Yea or Nay? Delegates talk about Constitutional Amendments
Memphis Conference delegates to the 2009 General and Jurisdictional Conferences were asked what they thought about the proposed Constitutional Amendments that will be voted on at the 2009 Annual Conference. The following are the answers sent in by the Rev. Randy Cooper, Sandra Burnett, Selena Henson, the Rev. Sky McCracken, the Rev. Gail Gaddie and Beth Brown.
Here is my thinking on the amendments. I have come to view any amendment as needing to answer two questions. First, will an amendment strengthen the mission and ministry of the church? Second and related to the first, will an amendment make clearer the church’s witness as the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” community called into being by Christ for the sake of the world?
I may be painting with a wide brush when I say this, but I do not see how the most-discussed of the amendments meet the criteria in these two questions.
A few specific comments: the amendments related to the worldwide church which call for the formation of “regional” bodies and the amendment calling for voting “rights” of full-time local pastors in both cases get the cart before the horse. They call for changes in the church’s structure and in our understanding of ordained ministry while there are working commissions which will be reporting to the 2012 General Conference with recommdations on structural changes and on ordained ministry.
I believe we should wait to hear from these commissions before supporting amendments that tie the hands of General Conference.
Last, the amendment related to Inclusiveness would bring a change in the Constitution, and we should be very careful before making any changes that have repercussions throughout the whole of the Book of Discipline. I think the amendment only makes a bad paragraph in the Constitution even worse. Yet I fear being misunderstood on this. I believe that the gospel is more inclusive than any congregation I have ever seen, but I don’t believe we are helping the mission and ministry of the church by making inclusiveness into a traditional “mark” of the church. “Catholicity” is a much richer understanding of the church’s vocation or “mark” than “inclusiveness.”
There are 19 amendments that change the term “central” to “regional”. These would change the terminology for the current conferences outside the United States. Since the term “central” has a racist background in our denomination, it may be beneficial to change this language.
However, there are four more amendments that change this terminology and also remove reference to these conferences being “outside the United States”. These four amendments could have far-reaching and as yet unknown consequences.
Amendment 1 removes a list of categories and has clearer inclusiveness language.
Amendment 15 refers to membership of the Annual Conference. It removes a long list of lay persons who are included in the membership of Annual Conference and allows both clergy and lay membership to be defined by the General Conference. It prevents proposed changes every four years to this constitutional paragraph.
I recommend that everyone carefully read the proposed changes and the rationale before voting.
I am honored to share with you my personal opinions of the General Conference Amendments we will be voting on at Annual Conference. This is a critical time for our church and voting on these amendments may be one of the most important votes you ever make at an Annual Conference. Since you elected me to represent you at General Conference, I feel it is important for you to know how I voted at General Conference and how I will be voting at Annual Conference. Of the 32 amendments we will be voting on, I will be voting “NO” on 26 of them.
I will be voting “NO” on Amendment #I. This proposed amendment to Paragraph 4, Article IV, of our Constitution seems very positive at first glance but what it actually does is delete the various categories of inclusiveness—”race, color, national origin, status or economic condition” and replace them with the word “all.” My concern is:
1. In reality it will totally eliminate the current discretionary authority of the pastor regarding an applicant’s readiness for church membership. Local churches would be forced to accept anyone and the pastor would have no say if the person is ready. For example, if a member of a hate group decides to join our church and takes the vows of membership but says, I will still practice and be a part of hate crimes and promote them in the church as a church leader, the pastor would have no authority to delay membership as he/she currently has.
2. In my opinion the passage of this amendment could lead to more church trials over many issues that we are not prepared to deal with or address.
3. Amendment I was approved at 4:25pm on May 2, the last day of General Conference, and was written by Kevin and Laura Young who are part of a group called Breaking the Silence. According to their website, this group has identified itself as a Community within the Reconciling Ministries Network, a national grassroots organization that exists to enable full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the United Methodist Church, both in policy and practice. If you would like to read more, the legislative tracking number for Amendment I is: http://calms.umc.org/2008/Menu.aspx?type=Calendar& mode=Single&number=175.
I will also be voting “NO” on all 23 amendments that deal with the “World Wide Nature of the Church” (# III, IV, V, VII, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XVI, XVIII, XX, XXI, XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI and XXXII) which will enable United Methodists in the United States to become a central (or regional) conference. These are critical and I will be voting “no” for several reasons:
1. We do not yet know the specifics of what this change would involve. It is unwise to change the Constitution until we know precisely what the proposed changes would bring about. Since there is a study committee due to report on the structure at the 2012 General Conference, we should see what that structure is BEFORE we vote to change.
2. This proposal would add another layer of bureaucracy to an already overly bureaucratic Church with more cost involved which could filter down to the local church.
3. It does not appear that the opinion of those affected most by this change was involved in the project at the grassroots level. We all know that a “top down” approach rarely works in any situation, but especially one of this magnitude.
4. This proposal contradicts John Wesley’s worldwide vision—”The world is my parish.”
5. This proposal would isolate and segregate the United States Church from our brothers and sisters in areas like Africa where our denomination is growing most rapidly.
6. In my opinion these amendments passed rapidly, near the end of General Conference after many of the international delegates had left.
