Annual Conference sessions this year will include votes on a series of constitutional amendments that would dramatically alter the structure of the United Methodist Church.
James Heidinger, president of the renewal group Good News, argues against the constitutional changes in a Feb. 10 letter to ministry supporters:
One major change calls for the creation of a “regional conference” in the United States — a whole new level of bureaucracy that would sit atop our district, annual and jurisdictional conferences.
Not only would this additional layer be costly, it would only magnify the present disconnect between grassroots United Methodists and a church hierarchy that is often tone deaf to the concerns of the people who faithfully pay the bills….
Even more troubling is the plan’s potential to separate United Methodists in the United States from their brothers and sisters around the world.
In Europe, the Philippines and Africa, United Methodism is composed of central conferences that are largely organized along regional lines.
[If the constitutional amendments pass,] these central conferences would also become “regional” conferences, and then members from all the of the “regional” conferences would ultimately meet at a General Conference.
Mr. Heidinger says such a structure, similar to the worldwide Anglican Communion, carries the risk of fostering divisions in the UMC, rather than helping achieve unity. He points to the current turmoil in the Anglican Communion as a cautionary tale.
The Episcopal Church in America has rejected [the Communion's] age-old tradition of cooperation by countenancing doctrinal innovations and approving of same-sex marriage. This has created a significant breach in the worldwide Anglican Communion, especially between the United States and African churches.
Proponents of the changing the structure of the United Methodist Church argue that passage of the amendments is a necessary step toward recognizing the increasingly global nature of the denomination.
Bishop Ann Sherer (Nebraska Conference) thinks the UMC’s current structure “disempowers central conferences” and enables United Methodists in the U.S. to “escape from dealing with…internal issues.”
At a panel discussion last year last year on the “The Worldwide Nature of the Church,” Bishop Sherer said Methodism needs an emphasis on a “concept of mission that addresses a world community and our connectedness” — one “not impeded by national, cultural and economic barriers.”
Another member of that panel, Eddie Fox, world director of World Methodist Evangelism, insisted that no structural change is needed to empower non-U.S. Methodists or to recognize the worldwide nature of Methodism.
Mr. Fox argued that a strong and global Methodist movement already exists — and it is far larger than any one denomination.
From the very beginning, the world [has been] our parish…. [Today] in 138 countries around the world, 76 million [people] who go by the name of Methodist or Wesleyan…worship on [any] given Sunday in more than 500 languages…. The United Methodist Church represents [only] about 35 to 40 percent of that family….
Now, let’s look at what is proposed [for our part of the Methodist movement] — and what could be the consequences of that proposal…. What does it change? It changes the [United Methodist] Constitution…. [T]he purpose [is] that that there will be a Central Conference in the United States.
[W]hy do we not want the [United Methodist] churches from around the world to discuss matters that we think only belong to the United States?…
This is not the time for us to be creating national entities. Why would we follow the pattern that we see in the Anglican world Communion, which develops national entities?… What is needed now is to walk side by side, not separate[ly].
All 122 Annual Conferences will vote on 23 amendments relating to altering the structure of the denomination. The amendments were proposed by the Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church (the Task Force’s 2007 report is here—PDF).
These 23 amendments are numbered III, IV, V, VI, VII, X, XI, XII, XIII, XVI, XVIII, XX, XXI, XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, and XXXII. Most of these are “cosmetic” in nature, simply implementing certain name changes. The five amendments that would alter the denomination’s structure are IV, X, XIII, XXIII, and XXVI.
Nine additional constitutional amendments will be on Annual Conference agendas, bringing the amendment total to 32. The full text of all 32 proposed amendments is here (PDF).
To be enacted, a constitutional amendment must be ratified by two-thirds of the aggregate Annual Conference voting members. Members may debate a proposed amendment, but cannot alter it.
Only elders and deacons in full connection and lay members are allowed to vote. Local pastors (full- or part-time), provisional deacons and elders, and associate and affiliate clergy members are ineligible (¶602.1 of the Book of Discipline).
Even if approved by requisite number of Annual Conference voting members, amendments related to changing the church’s structure will not go into immediate effect. Last October, the UM Judicial Council ruled (Decision 1100) that the 2012 General Conference must enact specific enabling legislation for a regional conference to be created in the U.S.
Use the audio player below to listen to Eddie Fox’s brief address (quoted from above) presented at a January 2008 panel discussion titled, “The Worldwide Nature of the Church: What Does it Mean?” The audio is 3-and-a-half minutes.
[NOTE: The audio clip, though listenable, contains digital distortion. The distortion is in the full audio of the panel discussion as posted by the United Methodist News Service.]
|•||Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’|
|•||Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08|
|•||New group will study church’s worldwide nature | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service|
|•||Amending away our global church? | Riley Case, Good News|
|•||African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness & other stories from the General Conference | Mark Tooley, Touchstone|