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Dr.  Ed Tomlinson, who served for eight as years executive assistant to the bishop of the North Georgia Conference, is expressing strong opposition to five constitutional amendments to be voted on this year by Conferences throughout the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Ed Tomlinson

Dr. Ed Tomlinson

If passed, the amendments would allow United Methodists in the United States to structurally segregate themselves from United Methodists in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Speaking at a gathering of North Georgia pastors and leaders, Dr. Tomlinson warned that the five amendments would radically alter the connectional nature of the UMC.

If we pass [these] five constitutional amendments…we’re going to change the whole nature of our church and, I believe, decimate connectionalism as we know it today. I can’t say that any stronger….

The five amendments move us away from connectionalism to become more like the Anglican Communion [with semi-independent church bodies in different parts of the world]….

The more issues on which we have differing stances in our denomination, the less connectional we’re going to be. That just stands to reason, does it not?

Dr. Tomlinson, now the Superintendent of the North Georgia’s Atlanta-Roswell District, also noted that the the changes would likely add “another level of administration” between the General Church and the local church. “Those of us who are deeply concerned about the voice of the local church are just being removed yet one more step down the line,” he said.

You can listen to Dr. Tomlinson’s remarks (5 min.) by using the audio player below. The handouts he mentions are here and here (both in PDF format).

Related: “A Rationale to Oppose Proposed Constitutional Changes,” authored by Dr. Tim McClendon, Superintendent of the Columbia District in the South Carolina Conference.

All 135 UM Conferences (62 Annual Conferences in the U.S. and 73 Conferences in Africa, Asia, and Europe) will vote on 23 amendments relating to 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—PDF).

Most of the 23 are “cosmetic” in nature, simply implementing certain name changes. The “five amendments of distinctive substance” that would actually alter the structure of the UMC are numbered IV, X, XIII, XXIII, and XXVI.

amendments-clipNine 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). (Note: There are two minor errors in Amendment XXV on page 18. In the second paragraph, the two references to “Article I” should read “Article II.”)

To be enacted, a constitutional amendment must be ratified by two-thirds of the aggregate “voting members” from all the Conferences. (Provisional deacons and elders, “local pastors,” and associate and affiliate clergy members are not eligible to vote). Members may debate a proposed amendment, but cannot alter it.

Even if approved by requisite number of Annual Conference voting members, amendments related to changing the church’s structure would 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.

Dr. Ed Tomlison’s comments came at a Feb. 24 meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement (WCRM), a group of North Georgia pastors and leaders founded in 2004 to “promote the presence of leadership within the [North Georgia] Conference…committed to the renewal of historic Wesleyan standards and Biblical authority.” An October 2008 statement describing the WCRM is here (PDF).

Ed Tomlinson served as a North Georgia delegate to the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in 2000, 2004, and 2008. He has been a delegate to every Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference since 1988.


Related posts
Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments
Proposed amendments would separate UMC into ‘national entities’
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08

Related articles
Worldwide decision: United Methodists to vote on amending constitution | Bill Fentum, UM Reporter (April 10, 2009)
Amending away our global church? | Riley Case, Good News (March/April 2009)
A rationale to oppose proposed constitutional changes | Tim McClendon, South Carolina Conference
Conferences to consider church structure | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (March 10, 2009)

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The man who led one of the United Methodist Church’s strongest and largest congregations for more than three decades shared his “ideas and opinions” last week about the future of the denomination.

Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing North Ga. pastors and leaders

Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing
North Ga. pastors and leaders

Dr. John Ed Mathison, pastor of Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Ala., for 36 years, spoke at a gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement, a group of theologically conservative pastors and leaders in the North Georgia Conference.

He said the most “pressing challenge” facing the UMC is a series of constitutional amendments — to be voted at this year’s Annual Conference sessions — that would separate the denomination into multiple “Regional Conferences,” each with the ability to adapt the United Methodist Book of Discipline as it so chooses.

If passed, the amendments would allow United Methodists in the United States to structurally segregate themselves from United Methodists in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Noting that such a change would likely have a profound effect on the ministry environment in the United Methodist Church, Dr. Mathison urged his audience to get involved with educating delegates about the amendments.

“Don’t sit back and say, ‘Somebody’s going to take care of it,'” he warned. “Be sure you talk with the folks who are delegates from your church and in your area.”

Another cause of concern is the United Methodist Church’s failure to attract young people to the ministry. “It’s appalling to see the [small number] of young people under 35 who are entering the United Methodist ministry,” Dr. Mathison said. Recent studies show that only about 5 percent of UM clergy are under 35.

