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United Methodist Church General Conference


The General Conference of the United Methodist Church meets in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20.  This is as close as General Conference gets!  I will be going to visit General Conference during the first week; it may be the only chance I have to witness it – God knows I would never be elected as a delegate!

General Conference is the highest authority in the United Methodist Church. It meets every four years.  They receive petitions from all across the connection.  Some pertain to the structure of the Church, the process of ordination, the budget, etc.  Other petitions have to do with social issues; the General Conference edits the Social Principles every four years.

I recognize that the first thing on most people’s minds is the issue of homosexuality.  I believe most know that the denominations still states the homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”  The reason we became a Reconciling Congregation is in protest to this language.  In our Annual Conference the majority of people and churches stand in opposition to what it says in the Social Principles.  The issue is problematic.  The UMC has strived to be a global church – to reach out to Methodists from around the world.  The majority of United Methodists still reside in the United States, but churches outside the USA are growing faster than the churches here.  This means that at each General Conference the representation from Africa in particular has been growing.  Culturally Africa has not been open to accepting homosexuality.  In the USA things have been changing rapidly – just look how same sex marriage became accepted.  I believe that if the vote was limited to United Methodists in America the language would be changed.  This pits two values against each other.  We want to be a global church but also an accepting and inclusive church.  How do we reconcile these values?  There are two petitions to restructure the Church.  The more interesting one comes from the Northeastern Jurisdiction.  This petition would rename General Conference the Global Connectional Conference.  It would be a shorter meeting and deal only with matters that are global in nature.  Then, the Church would be divided into four Connections:  North America, Europe, Africa and the Philippines.  Then it says this:  “Each of the four connections will have the option of organizing into regions.  Each connection will be responsible for its own, connection- wide book of discipline, relevant to matters that are not global.”  Essentially, this petition would de-centralize power giving more to each connection.  If I read this correctly the North America Connection would be able to create its own Discipline and then change the language on homosexuality.  This will be hotly debated.  We want to remain a connectional church and a global church.  At the same time the issue of homosexuality is dividing us.  The African churches will not change their attitude toward homosexuality any time soon.  Meanwhile, in North America we are desperate for the Church to change.  This petition will compromise our connectional character some, but it is better than a church divided. There are many other petitions to change the Church’s structure here in bullet points are some of them:

  • remove lifetime statue of bishops
  • remove guaranteed appointment of clergy
  • involve the Lay Leader of a local church in the appointment process
  • redefine a “local church’ to include such things as coffee shops
  • close one of the UM seminaries
  • merge the Boards of Religion and Race and the Status and Role of Women into a single Board of Inclusivity

As one would expect the General Conference will be dealing with numerous social issues:

  • A call for faithful lending practices – to discourage predatory lending; to limit exorbitant interest rates
  • A call for an equitable tax structure that addresses wealth inequality including encouraging the government to address transnational corporations that are essentially tax havens for the rich.
  • A petition for the government to more strictly regulate environmental pollutants.
  • A petition that advocates for the Church to pay greater attention to the dangers of climate change.
  • A petition for the courts to better support the victims of crimes
  • A call for more restorative rather than retributive justice.
  • A call to combat modern day slavery.
  • A call to adopt measures to reduce gun violence; most notably background checks and prohibiting assault rifles.
  • The divestment of Church Pension funds from fossil fuel companies.
  • A call to boycott the celebration of Columbus Day.
  • A petition to support welcoming immigrants.
  • A call to end the Church’s involvement with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
  • Numerous petitions to better support people living with disabilities.

There are many more and then there are petitions to add to the Book of Resolutions which deals with more specific issues.

Go on-line to the official site for General Conference for more information.  Or if you’re curious you can read articles from various politically minded and biased groups.  Just be aware of who the people are who are writing the articles.   Also, United Methodist Communications provides live streaming of General Conference and daily reports on what is happening.  I encourage us all to take some time to connect with General Conference.  P.Jim


General Conf 2016






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