General Conference Legislation

Recommendation on the Proposed Constitutional Amendments

The Renewal and Reform Coalition

March 15, 2017

In anticipation of the upcoming votes by all the annual conferences on whether or not to ratify the five proposed constitutional amendments for our church, the Renewal and Reform Coalition offers its perspective for your consideration. On two of the proposed amendments, there are both positive and negative features that could lead to different conclusions. Their meaning and implications are sufficiently unclear that the Coalition is not taking a collective position.

I. Amendment 1 – Add a new paragraph on Gender Justice

The Coalition takes no position on this amendment

Positives

  • Strong statement in favor of the equal value of women and men in God’s eyes, which we support
  • Strong commitment on behalf of the church to seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, which we support

Negatives

  • This statement reads more like a Social Principle than a paragraph in the Constitution, particularly with its emphasis on theology. We question whether it belongs in the Constitution.
  • The second sentence raises theological concerns when it says, “it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female … maleness and femaleness are … not characteristics of the divine.” Does this mean Jesus is not male? Or does it mean that Jesus, who is obviously male, is not divine? Either position is contrary to our doctrinal standards.
  • This language could potentially be used to discourage use of references to God as Father (e.g., hymns, prayers, creeds)

Summary – While this statement is well-intentioned, and we support its strong emphasis on the equality of women, we are concerned with its theological fuzziness being written into our Constitution. The church’s advocacy for women’s equality is well-stated elsewhere in the Book of Discipline.

II. Amendment 2 – Add to 4 on Inclusiveness “ability, gender, age, marital status”

The Coalition takes no position on this amendment

Positives

  • We support the idea that persons of any ability should be welcome in our churches and included in the church’s life, worship, and governance.
  • We support the idea that both men and women equally should be welcome in our ministries and included equally in the church’s life, worship, and governance.
  • We support the idea that persons of every age should be welcome in our churches and included in age-appropriate ways in the church’s life, worship, and governance.
  • We support the idea that single, married, widowed, and divorced persons should be welcome in our churches and included in the church’s life, worship, and governance.

Negatives

  • The word “gender” is no longer understood to be merely a binary (male/female) term. It has recently become a loaded word in Western culture and carries within it connotations of transgender, gender queer, and other perceptions of gender that we do not believe should be granted blanket and unconditional inclusion in the Constitution.
  • We are concerned that adding “marital status” without defining the term could be interpreted to give a mandate in our constitution to recognize same-sex marriage or polygamy in those countries that allow such. The current definition of marriage in the Social Principles could be nullified by this Constitutional language.
  • The inclusion of “age” could result in the elimination of mandatory retirement for bishops and clergy. There was no discussion of this possibility at General Conference, and we are concerned that this could be an unintended consequence of adopting this amendment. If we are to eliminate mandatory retirement, it should at least be discussed and considered by the General Conference delegates before being approved.

Summary – While in sympathy with the intentions of the proposed additions, we are concerned about potential unintended consequences of adopting this amendment as presently worded. We encourage careful consideration of the issues involved before adopting this amendment. We would hope to support better wording in the future that could accomplish the purposes in a clearer and less controversial way.

III. Amendment #3 – Election of Delegates by Majority, Requiring Floor Nominations

The Coalition supports this amendment.

This amendment would standardize the process for election of delegates across annual conferences and would foster a more open and transparent democratic process in places where that is not a tradition. The requirement for a majority could cause voters to coalesce more quickly around the top candidates. The requirement for floor nominations enables maximum openness and access of all qualified persons to the process of running for delegate. It addresses problems that have been experienced in some annual conferences.

IV. Amendment #4 – Requires Central Conferences to Elect Bishops at a Regularly Scheduled Conference

The Coalition supports this amendment.

This amendment would ensure that the dates of central conference meetings are not manipulated to allow irregular processes for electing bishops. It addresses problems that have been experienced in some central conferences.

V. Amendment #5 – Allows the Council of Bishops to Hold Bishops Accountable

The Coalition supports this amendment.

This amendment is a key part of enhancing the global accountability of bishops. It gives the Council of Bishops the option to supervise complaints against bishops when the jurisdictional or central conference complaint process does not work appropriately. It addresses problems that have been experienced in several regions of the global church.

