At their annual conference session last month, Mississippi United Methodists offered some much-needed hopeful, positive leadership in pointing the way forward for our denomination.
Many are excited by the overwhelmingly evangelical delegation elected to the 2016 General Conference and the 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. The delegation will be led by two locally prominent African-American church leaders.
A “Resolution Concerning General Conference Response to Violations of Our Human Sexuality Standards” was adopted, I am told, with about 90 percent support. This resolution protests the lack of consequences for recent high-profile violations of our church’s biblical policies against clergy engaging in or blessing same-sex unions, calls on the next General Conference to strengthen our church’s accountability structures for such abuses, and arranges for the entirety of the resolution to be sent to all active bishops, with the request that they share it with their respective annual conferences’ General Conference delegations.
It will be interesting to see which bishops share this resolution with their areas’ delegates, as requested, and which bishops try to hide it from their delegates.
Furthermore, the Mississippi Conference voted to send several key reform petitions directly to the 2016 General Conference. I am told that all of these were endorsed by overwhelming super-majority votes:
A couple of petitions would correct ways in which some unprincipled liberal bishops and other church leaders have actually abused or could potentially abuse their authority to prevent enforcement of our church’s biblical standards for sexual self-control.
Another petition would require each of the UMC’s five U.S. jurisdictions to pay for its own bishops. This would correct the problem of how our current structure forces those of us in the rest of the country to heavily subsidize the radicalized Western Jurisdiction’s unjustifiable over-supply of bishops and to fund these bishops’ outsized influence in undermining our church’s biblical doctrinal and moral standards.
Another petition would explicitly allow for formal charges against clergy who take part in the sort of physical-force-reliant bullying with which some self-described “radical sexual liberationist” activists have outrageously disrupted and taken over General Conferences and other church leadership meetings.
Many were upset when the 25-member Commission on the General Conference, which the Council of Bishops has long “stacked” with liberal appointees, voted to shrink the size of the 2016 General Conference. Many saw this as an arbitrary and unjust misuse of the Commission’s power. Due to rules giving even the smallest conferences minimal representation at General Conference, the objective result of this change was to somewhat shift the General Conference’s balance of voting power towards smaller conferences in Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S. Western Jurisdiction at the expense of larger regions in Africa and the rest of the USA. So a petition being sent by Mississippi would, for the future, amend the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline to clarify what most people had previously thought, that the authority for determining the ideal size of General Conference rests with the democratically elected General Conference itself, not with this much less representative Commission.
On life issues, Mississippi is now petitioning the 2016 General Conference to amend our denomination’s currently muddled position statement on abortion into a completely pro-life stance. Mississippi is also separately petitioning the 2016 General Conference to stop the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) to stop using our church’s name in its extremist political lobbying that even contradicts our church’s moderate Social Principles and in its promoting blessing services for the “holy work” of elective abortion clinics.
UMAction looks forward to working with delegates from Mississippi and elsewhere to get the 2016 General Conference to adopt these reforms.
The Mississippi petition on RCRC is worth reprinting in full here:
Withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
General Church Budget Implication: None
Global Implications: Yes
WHEREAS, “The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) was originally founded in 1973 as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) to safeguard the newly-won constitutional right to privacy in decisions about abortion.” (“History,” http://rcrc.org/homepage/about/history, accessed on 01/15/15);
WHEREAS, RCRC works to defend and expand the absolute right to abortion—that is, the right to all abortions, whatever the circumstances, without exception — in American law;
WHEREAS, one RCRC publication describes aborting unborn children as “God’s work” or “holy work, service provided by God’s people on behalf of God’s people,” and encourages religious leaders to bless the work of providing elective abortions (Prayerfully Pro-Choice: Resources for Worship, RCRC, http://www.readbag.com/rcrc-pdf-prayerfully, pp. 73-74, 101-102, accessed on 02/02/15);
WHEREAS, RCRC, in its “Words of Choice: Countering Anti-Choice Rhetoric” (https://web.archive.org/web/20110320103739/http:/www.rcrc.org/pdf/Words_of_Choice.pdf, accessed 02/02/15), explicitly argues against using the following words, phrases, and moral claims that are found in The United Methodist Church’s central teaching on abortion (Paragraph 161J, The Book of Discipline ): “abortion as…birth control,” “[abortion] as…gender selection,” “adoption,” “crisis pregnancy centers,” “mother,” “notification and consent,” “partial-birth abortion” opposition, “sacredness of…life,” “sanctity of…life,” and “unborn child;”
