A prominent United Methodist layman has compiled a percentage breakdown of last year’s votes on 32 proposed amendments to the United Methodist Constitution, showing the areas of the church in which the various amendments were most strongly supported or rejected.
Although votes on the amendments took place at annual conference sessions in 2009, the totals weren’t ratified by the United Methodist Council of Bishops until two months ago. In all, only five of the 32 amendments won approval across the denomination.
The breakdown, compiled by former North Georgia Conference lay leader Joe M. Whittemore, shows that opposition to the controversial “Worldwide Nature” amendments came largely from Africa and from the U.S.’s Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ). Those 23 amendments — all soundly defeated — would have restructured the UMC into a series of regional conferences, including a likely U.S. Conference.
“The two largest areas (SEJ and Africa, which have 53.4% of total membership)
voted overwhelmingly against a U.S. conference,” Mr. Whittemore wrote in a brief companion analysis released along with voting results breakdown.
The failure of the restructuring amendments was “a resounding defeat for the idea of having [a single] U.S. area,” Mr. Whittemore wrote. Currently, the U.S. is divided into five semi-autonomous jurisdictions that elect their own bishops.
“This should put to rest not only the idea of a consolidated U.S. area but also any thought of electing and assigning bishops at the U.S. area level,” he wrote.
The breakdown of the overall vote (see table below) shows that less than 3 percent of United Methodists in Africa supported the restructuring amendments. In the U.S.’s Southeastern Jurisdiction, those amendments received only 15 percent support.
The full text of all 32 amendments is here (PDF), showing the proposed deletions (stricken text) and additions (in bold/blue) to the UM Constitution. Because amendments relate to constitutional changes , a super-majority vote (at least 66.7 percent) is required for an amendment to be affirmed.
The idea of segregating the church into regional conferences (effectively “national churches” in some cases) received its strongest support from United Methodists in Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S.’s Western Jurisdiction. Together, these areas account for less than 6 percent of the total membership of the denomination.
Across the entire United Methodist Church, the restructuring amendments garnered only 39.5 percent support. “The negative vote on [these] amendments was confirmation of the lack of trust the annual conferences have in giving power to the general church establishment without the implications being clearly stated,” Mr. Whittemore wrote.
Opponents of the Worldwide Nature amendments had warned that the restructuring plan was ill-defined. They argued that passage of the amendments could empower a small, unrepresentative group to make significant changes in denominational structure and areas responsibility.
Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S.’s Western Jurisdiction were also the three areas of the church to give strongest support to Amendment I, an amendment dealing with eligibility requirements for membership in the local church.
That amendment, originally authored by a Texas-based group pushing for denominational approval of homosexuality, garnered 47.8 percent of the total vote, far short of the 66.7 percent required for approval.
Even though the 32 of the proposed amendments had won super-majority (i.e., at least two-thirds) approval from the 2008 General Conference, the larger church rejected the General Conference’s recommendation for all but five amendments.
“That 48,000 interested United Methodists could sift through 32 proposed amendments and affirm five positive actions is a confirmation in the combined wisdom of our process and people,” Mr. Whittemore wrote in his analysis. “It causes one to wonder how in tune [the] General Conference is with [the] pastors and laity of local churches.”
Joe M. Whittemore is a member of the 2008-2012 Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church. He has served in many capacities within the UMC, including as chair of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on the Episcopacy and as a member of the Committee on Audit and Review of the General Council on Finance and Administration. Mr. Whittemore has been a delegate to multiple General Conferences.