Annual Conferences around the world are meeting this Spring to make decisions on 32 amendments to the constitution of the UMC. Some of these amendments represent either healthy change or simple language change.
For instance, amendment 19 is a healthy change. It would allow all clergy members of annual conferences to vote to elect clergy delegates to general, jurisdictional or central conferences. Currently only ordained elders and deacons in full connection are allowed to vote. This amendment would extend voting privileges to associate members, provisional members who have completed all of their educational requirements, and local pastors who have completed course of study or a Master of Divinity degree and have served a minimum of two consecutive years under appointment immediately preceding the election. This is a move that is long overdue. I strongly support this amendment.
I also plan to vote “yes” on amendments 8, 9, 15, 17, 19, & 22 because I believe they would not negatively affect United Methodist ministry in the future.
However, twemty-three of these amendments will make serious changes in our constitution that could have far reaching implications. It is my opinion that all of these amendments should be voted down.
Currently, every four years the General Conference meets to make decisions that relate to the global United Methodist movement. Everyone who is United Methodist lives under the rules set by this body. Under these proposed changes, each region of the church will be allowed to vote on beliefs and rules that are binding only to that region. No one is sure exactly what the new structure will look like, what it will cost, or how it will be implemented. If passed, they will be saying in effect, “We have a plane that is about to take off. We’re not sure what the destination is or even if the plane is flight worthy, but go ahead and get on anyway.” How foolish it would be to do that!
Some have said that these changes are designed to help the United Methodists in Africa and other parts of the world. However, the Central conferences have not asked for this and were not even brought into the discussion. Many of these amendments were voted on at General Conference in Fort Worth after a large number of African delegates had already left to go back home. Even with their absence, the votes were very close. In addition to that, in the year since General Conference, these amendments were not translated into their languages in a timely manner. That means they have had very little time to read and discuss these changes as they prepare to vote. I fear that this will be a very divisive move, rather than fostering unity.
It is a very difficult thing to change the constitution. Most portions of the Constitution can only be amended by a two-thirds affirmative vote of General Conference delegates followed by a two-thirds affirmative vote of all annual conference members in the U.S., Asia, Africa and Europe. The Council of Bishops then adds the total votes from all annual conferences on each amendment. If at least 66.6 percent of all votes are in the affirmative, the amendment is ratified. There are good reasons our founders made it difficult to amend this constitution. It keeps us from moving too hastily into decisions that will negatively affect future generations.
Even the staff of the Division of Ordained Ministry of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is opposed to these amendments. In an open letter to the church they state, “It is the opinion of the Staff of the Division of Ordained Ministry that all of these amendments are flawed and should not be ratified by the annual conferences at this time. In our judgment, further work through the Commission for the Study of Ministry established by General Conference is required before substantive changes in the Constitution or legislation on ministry are made.”
If the 23 amendments related to the new structure are voted down, the 2012 General Conference can go back to the drawing board and come up with a better plan where the road is clearly defined and everyone will know exactly where it will lead. At this point, we can’t say that about what has been proposed. I intend to vote “no” on the amendments dealing with the worldwide nature of the church. These amendment numbers are 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32.
Amendment 1 is also troubling. It is a reaction to the decision of the Judicial Council to allow a pastor in Virginia to say that a person seeking membership was not yet ready to take the vows. The decision was related to the authority of the pastor to make the call regarding readiness for membership. Many in the church were angry because the person who was refused membership was a practicing homosexual. However, you can insert any other action that is prohibited by Scripture in this discussion, and see where this could lead. Any person living in any lifestyle they might choose, (adultery, bigamy, incest, bigotry, etc) who is willing to take the vows of membership would have to be received into the Church if this amendment passes. In my opinion, it would be a terrible move that would cause pastors to set Scripture and their conscience aside or risk church discipline.
For a complete discussion of these amendments and articles from those both for and against them, you can go to this web site: http://www.laityumc.org/umc2.htm#1.3 (copy and paste this address into your browser)
Join me in praying for God to direct the decisions of the UMC as Annual Conferences meet across the globe.