High and Low Tides in Tampa

By Thomas A. Lambrecht

The 2012 General Conference met in the beautifully situated Tampa Convention Center from April 24-May 4. Nearly 1,000 voting delegates from around the world gathered to consider and revise the United Methodist Church’s policies for the next four years. Over 1,200 petitions reflected the desires and dreams of United Methodists for everything from what to name trained lay ministers to how to restructure a 12-million member global denomination.

Fielding a team of 40 staff and volunteers, the Renewal and Reform Coalition monitored legislative committees, reported on actions taken, spoke with delegates about our concerns, promoted our positions on issues, helped write speeches and amendments, distributed literature to delegates, and recommended strategies designed to accomplish our goals.

The Coalition included The Confessing Movement, Good News, Lifewatch, RENEW Women’s Network, Transforming Congregations, and UMAction (a part of the Institute for Religion and Democracy). We shared an agenda of defending historic orthodox Christian doctrine and moral standards, as well as promoting transformation, healing, and renewal within The United Methodist Church.

The biggest change this year was the presence and participation of delegates from the central conferences (outside the U.S.). Nearly 300 delegates from Africa joined about 100 delegates from Europe, Eurasia, and the Philippines to reinforce the fact that we are truly becoming a global church. One-fourth of all the legislative committee officers elected were from the central conferences, compared to almost none four years ago. Central conference delegates spoke frequently and passionately about many of the issues both in legislative committee and in the plenary session. The African delegates in particular brought a passion and energy for the transformational Gospel of Jesus Christ that inspired us all.

Other articles in this issue of Good News will go into detail about some of the more prominent issues the General Conference addressed. Below is a summary of the actions that took place during the conference. It is presented from the viewpoint of the Coalition. We took positions on only about 450 of the 1,200 petitions that were considered. This summary reflects the best of our knowledge at this time. We are still awaiting some final reports that might change the outcome on a couple of the issues. Because so much legislation was put off until the end, and so many items were not acted on (we heard that 77 calendar items were not considered), it has been difficult to determine sometimes whether or not the plenary session had acted on a proposal or not. There were twelve items that the Coalition recommended that had a good chance at passing, but were not considered due to lack of time. Here are the highlights and lowlights of our time in Tampa.

Highlights

• Three of the four persons elected to the Judicial Council were recommended by the Coalition (Dennis Blackwell, J. Kabamba Kiboko, N. Oswald Tweh, Sr.).

• Three of the four persons elected to the University Senate were recommended by the Coalition (Kasap Owan, William J. Abraham, Bill T. Arnold).

• ¶161J – now requires that abortions be done by “certified medical providers.”

• ¶161J – now rejects abortion as a means of “eugenics.”

• ¶161J – added a paragraph: “We mourn and are committed to promoting the diminishment of high abortion rates. The Church shall encourage ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies such as comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education, advocacy in regard to contraception, and support of initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all women and girls around the globe.”

• ¶161J – added another paragraph: “Young adult women disproportionately face situations in which they feel that they have no choice due to financial, educational, relational, or other circumstances beyond their control. The Church and its local congregations and campus ministries should be in the forefront of supporting existing ministries and developing new ministries that help such women in their communities. They should also support those crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women explore all options related to unplanned pregnancy.”

• ¶806.10 – new paragraph prohibiting the expenditure of church funds “in a manner which violates the expressed commitment of the UMC” to oppose partial birth abortion.

• Re-adopted Resolution 3306, “Healing of Post-Abortion Stress.”

• Re-adopted Resolution 2022, “Adoption.”

• Various attempts to trim and revise the trial process, which could have jeopardized a person’s opportunity for a fair trial, were defeated in committee.

• ¶524.3a – evaluation of bishops may be forwarded to Council of Bishops by Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee for further action.

• ¶2706 – trial counsels continue to be allowed to have attorneys as assistant counsels.

• ¶510 – resolutions to be entered into the Book of Resolutions must be passed by a 60 percent majority of General Conference.

• ¶2608.1 – requests for rulings from Judicial Council must now be posted online at least 30 days prior to the deadline for submitting briefs, to enable interested parties to weigh in on important issues.

• ¶247.14 – provision allowing annual conferences to apportion to local churches based on a percentage of income and/or expenses was passed – but it has been referred to Judicial Council.

• Changes in the MEF formula were rejected in favor of $5 million set aside from World Service to pay for central conference theological education over the next four years.

• ¶511 – Commission on the General Conference membership will now be allocated proportionally by church membership and additional nominations may be made from the floor.

• Regarding Israel/Palestine, legislation mandating divestment was defeated, with a substitute calling for prayerful advocacy for investment principles related to human rights.

• ¶220 – added participation in covenant discipleship groups or class meetings as part of the expectations of church membership.

• Re-adopted Resolution 3041, strengthening our opposition to alcohol advertising and marketing.

• Re-adopted Resolution 3042, calling for comprehensive ministry to persons addicted to alcohol and other drugs.

• Defeated an attempt to add several paragraphs to the preamble of the Social Principles that would have magnified the amount of dissent permitted in the Social Principles, weakening the very point behind having Social Principles.

• A new paragraph in the Social Principles (¶164) calls upon Christians not to initiate lawsuits against other Christians where such disputes can be settled within a church context.

• A new resolution was passed advocating for increased emphasis on maternal health, including pre- and post-natal care and improved birthing options.

• Social Principles statement affirming rights for transgendered persons was adopted in committee (45-32), but not considered by plenary due to lack of time.

• Motion to add “gender” and “age” to ¶4 on inclusiveness was referred to the Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

• Attempt to amend ¶161F to say that, while our official position is that the practice of homosexuality is not in keeping with God’s will, there are two different opinions on that matter – failed 439-513.