Source: Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Source: Lewis Center for Church Leadership

A related problem is that “we seem to making it more and more difficult to enter the ministry,” especially for those who didn’t attend a UM-approved seminary.

“I am for strong standards,” he said, but “if we keep putting up bigger and bigger fences to get into the Methodist Church, we’re losing a lot of good people.”

Dr. Mathison, who now heads a leadership-training ministry, also noted that UM seminaries need to a better job of teaching students leadership skills. “How many of us took a course in seminary on leadership?” he asked. “And [yet] that’s what we do most of the time.”

Another concern Dr. Mathison focused on is the growing impact of the economic recession on local church budgets.

He said leaders at the Annual Conference and General Church level could help reduce the burden on local churches by cutting some of the denominational expenses local churches are required to pay. If such leaders would publicly announce specific cuts, local churches would have a sense that they are “being heard at the upper levels,” he said.

John Ed Mathison also spoke about the need for Annual Conferences to be “more intentional in starting new churches,” noting that the planting of new fellowships gave tremendous impetus to the early Methodist movement.

He rounded out his list of seven concerns by focusing on upcoming decisions facing the United Methodist Judicial Council (Spring 2009 docket—PDF).

“I think it is extremely clear [from votes at the General Conference] how United Methodists stand worldwide on human sexuality,” he said. “And I’m just hopeful and prayerful that when the Judicial Council meets they will remember that and…act accordingly.”

Use the audio player below to listen to the first half of Dr. John Ed Mathison’s Feb. 24 address to the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement at Norcross (Ga.) First United Methodist Church (19 min.).

In the second half of his address, Dr. Mathison discussed six specific ways UM pastors and leaders can expand their influence though intentional leadership.

The Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement was founded in 2004 to “promote the presence of leadership within the [North Georgia] Conference…committed to the renewal of historic Wesleyan standards and Biblical authority.”

An October 2008 statement detailing the WCRM’s “foci” and “core convictions” is here (PDF).


Related posts
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference
Proposed amendments would separate UMC into ‘national entities’
John Ed Mathison on the future of the United Methodist Church
Judicial Council sends controversial cases back to conferences
Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’

Related articles
Amending away our global church? | Riley Case, Good News
African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness | Mark Tooley, Touchstone
Clergy age trends in the United Methodist Church: 1985-2008 (PDF) | Lewis Center for Church Leadership
The skandal-ous mission of the Board of Ordained Ministry | Will Deuel, ‘Man Called Preach’ (blog)
Court docket includes Bush library, same-sex unions | United Methodist News Service

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A year-end review of site stats shows that the following were the most-viewed posts in 2008:

Thanks for reading MethodistThinker.com!

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In an earlier post, I published remarks by Dr. Bill Bouknight — a leader among United Methodist evangelicals — discussing “five causes for celebration” coming out of this year’s UM General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

Unfortunately, much of the news from GC08 wasn’t encouraging. In this post, Dr. Bouknight summarizes “five actions of General Conference that spell trouble for evangelicals and orthodox believers.”

His remarks are from an address to the Methodist Laity Reform Movement, a renewal group in the Iowa Conference.

First, we elected a new Judicial Council that looks quite liberal. This new Council includes just two known evangelicals.

Dr. Bill Bouknight

Dr. Bill Bouknight

The Council of Bishops played a key role in this drastic change. The list of liberal nominees that they submitted was the same one supported by the liberal Methodist Federation for Social Action (PDF).

The Bishops were obviously unhappy over Ruling 1032 in Virginia. You will remember that this ruling in 2005 allowed a pastor to withhold membership from a non-repentant, practicing homosexual.

The Bishops did not like that ruling. Therefore, in Fort Worth they lent their considerable influence toward electing a very different Judicial Council.

For example, the Bishops did not recommend the re-election of a wonderful African-American attorney from Houston, Mary Daffin. Instead, they recommended the election of a person who was one of the organizers of the infamous Re-imagining Conference of 1993, and she was elected!

This new Judicial Council is almost guaranteed to overturn Ruling 1032 if it gets a chance. [MethodistThinker note: See this post for information on the Judicial Council members.]

A second unfortunate action of this General Conference was to take the preliminary steps toward establishing a separate Regional Conference for United Methodists in the USA. The final decision was postponed until 2012, but the enabling legislation will go to all the Annual Conferences next year for a vote.

Many of us evangelicals believe this is an attempt to separate American evangelicals from the vast number of African and Asian evangelicals. Arguments are already being made that homosexuality, for example, is a regional issue. What the African culture believes to be sin is not necessarily sin in the USA.

But aren’t we all guided by the same Bible? Don’t we call claim to have one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Master of us all?

