Official voice of UMC only speaks every four years
By ED TOMLINSON
Every four years, delegates from the annual, provisional, and missionary conferences of The United Methodist Church around the globe gather for General Conference – the legislative body of the denomination.
On April 24 in Tampa, Fla., the 2012 Conference will convene for 11 days. Among the 988 delegates will be 26 from North Georgia, who were elected at the 2011 Annual Conference in Athens.
The importance of the collaborative event is summarized in the statement, “No one speaks for The United Methodist Church but the General Conference.” No board or agency, or any staff member, represents the denomination. Not even the Council of Bishops speaks for any entity other than the council.
Much confusion surrounds this exclusive power of the General Conference. While there are those times between sessions when we yearn for some body, or bodies, to speak authoritatively and decisively, we have also experienced the frustration and disappointment when someone, or some organization, has made declarations or issued statements that are not consistent with our official denominational stance.
Typically, news organizations assume the authority of a person speaking on behalf of a board, committee, agency, represents the viewpoint of the denomination. Too often, spokespersons leave the impression that their thoughts carry the weight and backing of the entire United Methodist Church. The end result: People in our local churches are sometimes left shaking their heads, or worse, wondering exactly where the denomination is on an issue and why.
Even in the midst of the deliberations before a final decision by General Conference, persons and groups are often quoted as sources of information and authority by news outlets. (For reliable information during the upcoming General Conference, go to www.umc.org or www.ngumc.org
Unmistakably, extraordinary responsibility is placed on the delegates. As they debate and make decisions, they formulate the laws and policies of the church and speak for the whole denomination. When the 2012 Book of Discipline (based on the work of the General Conference) arrives, a new guidebook will be in place for United Methodists. It will carry changes in many facets of the life of the church and enumerate descriptions of many of our stances.
Over the next several weeks, the North Georgia Advocate will address some of the key issues facing delegates at the upcoming General Conference describe how decisions are made. You are welcome to submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If space and research time are available to make an adequate response, your submission will be addressed in this effort.
Ed Tomlinson has been elected as a clergy delegate to four General Conferences. In 2004, he served as Chairperson of the General Administration Legislative Committee which formed the Connectional Table. He is a current director of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and a member of the Church Systems Task Force formed by action of the 2008 General Conference.
Clergy elected to the 2012 General Conference Session
Sharma Lewis, Jonathan Holston, James Cantrell, Phil Schroeder, Jane Brooks, Alice Rogers, Ed Tomlinson, John Simmons, Nora Martinez, Jamie Jenkins, Chuck Savage, Steve Wood, David Bevel Jones
Laity elected to the 2012 General Conference Session
Jane Finley, Lyn Powell, Mathew Pinson, Joe Whittemore, Jeff Jernigan, Bill Stikes, Tonya Murphy , Leon Jourolman, Dianne Spencer, Joe Kilpatrick, Richard Williamson, Bill Martin, Marjorie Kimbrough