Editorial by Rob Renfroe
The Council of Bishops recently ratified the voting results on the nearly three dozen proposed amendments to the United Methodist Church’s constitution (news story on page 5). Of the 32 proposed amendments, 27 of them failed to receive the two-thirds vote necessary from annual conference members in order to become part of the church’s constitution.
This news was surprising, actually shocking, for at least a couple of reasons.
First, to our knowledge, annual conference members have never before rejected a proposed constitutional amendment. After all, a proposed amendment comes to annual conferences after more than two-thirds of the General Conference delegates have approved it. Heretofore, the operating assumption has been that annual conference members would ratify what their elected delegates have already approved at General Conference.
Second, nearly all the amendments not ratified failed by wide margins. For instance, proposed amendment I, having to do with the constitution’s article on church membership, failed to garner even 50 percent support from annual conference members. And even more startling, all 23 of the amendments originally offered by the Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church failed to break the 40 percent threshold.
Kansas Bishop Scott Jones, co-chairman of the task force, was surely correct in his analysis of the results when he stated that the “vehicle for change was flawed.” Ever the church statesman, Jones resisted blaming others. Instead, he noted that we must now look forward to create a better future together. The church surely needs to change, but the rank and file members, as Jones noted, did not think the proposed amendments were the correct “vehicle” to achieve that goal.
According to a story in The United Methodist Reporter, however, other bishops reacted quite differently.
Colonial, imperialist, and tainted. Retired Angolan Bishop Emilio DeCarvalho was quoted as claiming the defeat of the 23 restructuring amendments was “a denial of our worldwide nature,” and kept in place a “colonial” structure.
California-Nevada Bishop Warner Brown maintained that the defeat of the amendments demonstrated that “those who have power have refused to share power with those who have less.” He also argued that the church’s unwillingness to pass the amendments was evidence that it continues to “wrestle with this imperialistic mindset that has labored under this term ‘Central Conferences’ for a long time.”
And finally, Virginia Area Bishop Charlene Kammerer, in an apparent reference to the voting process on all of the proposed constitutional amendments, said, “I feel like the process was tainted for the whole church.”
These are very serious charges, and church members around the world are right to anticipate further clarification from these bishops.
Honestly, do the bishops quoted above believe that the majority of United Methodists are imperialistic and colonial in their thinking? And how do they account for the fact that according to The United Methodist News Service, nearly 95 percent of the delegates in Africa rejected the restructuring amendments?
These bishops appear not to have entertained the idea that many United Methodists—whether in Africa, Europe, the Philippines, or the United States—simply did not think the restructuring amendments were the way to move forward at this point in time.
Nor did they seem to consider that perhaps many delegates voted against the amendments because, though they were touted as empowering the church outside the U.S., they were crafted and proposed primarily by persons from the U.S. Could not these bishops at least imagine that some of us believe that any restructuring of our worldwide connection in order to help the church in the developing world should come from the church in the developing world—not from Americans thousands of miles away and worlds apart, well-meaning or not?
Rather than accusing the people of the church of working out of an “imperialistic mindset” or “refus[ing] to share power with those who have less power,” it would have been refreshing had these bishops actually spent some more time engaging the people in the pews in dialogue and learning their motives in voting against these amendments. Why is it so difficult for some of our leaders to assume the best of our people instead of the worst?
Tainted process? Bishop Kammerer’s conspiratorial charge that “the process was tainted for the whole church” is of a different order, and the entire church should eagerly anticipate evidence being provided of precisely how the process was “tainted.” During the 2009 voting process there were no reports made public by The United Methodist News Service, The United Methodist Reporter, or any of the numerous monitoring agencies of the church regarding anything nefarious, irregular, or tainted. If new information has come to light, the entire denomination should be made aware of it.
Between General Conference 2008 and the annual conferences of 2009, the church had more than a year to discuss and debate the proposed amendments. Annual conferences posted position papers for and against the amendments on their websites. District meetings were held to discuss their implications. Bloggers and editorialists wrote about their pros and cons. YouTube videos were created to promote and to counter the amendments—and were watched by tens of thousands of people. There was time for healthy debate and the give and take was lively, interactive, passionate, and informative. If anything, our bishops should be congratulating the church on taking these amendments so seriously and for finding such creative ways to engage in dialogue.
