May 30, 2017

Renewal and Reform Coalition Recommendations on Proposed UMC Constitutional Amendments

At their 2017 sessions, United Methodist annual conferences around the world must decide on whether or not to ratify five proposed amendments to the denomination’s constitution. To become adopted, each amendment must receive the support of at least two-thirds of the aggregate number of individual voting members of every United Methodist annual conference.  This “popular vote” system means that every individual annual conference member’s vote counts equally, no matter how large, small, orthodox-leaning, or liberal-leaning their region is. 

This website has earlier reported on the decisions made on these amendments by the Liberia Annual Conference in West Africa.

The Renewal and Reform Coalition (consisting of Good News, The Confessing Movement, Transforming Congregations, Renew, Lifewatch, and UMAction) has produced the following document which we hope will be helpful for annual conference members reviewing these important decisions. 

As a whole, the Coalition SUPPORTS Proposed Amendments #3 (ensuring open and democratic elections for General Conference delegates), #4 (promoting fairness and transparency in central conference bishop elections), and #5 (empowering our bishops to lead in accountability, when needed in extraordinary circumstances).  For our part, UMAction is going a step further than the Coalition as a whole by following the lead of our Liberian brothers and sisters so that UMAction, speaking only for ourselves, recommends voting AGAINST Proposed Amendments #1 and #2 (related to gender and various other forms of inclusion). This is because we at UMAction see the negatives outweighing the positives (listed below) and we believe it would be better to come back next time with a better-worded amendment to affirm the value of women’s equality (a value we strongly share!) WITHOUT adding on the other issues and problems in the current versions of Proposed Amendments #1 and #2. 

The document below outlines the concerns shared by the entire Renewal and Reform Coalition. ONLY the document below speaks for the entire Coalition – while UMAction is solely responsible for the introductory paragraphs above. 

 

 

 

 

Recommendation on the Proposed Constitutional Amendments

The Renewal and Reform Coalition

 

In anticipation of the upcoming votes by all the annual conferences on whether or not to ratify the five proposed constitutional amendments for our church, the Renewal and Reform Coalition offers its perspective for your consideration. On two of the proposed amendments, there are both positive and negative features that could lead to different conclusions. Their meaning and implications are sufficiently unclear that the Coalition is not taking a collective position.

 

 1.  Amendment 1 – Add a new paragraph on Gender Justice

The Coalition takes no position on this amendment

Positives

  • Strong statement in favor of the equal value of women and men in God’s eyes, which we support
  • Strong commitment on behalf of the church to seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, which we support

Negatives

  • This statement reads more like a Social Principle than a paragraph in the Constitution, particularly with its emphasis on theology. We question whether it belongs in the Constitution.
  • The second sentence raises theological concerns when it says, “it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female … maleness and femaleness are … not characteristics of the divine.” Does this mean Jesus is not male? Or does it mean that Jesus, who is obviously male, is not divine? Either position is contrary to our doctrinal standards.
  • This language could potentially be used to discourage use of references to God as Father (e.g., hymns, prayers, creeds)

Summary – While this statement is well-intentioned, and we support its strong emphasis on the equality of women, we are concerned with its theological fuzziness being written into our Constitution. The church’s advocacy for women’s equality is well-stated elsewhere in the Book of Discipline.

 

2.  Amendment 2 – Add to 4 on Inclusiveness “ability, gender, age, marital status”

The Coalition takes no position on this amendment

Positives

  • We support the idea that persons of any ability should be welcome in our churches and included in the church’s life, worship, and governance.
  • We support the idea that both men and women equally should be welcome in our ministries and included equally in the church’s life, worship, and governance.
  • We support the idea that persons of every age should be welcome in our churches and included in age-appropriate ways in the church’s life, worship, and governance.
  • We support the idea that single, married, widowed, and divorced persons should be welcome in our churches and included in the church’s life, worship, and governance.

Negatives

  • The word “gender” is no longer understood to be merely a binary (male/female) term. It has recently become a loaded word in Western culture and carries within it connotations of transgender, gender queer, and other perceptions of gender that we do not believe should be granted blanket and unconditional inclusion in the Constitution.
  • We are concerned that adding “marital status” without defining the term could be interpreted to give a mandate in our constitution to recognize same-sex marriage or polygamy in those countries that allow such. The current definition of marriage in the Social Principles could be nullified by this Constitutional language.
  • The inclusion of “age” could result in the elimination of mandatory retirement for bishops and clergy. There was no discussion of this possibility at General Conference, and we are concerned that this could be an unintended consequence of adopting this amendment. If we are to eliminate mandatory retirement, it should at least be discussed and considered by the General Conference delegates before being approved.

Summary – While in sympathy with the intentions of the proposed additions, we are concerned about potential unintended consequences of adopting this amendment as presently worded. We encourage careful consideration of the issues involved before adopting this amendment. We would hope to support better wording in the future that could accomplish the purposes in a clearer and less controversial way.

 

3.  Amendment #3 – Election of Delegates by Majority, Requiring Floor Nominations

The Coalition supports this amendment.

