A UMNS Report
By Linda Green and Elizabeth Guye*
United Methodists across the United States have defeated 23 proposed amendments that would have paved the way to make the church in the U.S. a regional body.
The amendments, proposed as changes to the denomination’s constitution, would have created identical structures for every region of the church.
Voting in annual conference sessions – most of which occurred between May and June – church members also defeated a proposal to make membership in the church open to everyone without regard to sexual orientation.
Forty-four U.S. conferences and five central conferences outside the United States reported the results of those votes to Newscope and United Methodist News Service. Seventeen conferences noted the amendments, but did not report their results.
The 2008 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, approved 32 amendments to the church’s constitution. For a proposed amendment to be ratified, two-thirds of all worldwide annual conferences must vote yes and the votes must be ratified by the Council of Bishops.
The majority of conferences reporting turned down the 23 amendments dealing with the worldwide church proposal. The amendments, proposed by the Task Force on the Worldwide Nature of the Church, would allow the organizing of regional conferences around the globe to create a uniform United Methodist church structure. The legislation would have made it possible to create a U.S. regional conference in the future.
Kansas Bishop Scott Jones, chairperson of the committee exploring the global nature of the church and proponent of the 23 constitutional amendments, said the voting results are incomplete because many conferences outside the United States have not voted. Once the voting is finished, church leaders should study carefully what the results mean, he said.
Whether the amendments are approved, the work of the study committee will go forward with the mandate that the General Conference gave it, he said.
“It takes the General Conference a long time to absorb a really big idea and the issues which gave rise to these proposals and need good answers,” Jones explained. “I fully expect the General Conference of 2012 to revisit these issues and move them forward.”
Those opposing the amendments applauded the votes.
The Rev. Eddie Fox, world director of evangelism for the World Methodist Council, said the democratic process has worked. “It is a very serious matter when we change the constitution,” he said, noting that lay and clergy “have wisely voted to defeat these amendments which would have created a central conference in the United States.”
Fox believes the 23 amendments were confusing and had no clear plan or rationale for the constitutional change. “I am deeply grateful for this decision by the members of our church, which I believe have prevented us from taking an action which would have resulted in moving us away from the core values of the connection and setting us on a path of having national churches,” he said.
He called for a renewed focus on how to strengthen the worldwide connection of the entire Methodist movement.
“I pray that our vision, passion and concern will be on how the world Methodist communion can do its part in spreading the good news of Christ Jesus in a world which desperately needs healing, hope and salvation,” Fox added.
‘Vote for connectionalism’
The Rev. Timothy McClendon, a member of the global nature committee, said the apparent defeat of the 23 constitutional amendments on the church’s structure “is a vote for connectionalism.”
Approval of the amendments would have caused a split into different regions. Large parishes would each have the ability to adapt the United Methodist Book of Discipline in “such a way that would detract if not destroy connectionalism,” he said. “I think connectionalism is one of the primary ways that we do church and are church as United Methodists.”
McClendon believes the proposed structure would have created more divisions in the denomination, rather than uniting it. He acknowledged the value of the central conferences and their global perspective, but said the 23 amendments were “not thought through enough to determine how we remain connectional while valuing regional and cultural differences.”
The church, he pointed out, has an opportunity over the next four years to create better legislation that defines who United Methodists are, honors differences and remains connectional.
The remaining nine amendments covered such issues as church and conference membership, annual and jurisdictional conference composition and inclusiveness.
Proposed Amendment 1, on the inclusiveness of the church, failed to receive the two-thirds support in 27 of the 44 conferences reporting results. The amendment would have made all people, upon declaring a relationship to Jesus Christ, “eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection.” Forty conferences voted against Amendment 8, which would have added the word “gender” to categories of church membership.
In 2005, a Virginia clergyman stirred conflict after he refused to receive a homosexual man into membership, saying the man would neither repent nor seek to live a different lifestyle. The pastor was placed on a leave of absence by the bishop. The Judicial Council ruled in October 2005 that United Methodist pastors have authority to decide who becomes a member of a local church and reinstated the pastor. That case triggered appeals to the Judicial Council, but the court declined to reconsider its ruling.
Among other amendments, proposed Amendment 19 -- which would extend to provisional members and certain local pastors the right to vote for clergy delegates to the General and jurisdictional conferences -- received substantial support from 26 annual conferences.
An amendment ensuring a minimum base of annual conference delegates for the election of bishops at jurisdictional conference was approved by 37 annual conferences.
Twenty-six conferences affirmed Amendment 2, which requires all churchwide agencies and constituencies to adopt ethics and conflict of interest policies.
The Council of Bishops is expected to act on the approved amendments during its 2010 spring meeting.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. Guye was an intern for United Methodist News Service and the Media Group at United Methodist Communications.