Contrast that open and lengthy process of debate with the “debate” that occurred at General Conference regarding proposed constitutional amendment 1 when it came to a plenary session during the afternoon of Friday, May 3—the last day of General Conference.
Bishop Charlene Kammerer, the presiding officer during the session, gaveled the plenary back to order after its late afternoon break. Because of the huge volume of petitions and resolutions still to be considered before the close of the conference, the delegates were forced to constrain themselves to two one-minute speeches for, and two one-minute speeches against any given petition—even when such a petition was proposing to amend the church’s constitution. At 4:14 p.m. debate commenced, and by 4:25 p.m. it was over. Debate would have ended in half the time had there not been a glitch in the voting process requiring the delegates to recast their ballots.
There was no time to discuss the actual agenda behind the amendment, originally sponsored by a group called Breaking the Silence, an organization advocating on behalf of the “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer” communities. Many delegates were not aware that passage of the amendment could result in further church judicial proceedings around the practice of homosexuality.
The process worked. In the end, United Methodists can be thankful their church’s constitutional process works. Nearly 50,000 annual conference members from around the world worked diligently to familiarize themselves with the proposed constitutional amendments—luxuries that weary and overwhelmed General Conference delegates simply did not have in the waning moments in Fort Worth.
Thankfully the church has a constitution that welcomes and invites further reflection and dialogue before doing something as dramatic as amending its constitution.
One assumes that there are a number of bishops who want to commend grassroots United Methodists for taking the time to engage in robust dialogue around a number of very important matters, pray, and then vote in good faith. It’s disappointing that the leaders of our denomination could not jointly state with conviction: “The United Methodist Church has overwhelmingly spoken. Let’s move forward.”
The lost art of holy conferencing. Is it not possible for good people to disagree without some of our bishops referring to the majority of the church as “colonial” and “imperialistic”—which are little more than veiled terms for “racist”? How will we ever be a unified church when our most outspoken Episcopal leaders choose to attack the motives of those who hold differing views, using the vilest terms possible?
United Methodists believe in holy conferencing. It is a process held dear since Wesley’s time and it calls us to believe the best of each other, respect differing views, and refuse to brand others in a way that condemns and marginalizes their voices.
We call on the Council of Bishops to condemn this type of language and urge those who used such language to issue an apology. Likewise, we ask Bishop Kammerer to provide evidence that the voting process was “tainted,” or offer a personal apology to the church for making such a sweeping, unsubstantiated declaration.
Condescension, name-calling, and charges of a tainted process breed disunity and a lack of trust between the church’s people and its leaders. United Methodists around the globe have a right to expect better.
Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.
For some years now Good News has been working for renewal and reform in the United Methodist Church.
We have maintained, and continue to maintain, that the greatest challenge facing the church has more to do with our fidelity to the truth of core doctrinal teachings than to organizational or structural matters. We have implored our leaders to clearly counter the corrosive claims of theological pluralism and agendas that seek to bring the church into conformity with popular culture rather than having the church serve as an agent for its godly transformation.
The General Council on Finance and Administration has determined that the economic and structural challenges facing the church warrant requesting that the Council of Bishops convene a special session of General Conference. We applaud GCFA’s attentiveness to the health and viability of clergy pensions. We certainly acknowledge that the church, along with individuals and organizations, has been adversely impacted by the economic downturn.
However, we also believe it would be a mistake to assume that macro-economic issues alone have led the church to our current financial and organizational crises.
Should the Council of Bishops determine to convene a special session to address not only the pension crisis, but reorganizational matters as well, we trust such a plan will not be based on the “World Wide Nature of the Church” amendments that were recently rejected by rank and file United Methodists around the globe. That plan failed to address deeper problems and instead proposed more bureaucracy as the way forward. We maintain that any reorganization plan must include at least the following: 1) the merging and/or elimination of various boards and agencies; 2) effective means for holding bishops, clergy and general secretaries accountable for the leadership of the church; and 3) the assurance that the church will remain firmly connected and not carved up into various regions.