This proposal looks like re-segregation to me. How sad it will be if we forsake Mr. Wesley’s conviction that “the world is my parish.”

A third negative result from General Conference was its failure to separate us completely from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). RCRC opposes any and all restrictions on abortion; therefore, it is out of step with our United Methodist position.

Logo of the 2008 General Conference

Logo of the 2008 General Conference

Nevertheless, General Conference refused to mandate that the two General Agencies of our Church that are members of RCRC [the General Board of Church and Society and the Women’s Division] cancel their membership.

On the “good news” side, the vote was close (52 percent to 48 percent) and the decision might be reversed in four years. [MethodistThinker note: For a transcript of the General Conference debate on participation in RCRC, see the PDF file here, starting on page 2698.]

A fourth bit of bad news is that General Conference eliminated a provision in the Book of Discipline that requires all General Agency program staff to be Christians.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine any good reason why we should hire a non-Christian as part of our program staff? It would be like hiring an Army Ranger to work for the Quakers! Yet, the removal of Paragraph 714.9 means that a Muslim or a Buddhist can be hired by one of our General Agencies.

Here is a fifth and final bit of bad news. The historic right of the local pastor to discern whether or not a person is prepared to take the vows of church membership was seriously eroded.

A constitutional amendment relating to Article IV of the UM Constitution deleted certain key words, leaving this important statement to read as follows: “In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body.”

The General Conference was so eager to ensure that an unrepentant, practicing homosexual could join the church that it took the first step in removing all standards for church membership. Since this is a constitutional change, it will require a two-thirds aggregate vote of all the annual conferences.

Now in view of all this bad news from the General Conference, it may surprise you to know that I am optimistic, even bullish, on the United Methodist Church.

Why is that? For one thing, the numbers favor us. In 2012, many more Africans will be voting members of the General Conference. Almost all of them are conservative or orthodox. It is estimated that at the General Conference of 2012, international delegates, mainly Africans, will comprise about 40 percent of the total Conference….

But my confidence is based on more than that. I know that the Church is still the Body of Christ. He has promised to build His Church and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

I trust the Lord Jesus Christ to take care of His Church….

I believe that during the first half of the 21st Century, we are going to see a new United Methodist Church emerge. No longer will be just an institution; it’s going to become a movement again — and to God be the glory!

Bill Bouknight retired from the pastorate last year, after more than 40 years of serving churches in South Carolina and Tennessee. He is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001), and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).

Dr. Bouknight was educated at Duke University, the University of Edinburgh, and Yale Divinity School. He is a member of the board of directors of The Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church.


Related post
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08

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Citing a lack of official documentation, the United Methodist Judicial Council has sent two controversial cases back to the conferences in which they originated. One case involves homosexual marriage, the other church membership.

The same-sex marriage case stems from a resolution passed at the 2008 session of the California-Nevada Conference. The resolution encouraged and commended retired United Methodist clergy who publicly offered to perform same-sex marriages, following a 4-3 ruling (PDF) by the California Supreme Court that legalized such unions.

Because the United Methodist Book of Discipline forbids UM clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies (¶341.6), Bishop Beverly Shamana, then-bishop of the California-Nevada Conference, ruled that the resolution was “void and of no effect.”

“It is not within the power or prerogative of an annual conference to offer the services of its clergy to perform acts which the General Conference has declared to be chargeable offenses against the law of The United Methodist Church,” she wrote.

Under standard UM denominational procedure, her ruling was automatically appealed to the Judicial Council.

Bloomington Sheraton, site of the Judicial Council meeting

Bloomington (Minn.) Sheraton,
site of the Judicial Council meeting

The Council, at its Oct. 22-25 meeting in Bloomington, Minn., said related documentation submitted by the California-Nevada Conference was lacking.

“The record does not provide the minutes and the specific action of the Annual Conference,” the Council wrote. “Consequently, the submission fails to reflect facts sufficient to invoke the Judicial Council’s jurisdiction” (full text here).

The case was remanded to the secretary of the California-Nevada Conference, along with a 30-day deadline to provide the Judicial Council with necessary materials relating to the matter.

(NOTE: The California Supreme Court’s homosexual-marriage ruling could be overturned next week, depending on the outcome of the vote on the state’s Proposition 8 referendum).

The Judicial Council also sent back a case involving standards for church membership. It was remanded to the the Alaska Conference.

From a United Methodist News Service report by Neill Caldwell:

While conference lay leader Lonnie Brooks offered oral arguments to the court in behalf of the conference, the council said “the record supplied is insufficient in that it fails to provide an exact statement of the entire question submitted for declaratory decision” (full text here). The Alaska case will be added to the spring 2009 docket.

