagrees with the church’s position on marriage and sexuality to withdraw from the denomination with its property passed committee by a vote of 32-31, but was tabled by the plenary session

Women’s Ministry
• Revision of the Discipline authorizing supplemental ministries in addition to United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men was adopted 409-334
• Petition authorizing a Women’s Ministry Sunday was adopted 437-321
• Resolution affirming varieties of women’s ministries in the local church tailored to meet their unique needs was adopted 641-119

Persecuted Christians
• Provision requiring the General Board of Church and Society to “promote education, prayer, and advocacy on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ … who suffer persecution for their faith” was adopted 734-55
• Resolution supporting International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church was adopted on the consent calendar
• New resolution supporting persecuted Christians worldwide was defeated in committee
• Resolution encouraging peace-making in the midst of religious conflict and persecution was readopted on the consent calendar

Judicial Accountability
• Proposal giving the church the right to appeal errors of church law in trials was referred to the Judicial Council for evaluation
• New chargeable offenses for “fiscal malfeasance” and for “possession or use of pornography” were added by a near-unanimous vote on the consent calendar
• Provision that a counsel for the church must be willing to uphold church law and the Book of Discipline passed on the consent calendar
• Provision giving the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders the ability to request a Judicial Council decision was overwhelmingly approved in committee, but died for lack of a vote by the plenary session. A proposal to give the same unrestricted right to annual conferences was rejected in committee
• Proposal that a just resolution of a chargeable offense must include a commitment not to repeat the offense was adopted in committee, but the Agenda Committee ruled that it related to human sexuality and thus it was tabled
• Proposal that the complainant must be included in a just resolution of a chargeable offense was adopted in committee, but the Agenda Committee ruled that it related to human sexuality and thus it was tabled
• Petitions requiring mandatory penalties be included as part of any just resolution were ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council

Israel
• Proposal advocating that all products manufactured in the West Bank and East Jerusalem be labeled as such narrowly passed committee, but died without a vote in the plenary session
• Balanced resolution seeking to apply restorative justice and peacemaking principles to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict passed in committee, but died without a vote in the plenary session
• Attempts to divest church funds from companies whose products are perceived to be used to support alleged human rights abuses in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or that do business in the West Bank were overwhelmingly rejected in committee, and such companies were not targeted in the revised investment guidelines approved by the conference
• New resolution that called upon the U.S. government and others to draft a peace plan for Israel-Palestine passed in committee, but did not receive a vote in the plenary session
• Petition encouraging the General Board of Global Ministries and Board of Church and Society to end their membership in the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation was approved 478-318
• Balanced resolution encouraging engagement between Israelis and Palestinians was adopted overwhelmingly
• Resolution opposing a resurgent anti-Semitism in the world today was defeated 336-446

Other Social Issues
• Change in the Social Principles ¶ 160D that would have recognized climate change and called upon all bodies of the church to exclude fossil fuel companies from investment was tabled by a 63 percent majority
• Revised guidelines for investment decisions by the General Board of Pensions and other church agencies that emphasized socially responsible engagement with companies were passed on the consent calendar
• Attempts to mandate divestment from companies dealing in fossil fuels were rejected overwhelmingly in committee
• New resolution consolidating and replacing four previous resolutions advocating restorative justice and fairness in our justice system passed nearly unanimously on the consent calendar. Controversially, the resolution includes the provision that “the Church supports the repeal of laws that criminalize personal conditions or behaviors. Examples include vagrancy, homelessness, personal gambling, public drunkenness, drug use, prostitution, and real or perceived sexual orientation or consensual sexual activity.”
• Proposed requirement that the General Board of Church and Society devote one full-time staff position to promoting and strengthening the family in line with our Social Principles, including marriage between one man and one woman, was rejected in committee
• Proposal for the General Board of Discipleship to prioritize support for marriage and the family was referred to that board
• Petition calling for a global study of marriage and the development of a theology of marriage was referred to the Committee on Faith and Order
• Strong resolution on eradicating the modern slave trade was passed overwhelming on the consent calendar
• Resolution calling for the reunification of the two Koreas was adopted on the consent calendar
• Resolution calling for positive engagement with Islam and moderate Muslims was adopted on the consent calendar
• Attempt to remove the heavily pacifist tone of the Social Principles was defeated in committee
• Resolution opposing alcoholism and drug abuse was readopted on the consent calendar
• New paragraph in the Social Principles on homelessness was overwhelmingly approved in committee, but died without a vote in the plenary session
• New paragraph in the Social Principles on the evils of pornography was strongly approved on the consent calendar
• Proposals to expand our church’s statement on religious freedom were tabled in committee
• Requirement that General Conference approve participation of general church agencies in any non-church coalition was defeated in committee
• Constitutional amendment adding “age” and “gender” as categories under which the church may not discriminate was approved by a vote of 509-242
• Resolution on the global migration crisis was adopted nearly unanimously on the consent calendar
• Resolution condemning the terrorist actions of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) passed on the consent calendar