We call on United Methodists to give close attention to the challenges facing the church and to pray for our bishops as they consider taking the extraordinary step of convening a special session of General Conference.
By Rob Renfroe, president and publisher of Good News.
Renewal group leaders meet with Bishops’ Unity Task Force
Statement from the Rev. Rob Renfroe, President and Publisher of Good News:
On November 5, 2009, twelve leaders of the renewal groups within the United Methodist Church met with the Bishops’ Unity Task Force. We were grateful for their invitation to meet at Lake Junaluska and to share our concerns about the unity of the church and how we can move forward in mission together. The same task force had previously met with a group representing the Reconciling Movement and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). (See below for persons representing the renewal groups and for the bishops present for the meeting.)
We had a wide-ranging and forthright discussion about the matters that threaten the unity of the United Methodist Church. We spoke about (1) the theological differences that divide our church; (2) events at General Conference that have concerned us; and (3) activities and decisions outside of General Conference by United Methodist leaders which have, at least in our thinking, created divisions rather than unity.
We were very clear that we respect the office of bishop and that we want our bishops to lead us by defending and promoting the church’s positions on controversial issues as stated in The Book of Discipline. We also made sure to state that whereas we can respectfully listen to all opinions and we can act graciously towards all people, we cannot accept all positions or compromise on what God has clearly revealed in the Scriptures.
We were heartened by the desire of the Bishops to hear us and to understand us. It was also encouraging to hear from them that many of the issues that concern us have been discussed in the Council of Bishops. All of us present were in agreement that there must be a better way “to do General Conference” and some ideas were shared along those lines. We are now determining if and how the conversation will continue.Thank you for caring for the United Methodist Church and for the cause of Christ.
Those representing the renewal groups were:
Billy Abraham (Perkins School of Theology)
Steve Wende (Pastor, First UM Church, Houston)
Tom Harrison (Pastor, Asbury UM Church, Tulsa)
Steve Wood (Pastor, Mt. Pisgah UM Church, Atlanta)
Alice Wolfe (Pastor, Anna UM Church, Anna, Ohio)
Chuck Savage (Pastor, Kingswood UM Church, Dunwoody, GA)
Pat Miller (Executive Director of The Confessing Movement)
Tom Lambrecht (Pastor, Faith Community UM Church, Greenville, Wisconsin, and coordinator of the Renewal and Reform Coalition efforts at General Conference 2008)
Liza Kittle (President of the Renew Network)
Larry Baird (District Superintendent, Western New York Annual Conference)
Eddie Fox (World Director of Evangelism for the World Methodist Council)
Rob Renfroe (President and Publisher of Good News and Associate Pastor, The Woodlands UM Church, The Woodlands, Texas.)
Statement from Bishop Sally Dyck, Bishops’ Unity Task Force
Our meeting with the Renewal Groups occurred on November 5, 2009 at Lake Junaluska. We had an open and spirited conversation around such topics as what unity is theologically and practically. We also heard from them about their pain in terms of actions at General Conference (again we find that there is deep pain within our church around our divisions). We began to think about some of the ways in which we can work together (and across differences) to holy conference and will follow up on some of these ideas.
Blessings on you!
Those representing the Bishops’ Unity Task Force were:
Sally Dyck, Chairperson (Minnesota)
Mike Lowry (Central Texas)
Minerva Carcano (Desert Southwest)
Peter Weaver (New England)
Daniel Arichea (The Philippines)
Joao Machado (Mozambique)
By Liza Kittle
Preparing for a new year of ministry at Renew, I have been pondering “big picture” things. One of the challenges of leading Renew is striking a balance between engaging the spiritual battles of the United Methodist Church and promoting the formation of alternative women’s ministries. Both are important.
Although God has clearly shown Renew that building transforming women’s ministries is our primary focus, we must continue to be involved in reform and renewal of the church. We persevere, knowing that our cause is just, our calling secure, and our commitment steadfast.
Our cause is just. It involves upholding scriptural Christianity and bringing spiritual vitality to our troubled denomination. It means upholding our Book of Discipline and insisting our appointed leaders enforce it. It means standing for biblical truth in the Christian faith and against pressures to abandon or alter it. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to do a “new thing” in our midst.