The matter involves whether paragraphs 214 and 225 of the 2004 Book of Discipline are at odds with Article IV of the UM Constitution.

(NOTE: This case ultimately could become moot. The 2008 General Conference, barely mustering the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional change, voted 66.9% to 33.1% to alter the language of Article IV to make it more “inclusive.” A transcript of the brief General Conference debate before the vote is in the PDF file here — see pages 2705-2707. Before taking effect, a constitutional change must be approved by two-thirds of the annual conferences.)

In another key matter, the Judicial Council ruled that the General Conference — meeting next in 2012 — would need to enact enabling legislation to change the church’s structure in the United States.

Again from UMNS:

The 2008 General Conference mandated creation of a regional conference in the United States as part of its efforts to make the denomination less U.S.-centric in structure and has sent the amendment to annual conferences for a vote in 2009 as part of the ratification process.

The Judicial Council, however, said the amendment does nothing to “harmonize its content” with the rest of the Book of Discipline… and that enabling legislation is necessary.

In responding to a request for a ruling of law brought from the floor of General Conference about the amendment’s meaning, application and effect, the council clarified that the structural changes could not take effect before 2012, even if ratified at the annual conference level in 2009.

“We conclude that the General Conference did not intend… to create a regional conference in the United States before the next General Conference,” Decision 1100 states.

The United Methodist Judicial Council has nine members:

  • Susan T. Henry-Crowe (Council president, clergy, South Carolina Conf.)
  • — Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life – Emory Univ. in Atlanta

  • Jon R. Gray (Council vice president, lay, Missouri West Conf.)
  • — attorney, former circuit court judge

  • Kathi Austin-Mahle (clergy, Minnesota Conf.)
  • — retired pastor and district superintendent, co-chair of the steering committee for the controversial 1993 Re-Imagining Conference that focused on feminist theology

  • William B. Lawrence (clergy, North Texas Conf.)
  • — Dean – SMU’s Perkins School of Theology

  • Ruben Reyes (lay, Philippines Central Conf.)
  • — Associate Justice – Supreme Court of the Philippines

The alternate members are:

  • Joe May (first clergy alternate, Mississippi Conf.)
  • Jay Arthur Garrison (first lay alternate, Holston Conf.)
  • J. Montgomery (Monty) Brown (clergy, West Virginia)
  • Thomas K. Byerly (lay, West Michigan Conf.)
  • Mary A. Daffin (lay, Texas Conf.)
  • John Harnish (clergy, Michigan Conf.)
  • James D. Karblee (clergy, Liberia Conf.)
  • Raymond Mande Mutombo (lay, North Katanga Conf.)
  • Deanell Tacha (lay, Kansas East Conf.)
  • William F. White (lay, Wisconsin Conf.)
  • Rodney E. Wilmoth (clergy, Rocky Mountain Conf.)
  • Vicki Woods (clergy, New England Conf.)

The Judicial Council clerk is former Council member Sally Curtis AsKew (lay, North Georgia Conf.) — retired law librarian, Univ. of Georgia.

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Former North Georgia Conference Lay Leader Joe Whittemore has sent a strongly worded letter to the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, decrying actions of United Methodist clergy who have disobeyed official church teaching by conducting homosexual “weddings.”

(See “Pastors Defy United Methodist Officials to Conduct Gay Weddings” from the July 17 the Los Angeles Times, and the UMNS story, “Northeastern Jurisdiction Affirms California Clergy on Same-Gender [sic] Marriages.”)

The UM Book of Discipline explicitly prohibits United Methodist clergy from “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.”

Mr. Whittemore, who served as a delegate to the 2008 General Conference, also criticizes official UM news organs for giving relatively little attention to the very public acts of disobedience.

His letter appears in the Advocate’s Sept. 5 issue.

Dear Editor:

Joe Whittemore

Joe Whittemore

Many United Methodists have been watching the latest attempts by clergy in the Western and Northeastern Jurisdiction to continue their long-standing campaign of defiance of church law in matters dealing with sexuality.

Why has the church media been so silent about this matter? This is the most compelling current threat to the unity of the United Methodist Church. This is not just the 800-pound gorilla in the room, it is the Titanic in motion.

It is heartbreaking for many of us in the church to see such contempt for the mutual covenants we United Methodists have made with one another through the duly constituted provisions of the Book of Discipline.

We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring 992 delegates from around the world to a table for debate, discussion and decision. After “holy conferencing” we leave General Conference with legislation supported by the majority. In parts of the church some clergy begin immediately scheming on how to break our polity.