Church Structure
• Attempts to downsize the General Board of Church and Society (the only board not downsized in 2012) were defeated in committee
• Proposal to not include inactive retired clergy in annual conference membership was turned down in committee
• Attempts to make the annual conference structure more flexible were defeated in committee
• The idea of, and a rough draft for, a global Book of Discipline that would be slimmed down and apply equally to all regions of the church was overwhelmingly endorsed, with final approval to come in 2020
• Several plans to create the possibility of a separate U.S. central conference that could enact some of its own policies were either rejected or tabled in committee
• Proposals to reconfigure the boundaries of the five jurisdictions (for example, by eliminating the Western Jurisdiction) were overwhelmingly rejected in committee
• Petition to defer any reduction of bishops in the U.S. and engage in a study of jurisdictional boundaries and the need for bishops in the U.S. passed on the consent calendar
• Attempts to limit apportionments to 10 percent of a local church’s income were defeated in committee
• Proposal to distribute Ministerial Education Funds directly to divinity students, rather than to the seminaries, was rejected in committee
• Petition that would set standards for annual conference program staff equal to those expected of general church program staff was defeated in committee
• Proposal to set the standards of belief and conduct for general agency staff as the same as those for clergy failed in committee
• Proposal to add “evangelism” to the purposes of United Methodist Women failed in committee
• Petition requiring the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session to approve all transfers of clergy into an annual conference was adopted 653-61
• Proposal to study to determine the sustainable number of United Methodist seminaries was not considered in committee

General Conference Procedures
• Constitutional amendment requiring that delegates be elected by majority vote from persons nominated from the floor of annual conference was approved, 767-22
• Proposal to prevent the Commission on the General Conference from arbitrarily lowering the number of delegates to General Conference  was rejected in committee
• Proposal that paid general church staff not be able to serve as General Conference delegates was rejected in committee
• Proposal to change the minimum General Conference representation from two delegates per annual conference to two delegates per episcopal area was turned down in committee
• Requirement that all petitions submitted must receive a vote by a legislative committee and all petitions approved by a legislative committee must receive a vote by the plenary session of General Conference passed, 406-361
• Requirement that important parts of the Daily Christian Advocate, including legislative changes to be considered by General Conference each day, must be translated into the official languages of the church passed 737-53

Other Significant Issues

• Proposal for a new hymnal was approved on the consent calendar. It would have a core of hymns and resources that everyone would share, while each congregation can customize the songs, hymns, and resources that would be included in their version of the hymnal. All the songs and resources would be online and for use electronically, and they would be updated regularly to include new music as it becomes available
• Resolution encouraging the use of Wesleyan class meetings to reach men and youth through United Methodist Men was approved on the consent calendar
• Minimum vote requirement to approve local pastors and clergy candidates at various stages in the process was increased from 2/3 to 3/4 majority
• Constitutional amendment to eliminate the guaranteed appointment of clergy was strongly defeated in committee
• Proposals to strengthen the lifelong learning and coaching of clergy and provide for periodic clergy assessments were adopted on the consent calendar
• Provision deleting the requirement that licensed local pastors must be at least age 40 to apply for provisional membership was adopted on the consent calendar

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.

Comments

  1. JL says:

    Seems like the issues that affect us local churches had discouraging conclusions. Namely, “Language proposed to be added to the Preamble of the Social Principles reaffirming the Bible as our authority for both faith and morals was narrowly defeated in committee;” “Petition requiring affirmation of our doctrinal standards by local church leaders was rejected in committee;” “Proposals to assure that candidates for ordained ministry personally believe and affirm our doctrinal standards were not considered by the committee.” Perhaps I should be a bit more informed on the issues themselves as they were presented at GC, but this does not seem like a positive development. Sorry if I sound like the party pooper, but could you offer any insight into these? It could be that after informing myself on these items, my feelings would be different.

  2. Yayuba Bazel Yoila says:

    Good new you have presented right article to saved gospel and people.
    You much support from Africa Nigeria

Speak Your Mind

*