One doesn’t have to look far to see where the church is growing—in Africa, where the Word of God is preached, scriptural Christianity is upheld, and lives are being transformed. Growing and healthy churches in the United States are also Christ-centered, committed to scriptural integrity, and focused on evangelistic mission outreach. These churches advocate a proper balance between personal and social holiness, key tenets of Wesleyan theology.
Most of our growing, vital churches also have alternative women’s programs. Renew remains committed to encouraging our pastors, bishops, and the General Conference to recognize and support other women’s ministries within the church. Less that 15 percent of the women in the UM Church participate in United Methodist Women, the only officially sanctioned women’s ministry in the church. The time is now for our church to embrace variety in women’s ministry programs—especially in a denomination that celebrates diversity and open-mindedness.
Our calling is secure in the hands God. Renewal and reform within the UM Church is not an easy task. Those called to this task are deeply passionate about the future of our denomination. God has given encouraging signs of affirmation to this calling over the past year. Constitutional changes that would have separated the U.S. and Central conferences were soundly defeated in annual conferences. Changes that would have removed pastoral authority regarding readiness for membership were also defeated.
Many in the church believe these amendments were initiated by liberal groups who continue to promote the acceptance of homosexuality practice. By removing any barrier to church membership and silencing the voice of African delegates, who tend to be theologically orthodox, these groups would have greater success in changing our stance on this issue. By 2012, it is predicted that 30 percent of the delegates at General Conference will be from Africa. (In 2004, the African delegation made up 10 percent of total delegates in 2004 and 20 percent in 2008.) The votes of our African brothers and sisters are critical for maintaining the historic doctrines of Methodism.
Our commitment is steadfast. I have seen firsthand the devotion of clergy and laity called to this noble endeavor of reform and renewal in the UM Church. Renew was privileged to participate in a dialogue between renewal leaders and the Council of Bishops’ Unity Task Force in November 2009 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. (see page 7). I witnessed servants of the Lord speaking up for biblical truth and denominational integrity with humility and grace.
As a church, I encourage you to participate in this movement through several means. One is through prayer—for our church, bishops, and leaders. Another is through knowledge and participation. Stay informed about the issues facing the church, engage in dialogue with church leaders, and be able to clearly articulate your Christian beliefs.
And, very importantly, support renewal groups through generous regular giving. It takes tremendous financial resources to engage our brothers and sisters in Africa, send a renewal coalition to General Conference, communicate with constituents, speak to congregations and groups, and provide resources for the church. There is no greater cause than helping maintain the scriptural integrity and future growth of the United Methodist Church.
For the ministry of Renew—holding workshops, producing Christ-centered materials, planning leadership conferences, expanding our organization, communicating with our network, and participating in renewal efforts—your giving is also essential.
I pray that everyone will join this just cause, seek God’s guidance about your own calling, and be steadfastly committed to reform and renewal. Your participation will bring honor and glory to God. Won’t you partner with us in this just and noble cause? I pray that you will.
Liza Kittle is the President of the Renew Network (www.renewnetwork.org ), P.O. Box 16055, Augusta, GA 30919; telephone: 706-364-0166.
By Rob Renfroe
A reassuring ruling from the Judicial Council was released on November 2, 2009. The Council serves as the supreme court of the United Methodist Church and it functions as a binding interpreter of church law as stated in The Book of Discipline.
At General Conference 2008, roughly half of the members of the Council were up for re-election—the majority of whom were supported by Good News and other renewal groups. They were all were soundly defeated.
Many observers saw this as an orchestrated and successful attempt to replace Council members who had voted in favor of Judicial Council Decision 1032. Decision 1032 determined that Virginia Annual Conference Bishop Charlene Kammerer was wrong when she ruled that the pastor of a church did not possess “the right and responsibility to exercise responsible pastoral judgment in determining who may be received into church membership of a local church.”
The Council of Bishops shortly thereafter issued a statement against the ruling and in support of Bishop Kammerer. Several pro-homosexual special interest groups did the same.
Interested United Methodists have since watched closely to see how the new Council would rule on controversial matters, particularly those regarding human sexuality. The Council was recently given the opportunity to do so as the result of an action taken by the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.