In order to be accepted into the ordained ministry, all clergy have pledged and promised to uphold the Book of Discipline. In my view it is morally corrupt and intellectually dishonest for any clergy person to promise to uphold the law of the church in order to secure salary, compensation and benefits, and then purposefully disobey the polity of that church.

There is no ambiguity here. The situation is crystal clear. This is not about honest attempt to change the polity. We have ordained clergy who are purposefully disregarding and actively defying the decisions of our Church after the debate and vote.

It is time for us to stand up to say, “Enough is enough — either live by your promises and commitments to the church or find another source of income.”

Is there any wonder why conferences cannot retain and attract new and growing membership with this type personal dishonesty in leadership? Who among us would desire to be led by folks who do not keep their word? Truly prophetic voices do not take church money under false pretenses and abuse church finances.

Thinking more about this: There are two pieces of General Conference 2008 legislation to which Mr. Whittemore refers — the first retaining the Book of Discipline’s prohibition against UM clergy conducting homosexual-union ceremonies (¶341.6), and the second retaining Discipline language that makes conducting such a ceremony a chargeable offense (¶2702.1).

The first piece of legislation was approved by the Ministry and Higher Education Committee (59%-41%), and then was approved 568-312 (65%-35%) on the Conference floor — without debate — on April 30, 2008. (Audio of floor passage is below.)

The second piece of legislation was approved 38-9 (81%-19%) in the General Conference’s Judicial Administration Committee. On the Conference floor, this legislation was not voted on as a stand-alone item, but was approved as part of a group of 10 legislative items that had all emerged from committee with lopsided votes.

Some delegates made motions to “lift” certain items from the group so that those items would be debated separately. However, no attempt was made to lift the homosexual-marriage item. Together, the 10 items passed on May 2, 2008 by a vote of 508-323 (61%-39%). (Audio of floor passage is below.)

The UM Judicial Council, the denomination’s highest “court,” will rule on recent challenges to the Discipline’s ban on homosexual marriage when it meets next month.

Joe Whittemore served as the North Georgia Conference lay leader from 2000-2004, and as chair of the Southeastern Jurisdiction’s Committee on the Episcopacy from 2004-2008.

[UPDATE: Lyn Powell, North Georgia’s lay leader from 2004-2008, has observed that Mr. Whittemore’s “strong feelings [are] born of detailed involvement in these issues.” In a letter published in the Oct. 3, 2008 Wesleyan Christian Advocate, she noted that Mr. Whittemore “has volunteered uncountable hours to the work of the General Church and has influenced [UM] church law arguably as much as any lay person in recent church history.”]

Timeline:

  • 1972— The General Conference amends the Social Principles in the UM Book of Discipline to include the following: “We do not recommend marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
  • 1976 — The General Conference strengthens its opposition to homosexual marriage, again in the Social Principles, with this language: “We do not recognize a relationship between two persons of the same sex as constituting marriage.”
  • 1980 — The General Conference alters the Social Principles statement to read: “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant, which is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.”
  • 1996 — The General Conference adopts a statement prohibiting UM clergy participation in homosexual-union ceremonies: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
  • 1998 — The UM Judicial Council rules that clergy who conduct homosexual-union ceremonies can be brought to church trial.
  • 2000 — In the California-Nevada Conference, a conference Committee on Investigation for Clergy Members decides that a group of 67 clergy members will not be brought to trial for their role in celebrating a same-sex union service.
  • 2000 — Delegates to the General Conference vote overwhelmingly (69%-31%) to move the sentence prohibiting UM clergy from conducting homosexual unions from the Social Principles section of the Discipline to a section on the Ministry of the Ordained (¶341).
  • 2004 — The General Conference amends ¶2702 in the Book of Discipline to clarify the language related to chargeable clergy offenses, adding that “conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions” and “performing same-sex wedding ceremonies” are both chargeable offenses.
  • 2008 — The General Conference votes to retain the ¶2702 language adopted in 2004.

Listen below to floor passage of the two pieces of legislation mentioned in Mr. Whittemore’s letter.

First, the vote retain the language of ¶341.6. This legislation is presented to the delegates by Kathleen Baskin-Ball, chair of the Legislative Committee on Ministry and Higher Education. Also speaking is committee member Amy Gearhart Sage. The presiding bishop is Bishop Peter Weaver of the New England Conference.

The audio runs 3 minutes and has been edited to shorten long pauses.

Next, the vote to retain language in ¶2702. The presiding bishop is Bishop Charlene Kammerer of the Virginia Conference.

The audio runs 6 minutes. It has been edited to eliminate about 25 minutes of debate and discussion unrelated to the main motion. Several long pauses have been shortened.

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