I will be voting “NO” on Amendment XV. This proposed amendment to Par. 32 BOD would reduce the minimum period from 2 years to 1 year that a person must be an active member of the UMC before he/she can be elected as a delegate to Annual Conference. In my opinion, one year is not enough time to learn about our church before voting on some of the complicated issues we deal with at Annual Conference.
Finally I will be voting “NO” on Amendment VI. This proposed amendment would allow General Conference to provide for a “transitional” period for newly created annual, missionary, or provisional annual conferences, not to exceed two quadrennia. This could delay proper representation levels for a maximum of two quadrennia.
I urge all delegates to know how you are going to vote before you get to Annual Conference. If you become confused, talk to a General Conference delegate whose opinion you trust and ask them how they voted. Come prepared to ask questions, discuss and prayerfully vote your conscience.
Do not feel as though these amendments are safe and rubber stamp them just because General Conference approved them.
It would be helpful to get a copy of the ballot ahead of time, pray for God to lead you, and then mark the ballot accordingly.
I would like to speak to the amendments addressing the world-wide nature of the church.
To experience the global nature of our church firsthand is a precious gift. I received that gift last August when I travelled to Mozambique with United Methodist Women on an Ubuntu Journey for fifteen days. This journey convinced me that the present structure of our beloved United Methodist Church is neither just nor sustainable as a global church for the future.
The United States holds the power in our current connectional structure while our denomination is experiencing spiritual renewal and tremendous numerical growth across the continent of Africa and in other distant places.
The constitutional amendments regarding “regional conferences” and the worldwide nature of the church are an attempt to bring some equity and empowerment to United Methodists across the globe.
We must acknowledge the great disparities between the regions of the world and be encouraged by our mutual accountability to strengthen our church theologically, socially, missionally and financially.
1. Constitutional Amendments.
Plenty of other annual conference task forces have explored all the amendments and they are sure to provoke debate – the Virginia Conference has discussed the amendments at length, and their conference website is a good source for information. However, you don’t have to be a whiz in General Conference politics to see how agenda-laden some of the amendments appear. My concerns are practical, and boil down to this:
Amendments dealing with General Church Structure:
The word I have gotten from the quadrennial meeting of GCF&A is that we cannot afford our PRESENT structure; indeed, we will be lucky to be able to afford salaries of bishops and other general church positions during the next 8 years, and that will be at the risk of cutting almost all missional and outreach programming; the money is just not there. Adding ANOTHER layer of bureaucracy just makes no sense.
Also, I am not comfortable with the way it will (a) isolate the United States from the rest of the world, and (b) disenfranchise our international brothers and sisters. It will make us become more “American-Centric” in my opinion, and we certainly don’t need any more help with that.
Worse, the regionalism it seeks to create will have us resembling the Anglican Communion – which is clearly a broken body. We will become many things in the process, but Connectional will not be one of them.
We have no idea of the implication of approving this, but the greatest fear is becoming an Association of Jurisdictions rather than a Connection.
My fear is unintended consequences. For example: guaranteed pastoral appointments seemed like a good idea when women began to be ordained, but it had the unintended consequence of creating ineffective clergy who now have job security. The guaranteed appointment is now one of the biggest impediments to bishops and cabinets in the Connection.
Do we know the implications of a new church structure where costs and our Connectional nature are concerned?
All of this happens in the midst of a quadrennial committee to make suggestions about church restructure. Does that make any sense?
Amendments dealing with the vote of local pastors:
We are seeking to legislate voting rights of clergy before we complete General Conference’s Study on Ministry? What if the amendments run tangent to the recommendations of the Study? I’m not against local pastors – indeed, I think they should be ordained (ordination is independent of conference membership).
Again, isn’t this another instance of the cart getting before the horse?
Amendment dealing with inclusivity:
There are many who are far smarter than me that see a lot of legal snafus (in regards to church law) if Article IV is amended. The last sentence, if amended, would read thus: “no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body.” The WHOLE Book of Discipline has to agree with the Constitution, and any part of the Discipline that doesn’t agree with the Constitution can be ruled unconstitutional. In short, the Discipline will end up contradicting itself in numerous places. Before you think I am being homophobic, such an amendment would remove just about all of the power of a Board of Ordained Ministry – in short, just as no one could be barred from church membership, neither could anyone be barred from ordained ministry, for ANY reason, since such requirements would be seen as excluding people, and thus in conflict by the newly-amended Constitution.
I think the INTENT of all of the amendments have great merit. My fear and worry comes from the UNINTENDED consequences that could result – some of them that I am sure haven’t even been envisioned.
Take my input for what it’s worth. I love my Church, and I love my God. Let us be wise and brave as we lead and discern in the name of the Risen Christ.
I encourage all delegates to Annual Conference to familiarize themselves with the amendments. That is not as daunting a task as it may first appear. Twenty-three of the 32 amendments deal with the same issue of changing wording from “central” to “regional.” Clearly marking these will be helpful.
The internet offers commentary from various sources regarding the amendments. Review each amendment and pay attention to the change that is being sought and the number of people who supported it. Think about the changes we are asked to make. We do not need to be afraid of them. •