At its 2009 gathering, the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference adopted a statement regarding the practice of homosexuality that differed markedly from the church’s clearly enunciated statement in The Book of Discipline. The statement affirmed by the conference was essentially a minority position advocated by liberals and pro-homosexual advocacy groups at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth. It claimed that the United Methodist Church “is divided on the practice of homosexuality,” and it sought to remove from the Discipline the church’s long held position that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Baltimore-Washington’s position was rejected by the gathered General Conference delegates.
However, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference Bishop John Schol imprudently ruled that it was appropriate for his conference to adopt a statement that was in direct conflict with the church’s official position. Indeed, it was in direct conflict with a position reaffirmed by numerous General Conferences.
In a unanimous decision, the Judicial Council reversed Bishop Schol’s ruling. It ruled that annual conferences cannot “articulate a new and different standard of church belief using language that has been specifically rejected by the General Conference” and “may not negate, ignore or violate” the church’s position “even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections.”
In other words, we are one church. And it is the General Conference that speaks for the church—not special interest groups, annual conferences, or even bishops. The Judicial Council’s ruling makes clear the inappropriateness of an annual conference’s attempt to claim greater enlightenment, a special revelation, or a more sensitive conscience on a matter clearly addressed by General Conference.
Along with previous rulings that overturned two Western Jurisdiction annual conference votes supporting clergy who perform same-sex marriages, this latest decision gives hope that the current Council will be the fair and impartial interpreter of the Discipline that the United Methodist Church deserves.
We commend the present Council for its good work regarding this most controversial issue and for allowing the General Conference to speak for the church. In doing so, its members are following a tradition of integrity and faithfulness that has served United Methodists well.
Serving as a member of the Judicial Council is one of the most important and taxing positions in the church. Its ruling can either keep us together or tear us apart. Please join me in praying for the members of the Council as they serve Christ and his Church.
Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News. He is the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas.
On November 5, 2009, twelve representatives of renewal and reform groups within the United Methodist Church met with the Bishops’ Unity Task Force. The same task force had previously met with a group representing the Reconciling Movement and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).
The wide-ranging and forthright discussion focused on matters that threaten the unity of the United Methodist Church. In the March/April issue of Good News, we excerpted a segment of the statement dealing with unity and division within the United Methodist Church that was presented to the Bishops’ Unity Task Force by the renewal and reform group leaders. In this issue, we excerpt the specific concerns of the renewal group leaders surrounding the way General Conference activities are conducted.
Tension points at General Conference and suggestions for improvement
We as pastors, laity, delegates, and renewal and reform group leaders recognize that many administrative hours and great financial resources are required to plan and convene General Conference every four years. We also seek to be good stewards of all God’s resources and to help make this global assembly an efficient and effective time of substantive legislative action through holy conferencing, spiritual renewal, and vision casting for the future.
We present to you some areas of tension with the process of General Conference that we believe hinder the effectiveness, efficiency, and fruitfulness of this historic body.
A. Sufficient time for debate and legislative action.
While we understand that worship is a vital part of General Conference and that some speakers and reports are informative, paragraphs 15 and 16 of the Discipline state that the responsibilities of the Conference are primarily legislative. We believe that sufficient time for debate and action on all the legislation that delegates are charged to address should take precedent over other matters such as special reports, guests, and speeches. This was especially evident at the 2008 General Conference in light of the fact that the conference was shortened by one full day. Some examples of problems associated with time constraints included:
1. Near the end of the 2008 General Conference, many pieces of legislation that had been pulled from the consent calendar were placed back on the consent calendar without time for delegates to know which petitions were affected by this action. Much work goes into getting legislative pieces pulled from consent calendars in order for them to be discussed before the entire body. Suspending this important tool for delegates due to time constraints seems to violate the integrity of the legislative process.
2. Towards the end of the 2008 General Conference, the number of speeches and length of speeches allowed for legislation were shortened due to time constraints, leaving many important pieces of legislation, such as constitutional changes, without proper debate before voting. Only a few minutes of debate were given for important constitutional amendments.
B. Placement of “controversial votes” in the calendar agenda.
We believe that placement of controversial issues on the calendar agenda should be done with great care in order to maximize the number of delegates present at optimal times of the day for attentive and thorough debate.