GC2016-logo-color-hi-resListing of Legislative Proposals for General Conference

The petitions posted below are offered for the consideration of annual conference and General Conference delegates. When you click on each petition, it will download in Word format on your computer. You may change them however you like and introduce them for approval at your annual conferences session. Some reformatting may be necessary. Suggestions and comments are welcome! (Email: tlambrecht@goodnewsmag.org)

Added Chargeable Offense
Adds as a chargeable offense: “interfering with the General Conference or another United Methodist body or agency’s ability to conduct business”

Church Right to Appeal
Gives the Counsel for the Church the right to appeal egregious errors in church law during the trial process

Clergy Pension Preserved
Specifies the right of clergy to withdraw from the denomination and keep their pensions intact

Commission on General Conference Powers
Limits the Commission’s ability to arbitrarily set the number of General Conference delegates

Complainant as Party to Just Resolution
Requires the person filing a complaint to be a party to any resolution of the complaint

Counsel for the Church
Stipulates that, by agreeing to serve, Counsel for the Church signifies his/her willingness to vigorously and with integrity uphold the requirements of church law and the Discipline

Definition of Spousal Benefits
Defines a spouse as a person of the opposite gender legally married to the employee; restricts church sponsored benefits for spouses to those defined as such

Disaffiliation for Reasons of Conscience
Allows congregations to withdraw from The United Methodist Church as a matter of conscience, while keeping their building and property

End Support for Anti-Israel Coalition
Directs the General Board of Global Ministries to end its membership in the “U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation,” which is a one-sided group that targets Israel while failing to address Palestinian and Arab violence against Israel, as well.

•  Expedited Exit
Allows congregations to withdraw from The United Methodist Church for reasons of conscience, witness, or mission, while keeping their building and property.

Homosexual Practice
Adds to the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” any person who enters into a civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage with a person of the same sex or gender, or communicates in any public setting that they are a practicing homosexual

Joining of Coalitions
Requires general agencies’ participation in coalitions to be approved by the Connectional Table and General Conference

Jurisdictional Support for Bishops
Constitutional amendment providing that each jurisdiction support the financial costs of all the bishops serving in that jurisdiction

Limiting Apportionments
Limits general church and conference apportionments to ten percent of each local congregation’s expenses for operations and missions

Mandatory Penalty
Imposes a mandatory minimum penalty for performing same-sex weddings

• Members of Annual Conference Agencies
Provides that members of annual conference agencies have the same qualifications as those serving on general church agencies

Membership of University Senate
Revises membership on the University Senate to limit employees of United Methodist educational institutions to one-third of the membership, reducing an inherent conflict of interest

Mission Statement
Adds the phrase “for the eternal salvation of persons” to the church’s mission statement, reinforcing the equal priority of evangelism with world transformation

Number of Bishops
Stipulates that annual conferences with fewer than 70,000 members share a bishop with another annual conference, while limiting the number of bishops to what a jurisdiction can afford

Number of General Conference Delegates
Constitutional amendment raising the minimum number of GC delegates to 850

Retired Clergy Annual Conference Membership
Constitutional amendment giving retired clergy voice, but not vote, at annual conference, and removing them from the formula for determining the number of annual conference members and General Conference delegates

Right to Appeal Membership Decision
Clarifies that pastors have the discretion to determine prospective members’ readiness to assume the vows of professing membership, while instituting a process for appealing the delay or denial of membership

Standards for Program Staff
Institutes the same requirements for annual conference program staff that are in place for general church staff

Status of Retired Bishops
Constitutional amendments limiting membership on the Council and College of Bishops to those serving in the effective relationship, removing retired bishops

Vote on Petitions Required
Requiring that all petitions approved by a legislative committee must receive a vote by the plenary session of the General Conference

Lifewatch Petitions

Changes to Paragraph on Abortion
These amendments to Paragraph 161J would more clearly align our church with biblical, historic Christian teaching that defends unborn children and their mothers from abortion.

Consistent Life Investment Ethics
Changes the investment parameters of the church’s investment policies so that our church does not profit from the violence of abortion.

Delete Sentence
Deletes the sentence supporting the legal right to abortion in the U.S. in order to make the overall resolution more applicable to a global context.

Disabled Babies
A Christian church should not support the possibility of a child’s having mental retardation or another disability being used as a reason for abortion. This petition deletes such support.

Mother’s Life
This petition brings the wording of this resolution in line with our statement on abortion in the Social Principles.

Taxpayer Funding
This petition adds opposition to the taxpayer funding of abortions.

Withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
This petitions removes the United Methodist Church from membership in a coalition that actively promotes the legality of abortion in all circumstances, contradicting our Social Principles.