WHEREAS, RCRC works for abortion rights in any and all circumstances, while The United Methodist Church teaches that moral discernment, on matters related to abortion, is essential, because the Church “[is] equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child,” “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control,” and “unconditionally reject[s] [abortion] as a means of gender selection or eugenics” (Paragraph 161J on Abortion, The Social Principles, The Book of Discipline );
WHEREAS, RCRC has consistently lobbied government against any attempt to limit the practice of partial-birth abortions, while The United Methodist Church has since 2000 “oppose[d] the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call[s] for the end of this practice” with rare exceptions (Paragraph 161J on Abortion, The Social Principles, The Book of Discipline );
WHEREAS, RCRC has consistently favored the availability of partial-birth abortion, while the 2012 General Conference decided that the Church’s General Council on Finance and Administration “shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall expend United Methodist funds in a manner that violates the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church to ‘oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice [with rare exceptions]’ (Paragraph 161J). The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures.” (Paragraph 806.10, The Book of Discipline );
WHEREAS, RCRC supported the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which if adopted would have overturned all federal, state, and local laws even mildly restricting abortion, while The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society withdrew its support of FOCA in 2008, because this RCRC-supported bill was in conflict with The United Methodist Church’s position on abortion (“Living in the Truth: Church and Society, Obama, and Abortion,” Lifewatch [03/01/09], p. 6, www.lifewatch.org/pdf/lifewatch_ newsletter_03-09.pdf, accessed 02/02/15; and Paragraph 161J on Abortion, The Social Principles, The Book of Discipline );
WHEREAS, Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, retired bishop of The United Methodist Church, has declared: “At the 2004 General Conference, the church endorsed our [United Methodist] agencies’ continued participation in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice without much of a debate about how participation in this coalition compromises our public witness against abortion” (“Do No Harm!,” Lifewatch [03/01/05], p. 3, www.lifewatch.org/pdf/lifewatch_newsletter_03-05.pdf, accessed 02/02/15);
WHEREAS, the 2008 General Conference narrowly voted, when many non-U.S.delegates were not present, to continue participation in RCRC;
WHEREAS, during the 2012 General Conference, although a legislative subcommittee and committee had both voted to withdraw The United Methodist Church from RCRC, a regular plenary vote on this matter never took place, so that this petition had no opportunity to be adopted;
WHEREAS, “the members of our denomination are not of one mind over the precise conditions in which abortion can be supported” (#2026, The Book of Resolutions , p. 124), and therefore agencies of the entire United Methodist Church should not be permitted to join a political lobby such as RCRC;
WHEREAS, other mainline denominations, with positions on abortion similar to that of The United Methodist Church, have either chosen not to become members of RCRC (e.g., the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Disciples of Christ) or severed ties with RCRC (American Baptist Churches USA and the Northern Province of the Moravian Church);
WHEREAS, A Washington Post article quoted RCRC President & CEO Rev Harry Knox and RCRC Board of Directors Chair Dr. Alethea R. Smith-Withers “Reverends like us should never oppose access to abortion or sex ed” (sic, www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/09/29/reverendslike-us-should-never-oppose-access-to-abortion-or-sex-ed/, accessed on 02/02/15)—also written by RCRC’s President and CEO Rev. Harry Knox, and by RCRC’s Board of Directors Chair Dr. Alethea R. Smith-Withers—advocates for “abortion care” and thereby demonstrates that RCRC’s work continues to be divisive in The United Methodist Church because of its lack of care for the unborn child; and
WHEREAS, individual United Methodists can dialogue with RCRC without leading The United Methodist Church to legitimate RCRC’s educational and political agenda, which conflicts with our Social Principles’ teaching on life and abortion (Paragraph 161J on Abortion, The Social Principles, The Book of Discipline ).
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the 2015 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church hereby charges its Conference Secretary to forward this resolution, in a timely and appropriate manner, to the 2016 General Conference to withdraw immediately the General Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Women from membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).
THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the 2015 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church hereby charges its Conference Secretary because of the fifty-word limit that has been imposed on the printed rationales in the public listings of General Conference petitions, to include with this petition the following rationale: “RCRC is a one-sided political lobby that opposes all disapproval or limitation of abortion. RCRC’s advocacy often directly contradicts our Social Principles on abortion, but it still uses our Church’s name. Several Annual Conferences and many United Methodist leaders have urged the Church to end all association with RCRC.”
Submitted by: Elmo “Bo” Gabbert, M.D., Lay Delegate – Brookhaven District
Dewey H. Lane, M.D., Lay Delegate – Seashore District