1. While it is each delegate’s responsibility to be present for all business conducted, it is sometimes difficult for everyone to return on time. It appeared to some delegates and observers that many of the votes on controversial issues took place immediately after a break time or meal recess when the entire body of delegates had not returned to their seats. The intense daily attendance requirements (some 14-16 hours) over eleven continuous days is grueling for anyone, especially international delegates. Calendar placement to ensure maximum participation and attentiveness should be prioritized over celebrations, speeches, and non-essential matters.
2. Arrangements should allow international delegates to remain until the end of General Conference. Some important and controversial legislative issues were scheduled on the last day of conference when many international delegates had already left. Over 100 African delegates missed the votes during the final afternoon on the issue of the church’s continued participation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice due to early travel departures. The African delegates, unlike the U.S. churches, could not afford the expense of sending alternates. All delegates should be required to stay for the entire duration of General Conference and special consideration should be given to international delegates to ensure their attendance.
C. Translation concerns for delegates who do not speak English.
1. Delegates who do not speak English should have an equal opportunity to review documents before the start of General Conference. This can only happen if General Conference materials are translated and provided to those delegates in advance, allowing for an adequate amount of time for review.
Financial resources must be provided to ensure accurate and timely translations. Improper translations don’t just create problems for non-English speaking delegates, but for all delegates. If we do not allow time for review of these documents, particularly those related to voting procedures and issues, our actions imply that the opinions and input of our international brothers and sisters is unimportant. It is in the best interest of the United Methodist Church to ensure that every delegate is voting based on a complete understanding and prayerful consideration of the issues presented as well as the procedures followed.
2. Providing translators at all legislative committees as well as general sessions should be a priority. In at least one case during General Conference 2008, one legislative committee had to wait two and a half hours for a translator to arrive.
3. In other cases, some translators were not fluent in the dialects spoken by our delegates. This caused confusion and misunderstanding when words in different dialects had different meanings. The use of double negatives when voting caused much confusion and should be avoided. In some languages, double negatives cancel themselves out, in others, they emphasize meaning, and in all, they are confusing.
4. Prior to voting, non-English speaking delegates should be given the opportunity to ask questions if clarification about issues and procedures is needed. In 2008, there were constant and consistent complaints about translations into certain languages while others went well.
5. Non-English speaking delegates should be equally informed. According to the 2009 Rules of Order, “The Commission shall take the necessary measures to assure full participation of all General Conference delegates including but not limited to providing accommodation for language and physical challenges.”
Protests and violations of the bar of General Conference.
Rule 11: Bar of Conference
“The bar of the conference shall provide for the integrity of the General Conference. It is for delegates, pages, and others who have been granted access to the area for General Conference business as provided through the Rules or through the suspension of the Rules.” Suspension of the rules requires a two-thirds vote of the delegates.
1. Because representatives of our total connection come together only at General Conference, what is done and what is allowed to occur at the conference presents a dramatic statement about the unity of the church—and how those presiding over the conference understand unity and holy conferencing. In the past, protests have been allowed on the floor of General Conference both in session and in recess and these actions have broken the rules and the spirit required for mutual trust and true unity. Allowing anyone on the conference floor without the prior consent of two-thirds of the voting delegates is in direct violation of the rules by which all General Conference delegates agree to abide.
2. When protests that violated General Conference rules were allowed, it gave the impression that those who allowed the protests condoned both the action and the message of the protest. And the message, intended or not, is that the presiding officers of the conference are no longer functioning as non-biased arbiters—but as part of an agenda belonging to a special interest group. The actions that occurred at the last several General Conferences appeared preferential to one group at the expense of the integrity of unity at General Conference.
3. The question remains of who and how the protest was allowed to take place. Certainly, this raises questions of unity, holy conferencing, integrity, and trust of the whole process. Those of us who wished to obey the rules were not offered an opportunity to present an opposing viewpoint.