• Attempt to amend ¶161F to say that we will agree to disagree on homosexuality, not taking any position on it while awaiting consensus – failed 368-572.

• Attempt to add to ¶162J equal rights for sexual orientation or gender identity was adopted in committee (45-32), but was not considered in plenary due to lack of time.

• Legislation mandating pension benefits for same-sex partners passed in committee (49-16), but was not considered in plenary due to lack of time.

• Two petitions to permit same-sex marriages by our clergy were defeated in committee (44-34 and 41-37).

• Petitions to remove references to homosexuality in the footnote of ¶311.2.d were defeated in committee (38-36).

• All other language on homosexuality stays the same.

• Resolution #2029 was re-adopted calling for ministry to “singles and families in all their various configurations;” problematic language about supporting persons in “committed relationships” was deleted in committee

Disappointments

• ¶161J – Supports crisis pregnancy centers that help women “explore all options related to unplanned pregnancy” (those that also do or refer for abortion).

• Resolution directing GBCS and Women’s Division to withdraw from Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice passed committee (42-33), but was not acted upon by the plenary due to lack of time.

• ¶362.2c – restricts right of accompaniment in administrative hearing to an elder in one’s own annual conference, diminishing the options of persons accused of an offense.

• Attempts to prescribe minimum standards of Christian faith and life for annual conference program employees were defeated.

• Attempts to disaffiliate Claremont School of Theology as a UM seminary were defeated.

• Attempts to require annual evaluation of bishops instead of quadrennial evaluations were defeated in committee.

• ¶722 – new paragraph requiring agency board approval for membership in an outside organization or coalition (except for UMCOR), approved by committee (53-22), but not acted upon by plenary due to lack of time.

• The right of the church to appeal errors of law was rejected in committee (46-2).

• ¶335 – petition allowing annual conference boards of ordained ministry to accept students from non-listed seminaries was defeated.

• An attempt to amend the constitution ¶50 to place term limits on bishops failed to gain the required 2/3 majority, but received a favorable vote (463-462).

• Revisions to ¶1414 that would have reformed the membership of the University Senate to remove its inherent conflict of interest (having institutional executives of UM colleges and seminaries evaluating UM institutions) failed overwhelmingly in committee.

• A constitutional amendment to ¶47 that would limit membership in the Council of Bishops to active bishops only, passed the committee (30-28), but was not considered by plenary due to lack of time.

• ¶2609 – request for a bishop’s decision of law must now receive the support of 20 percent of the annual conference vote.

• ¶707 – a requirement that all petitions to General Conference submitted by general agencies must receive a 2/3 vote from that agency’s board was approved by committee (69-9), but was not considered by plenary due to lack of time.

• A proposal to add a second bishop to help supervise the Southern Congo region, an area with over a million members, was defeated by the plenary session.

• ¶104.1-2 – new language clarifying the authority of Scripture was approved by committee (39-29), but was not considered by plenary due to lack of time.

• New resolution affirming Israel’s right to exist within secure borders was adopted in committee (47-17), but was not considered by plenary due to lack of time.

• A proposal disallowing petitions to be submitted to General Conference by individuals was defeated in committee (30-26), but Rev. Debbie McLeod of Florida added this prohibition to a budget bill, and the amendment passed in plenary (465-405). Individuals will now need to seek the support of an “organization,” such as a Sunday school class or Administrative Council, in order to submit petitions to General Conference.

• An addition to ¶214 securing the pastor’s role in discerning readiness of persons to assume the vows of membership and providing an appeal process to the S/PPR Committee was approved in committee (29-28), but was not considered by plenary due to lack of time.

• Legislation to remove support for government-funded health care was not acted upon in committee.

• Changes to ¶165 in the Social Principles that would have acknowledged the use of military force as a last resort were approved by the committee (55-14), but were not considered in plenary due to lack of time; however, just war language remains in ¶164.I.

• Social Principles statement espousing religious freedom for adoption agencies that do not allow adoption by same-sex couples was defeated in committee.

• ¶2711 – proposal to set a mandatory penalty for persons convicted of performing a same-sex union was defeated in committee (26-20) and was not considered by plenary due to lack of time.

• A revision of ¶304.3 that would broaden the language excluding self-avowed practicing homosexuals from ordained ministry to all persons engaged in practices or relationships involving sex outside of heterosexual marriage passed in committee (53-16), but were not considered by the plenary due to lack of time.

• ¶304 – attempt to broaden the definition of “self-avowed” was taken out in committee and not considered in plenary due to lack of time.

• Revisions to ¶256, the constitution of local UMW groups, that included provision for other women’s ministry groups in the local church was passed by committee (47-14), but was not considered by plenary due to lack of time.

• Resolution #3444 was re-adopted affirming the work of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women in eradicating sexism in the church; unfortunately, there was language that promoted the use of inclusive language for God.

Other actions

• Security of appointment for ordained elders was eliminated, with some safeguards put in place to monitor potential abuses of the bishop’s discretion.

• ¶338 was amended to allow less-than-full-time appointments to be made at the initiative of the bishop and cabinet; however, it appears that the clergyperson and the conference board of ordained ministry must agree and it must be confirmed by the clergy session.

• ¶162 – added “gender identity” to groups or persons about which we deplore hatred or violence toward them.

• Under ¶602.4, retired clergy who indicate that they are unable to attend the annual conference session due to age or disability would no longer be counted for the purpose of lay equalization, requiring fewer lay members of annual conference; however, this action has been referred to Judicial Council for a decision.

• An amendment to the constitution, ¶49, which would allow for a set-aside bishop to administer and lead the Council of Bishops failed on a 490-399 vote against it in plenary session, short of the 2/3 majority needed to amend the constitution.

Thomas Lambrecht is the coordinator of the Renewal and Reform Coalition and vice president of Good News.