This amendment would standardize the process for election of delegates across annual conferences and would foster a more open and transparent democratic process in places where that is not a tradition. The requirement for a majority could cause voters to coalesce more quickly around the top candidates. The requirement for floor nominations enables maximum openness and access of all qualified persons to the process of running for delegate. It addresses problems that have been experienced in some annual conferences.

 

4.  Amendment #4 – Requires Central Conferences to Elect Bishops at a Regularly Scheduled Conference

The Coalition supports this amendment.

This amendment would ensure that the dates of central conference meetings are not manipulated to allow irregular processes for electing bishops. It addresses problems that have been experienced in some central conferences.

 

5.  Amendment #5 – Allows the Council of Bishops to Hold Bishops Accountable

The Coalition supports this amendment.

This amendment is a key part of enhancing the global accountability of bishops. It gives the Council of Bishops the option to supervise complaints against bishops when the jurisdictional or central conference complaint process does not work appropriately. It addresses problems that have been experienced in several regions of the global church.


6 Responses to Renewal and Reform Coalition Recommendations on Proposed UMC Constitutional Amendments

  1. John says:

    Firmly against 1 and 2. 1 will basically require a complete re-write of the Bible. God the Father…Jesus the Son…sorry, but those are gender-specific terms. How do we reconcile this and explain it to children and those we reach out to who are not currently Christian? I believe the Book of Discipline and the Social Principles already cover our desire to treat one another with grace and love. Stop the madness please!

    For number 2: we have enough already…it appears to me to be an attempt to “force” us to accept same-gender marriage and to effectively eliminate/make obsolete portions of our current discipline. The lobby to force us to accept the sin of homosexuality as not being a sin is hard at work to make us change and deny scripture one way or the other. Agree with the last three.

  2. Betsy says:

    These are reasonable assessments about the amendments. What bothers me the most about Amendment 1 is that it comes from an assumption that, as humans, we have become more enlightened than our predecessors–something my own life will not allow me to believe. Part of the problem with the UMC is that for many, it has become too much about “Christianity of the moment”–a well-intentioned thought with the goal of making Christianity more “accessible” to a modern people–but what I have discovered is we do not need to reinvent the wheel. The old story of God created, humanity decided to take control of the situation, God has gone to great lengths to rectify the situation is extremely relevant for right here and right now, especially when it is told in modern language that does not diminish the WOW Factor. I love the fact that I finally found understanding in the Heidelberg Catechism along with three very modern books about it. It was an amazing experience of the communion of saints past and present coming together to give me the teaching I so desperately needed.

  3. Wall Jones says:

    As it is written, #2 should, at least, be tabled until after the proposals coming at the 2019 GC are decided. If approved now, it could be seen as a push toward a specific decision by the Bishops’ Commission.

  4. Jerry says:

    I oppose the adoption of Proposed Constitutional Amendment 1 for at least three reasons. While I support the stated rationale of the proposed amendment as it pertains to women and girls, the second sentence of the proposed amendment is a fatal flaw to the entire proposed amendment.
    First, the proposed amendment is incorrect in its statement that “it is contrary to Scripture to say that God is male or female.” One does not have to look far in Scripture to see that all gender specific references in Scripture to God affirm that He is “Father.” In addition, Scripture tells us that God chose to reveal Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, who was and is both fully God and fully man. Surely, the United Methodist Church is not taking the position that Jesus Christ, God manifest here on earth, was not male.
    Second, the proposed amendment is contrary to the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed, all recognized in Paragraph 102 of the Discipline, and all of which contain male references to God and to Jesus Christ. I note that Paragraph 102 goes on to state that, “Such creeds helped preserve the integrity of the church’s witness, set boundaries for acceptable Christian doctrine, and proclaimed the basic elements of the enduring Christian message.” If adopted, will we presume to change these historic creeds to remove gender specific references to God and Jesus Christ?
    Finally, the proposed amendment is contrary to Articles 1, 2 and 4 of the Articles of Religion and Articles 1, 2 and 3 of the Confession of Faith, all of which contain references to God as “Father” and to Jesus Christ as “Son.” In the Church Constitution, I note that Article 1 of the Restrictive Rules prohibits changing the Articles of Religion and Article 2 of the Restrictive Rules prohibits changing the Confession of Faith. If adopted, this proposed amendment would require changes which are prohibited by the Constitution.
    For all of its well-intentioned statements relating to women and girls, the proposed amendment, as written, is fatally flawed. I intend to vote “no” on Proposed Constitutional Amendment 1.

    I also oppose Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 until “marital status” and “gender” are defined. The proposed amendment is inartfully drafted and far too subject to the dreaded “untended consequences.” I see no reason to move forward on Amendment 2 until the Commission on the Way Forward has completed its work. I intend to vote “no” on Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2.

    I support Proposed Constitutional Amendments 3, 4 and 5 and will vote for all of them.

  5. Jason B. says:

    Yes, it is possible that we have become more enlightened than our predecessors. Especially since they thought the earth was flat and we have discovered otherwise. That, and only a million more things, shows that science has revealed a great many things to us. I fully support both 1 and 2. I feel someone is up to no good with the others.

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