4. If protests or demonstrations are to be allowed on the floor of General Conference, then the rules should be changed and other groups, including renewal groups, should be allowed equal opportunity to conduct their own “silent witness.” However, the renewal groups have no intention of staging a protest at present as we believe violating the rules of the General Conference are not conducive to holy conferencing. We also don’t desire to usurp the trust of our fellow delegates or desecrate the altar of God. We are asking that no protests be allowed on the conference floor without the authorization from the voting body of General Conference. Even “reserve delegates are to function within the Rules of Procedure of the General Conference (Rules 27 and 31)” and do not have access to the floor except as allowed by rule.
5. Order within the conference facility should be maintained at all times so observers are not distracting delegates from doing the work of General Conference. After the vote was passed to maintain the current language regarding homosexual practice, observers in the stands began singing and shouting so loudly that the delegates at the back of the conference floor couldn’t hear the comments or instructions of the presiding officer. When order cannot be maintained, the rules allow for: “The presiding officer [to] have the right to recess the session of the body at any time at the presiding officer’s discretion and to reconvene at such time as the presiding officer shall announce. Consistent with the spirit of ¶721 of The Book of Discipline, in rare circumstances the presiding officer shall also have the right to stipulate that the session shall reconvene in closed session with only delegates, authorized personnel, and authorized guests permitted to attend such a session following recess (Section VII.E.1.).” We believe the use of these rules would improve the integrity of the conference.
6. Another violation of the bar of the conference was the distribution of a list of endorsements for judicial council elections. The distribution of such materials was a clear breach of the rules of General Conference.
7. All efforts should be made by the presiding officers of General Conference to ensure that holy conferencing, unity, integrity, trust, and rules of order are followed to strengthen the entire legislative process of General Conference. This will help us to fulfill the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Leadership and comments of Bishops.
Part of our covenanting together for holy conferencing is to follow Robert’s Rules of Order, which calls for the presiding officer to remain unbiased and impartial when facilitating discussions. We very much appreciate the fine work that was done by the bishops who spoke to the conference to not “take sides” or use their position of influence to try to sway the body’s decisions.
However, there were exceptions. Comments that are condescending, scolding, or judgmental to the delegates who uphold the current language in the Discipline simply should not be made by our Episcopal leaders. Elders and deacons in the United Methodist Church are required to vow to God and the United Methodist Church that they “approve of our Church government and polity” and “will support and maintain them” (¶ 330.5d and ¶ 336). We deserve to be treated with the same respect as those who disagree with the church’s stated position.
Influence of some boards and agencies over General Conference.
Many delegates and observers have expressed frustration at how a few of the boards and agencies of the church (particularly the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Global Ministries, and the Women’s Division) seem to control much of the legislative process of General Conference, especially at the committee and sub-committee level. Several examples seem to bear this out.
• Women’s Division Orientation for female delegates.
While this orientation for female delegates should be an impartial time of fellowship and general information concerning the process of General Conference, it has been observed that the Women’s Division spends the majority of the time telling the delegates their positions on key votes and also coaching them on getting particular delegates in positions of leadership in committees and sub-committees. These practices are a clear violation of the spirit of holy conferencing, especially when only 15 percent of the women in the UM Church are involved in United Methodist Women (numbers from GCFA data are available). This puts women who are advocating for the establishment of alternative women’s ministries within the UM Church at a clear disadvantage right out of the starting gate of General Conference.
• Unlimited access of board and agency staff during committee meetings.
Many delegates and observers have reported that several staff persons of the boards and agencies routinely sit right at the periphery of committee and sub-committee groups and give unhindered input in legislative discussions. These persons are strategically placed throughout the legislative process, almost guaranteeing the endorsement of petitions authored by their respective board or agency, clearly an unfair advantage to other individuals and groups at General Conference.
• Time spent on the voluminous Book of Resolutions.
In 1960, The Book of Discipline carried only 6 resolutions. A separate Book of Resolutions has been published after every General Conference since the 1968 church merger. It has grown exponentially over the years and become the mouthpiece for political and social advocacy for a few of the boards and agencies of the UM Church. By 1980, there were 221 pages to this book. By 1984, it had doubled to 451 pages. By 2008, we were at 1009 pages! Countless hours are spent at General Conference on the political and social agendas of a few boards and agencies. Their success is staggering and warrants examination.
In the 2008 Book of Resolutions, out of 352 resolutions passed, the origin of these legislative pieces are the Board of Church and Society (31.5 percent), the General Board of Global Ministries (27.6 percent), and the Women’s Division (8.5 percent). These three groups work on many of these resolutions together, so together these three boards are responsible for 67.6 percent of the total Book of Resolutions. The policies, programs, and resolutions of these agencies tend to be politically partisan, theologically “progressive,” and socially liberal. When you add three other boards, which also work closely with these three agencies (General Commission on Christian Unity and Inter-Religious Concerns, the General Commission on Religion and Race, and the General Commission on the Status of Women), these six groups are responsible for 79.5 percent of the entire volume. Resolutions authored by individuals and conferences have a successful passage rate of only 7.4 percent each. There is only one resolution authored by a local church. (A complete report of this statistical analysis is available.)
Perhaps limiting the scope and influence of a few boards and agencies over the process of General Conference would enable the church to participate in the legislative outcomes of the conference in a more equitable fashion.
Finally, unity would be greatly helped by a moratorium on the issue of sexuality at General Conference. The renewal groups do not bring up this issue. We would be happy never to discuss it again. Our Discipline holds a gracious and biblical position. The only reason the church is divided on this issue is because various groups repeatedly and passionately try to change the church’s views.
If we bemoan the fact that our time at General Conference is consumed with this issue every four years and that we should “major on the majors” instead of the “minors” that divide us, let us ask those who force this issue upon us at every General Conference, not to insist on dividing us with the promotion of an agenda that the church has rejected for 40 years.
Bishops’ Unity Task Force
Sally Dyck, Chairperson (Minnesota)
Mike Lowry (Central Texas)
Minerva Carcaño (Desert Southwest)
Peter Weaver (New England)
Daniel Arichea (The Philippines)
Joao Machado (Mozambique)
William J. Abraham is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Theology and Wesley Studies and Altshuler Distinquished Teaching Professor at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. He is widely known as a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of Methodism, most recently as co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies (Oxford University Press 2009).
Larry R. Baird is in his seventh year as District Superintendent for the Cornerstone District of the Western New York Conference. He has served on the General Board of Discipleship, the Northeastern Jurisdiction Episcopacy Committee, and New ACT—the body responsible for enabling leaders in four Annual Conferences to create a new upstate New York Conference.
Eddie Fox is one of Methodism’s foremost evangelists. He has been the World Director of Evangelism for the World Methodist Council since 1987. A member of the Holston Annual Conference, Dr. Fox has served as a General Conference delegate on several occasions.
Tom Harrison is in his seventeenth year as the Senior Pastor of the 7,600-member Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dr. Harrison has been a General Conference delegate and alternate. He currently serves as chairperson of the Oklahoma Annual Conference Council on Finance and Administration.
Liza Kittle is a member of Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church in Augusta, Georgia, and is the current President of the Renew Network, the women’s ministry program arm of Good News.
Tom Lambrecht is an ordained minister in the Wisconsin Annual Conference and former Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Good News. He served as the coordinator of the Renewal and Reform Coalition efforts at the 2008 General Conference.
Senator Patricia Miller has been the Executive Director of The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church since 1997 and has served as a General Conference delegate from South Indiana five times. She became a State Senator in Indiana in 1983 and continues to serve in that capacity.
Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News and previously served as the Chairperson of The Confessing Movement Board of Directors. He is the Pastor of Adult Discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church, north of Houston, Texas.
Chuck Savage is the Senior Pastor at Kingswood United Methodist Church in Dunwoody, Georgia. He has been in full-time ministry for sixteen years and was elected as a delegate to the 2008 General Conference. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Board of Church and Society.
Steve Wende is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Houston, one of our denomination’s leading congregations. He is a member of the Texas Annual Conference and has served as a General Conference delegate five times.
Alice Wolfe has served as a pastor in the West Ohio Conference for twelve years and is currently serving as Senior Pastor of Anna United Methodist Church in Anna, Ohio. She served as a delegate to the 2008 General Conference and to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in 2004 and 2008.
Steve Wood is the Senior Pastor of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church, a 9,000-member congregation in the Atlanta area. He has served as a church planter, the pastor of a multi-ethnic church, and as a delegate to both General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference.