The Importance of Unity for Christians

Jesus prayed for unity on the night of his betrayal. His prayer that all of his disciples might be one (John 17:21) is followed in the next chapter by Judas and the soldiers arresting Jesus in the garden. The contrast is strong.

A similar contrast shows up in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he says in the fourth chapter, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Yet, a few short verses later he warns that disciples should not be tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, they should not live as the Gentiles live, and then, “putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” Clearly the unity for which Paul was pleading included challenges from the outside culture and disagreements within the body of Christ. At the same time we must avoid errors in doctrine and practice. The contrast is strong.

United Methodists have a deep commitment to the unity of the church. Article VI of our constitution makes it clear:

Article VI. Ecumenical Relations—As part of the church universal, The United Methodist Church believes that the Lord of the church is calling Christians everywhere to strive toward unity; and therefore it will pray, seek, and work for unity at all levels of church life: through world relationships with other Methodist churches and united churches related to The Methodist Church or The Evangelical United Brethren Church, through councils of churches, and through plans of union and covenantal relationships with churches of Methodist or other denominational traditions.

We do not claim to be the whole church of Jesus Christ, but we do claim to be part of it. We also believe that the unity of the Church is God’s will and we should do all that we can to strengthen that unity.

United Methodists have always been a pragmatic people. This has been one of our traits since John Wesley sought a union of evangelical clergy in 1761. His effort was centered around the three essential doctrines of the way of salvation, repentance, justification by faith and sanctification. His 1786 sermon against schism is quite clear. Yet two years earlier he had split the American part of the Methodist Connexion into a separate church. The contrast is strong.

In the 20th century United Methodists were at the forefront of ecumenical efforts, including the founding and leadership of councils of churches, bi-lateral and multi-lateral dialogues and efforts. Lately our best thinking has turned away from organic union and toward mutual recognition of members and ministries. The fruit of this has been deeper relationships understood as full communion without the organizational commitments of organic union.

Unity is being discussed by many persons and groups in the UMC today. I have been quite disappointed in the quality of most of the conversations. Far too often leaders are using emotion-laden terms without clear definitions or deep understanding. Toward that end, I want to try to raise the level of conversation by offering greater clarity about the term “unity.”

There are various types of unity currently being practiced within the body of Christian churches. At the most broad, there is a type of unity binding together all Trinitarian churches. For example, United Methodists and Roman Catholics recognize each other’s baptisms.

There is a closer unity binding Protestants who recognize the authority of Scripture and the number of sacraments in similar ways. This would describe the relationship between the Presbyterian churches and the UMC.

There is an even closer unity among those who are committed to full communion and the mutual recognition of ministers, such as between the UMC and ELCA.

There is unity even closer than that between Wesleyan bodies that share the same doctrines and have similar organization structures. The UMC relationship with the AME, AMEZ, CME and many of our affiliated autonomous churches would fit into this category.

The unity currently espoused in United Methodist Church is expressed in paragraph 101 of our Book of Discipline. There it says, “The General Book of Discipline reflects our Wesleyan way of serving Christ through doctrine and disciplined Christian life. We are a worldwide denomination united by doctrine, discipline, and mission through our connectional covenant. The General Book of Discipline expresses that unity.” Our church is currently evaluating whether we are currently in schism or in unity and what is our best way forward. Consideration of unity is crucial in this conversation, and a nuanced understanding of it will help all participants.

Embodying Unity in Turbulent Times

On the connectional level, we United Methodists are in for some turbulent times. In the midst of many different forces seeking to blow us off course, it is crucial that we remember: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Some of the turbulence is coming at us from the current issues facing American culture. Specifically, a variety of forces have led our political life to be characterized by shallow posturing, inaccurate soundbites, polarized factions, demonizing insults and intellectual intolerance. Recent trends and events have led to a great deal of anxiety about racism, law enforcement, income disparity, healthcare systems, immigration, and cultural change. Americans are frequently dealing with these issues by stoking our fears and jumping to false conclusions. These traits are far too common on all parts of the political spectrum. The current presidential election contest exemplifies America at its worst.

Some of the turbulence we face is generated from within our church. Our structural deficiencies are inhibiting us from addressing our challenges in helpful ways. We are not as united as we should be. Bishops and conferences are violating the order and discipline of our church, and our decentralized system of church governance provides insufficient remedies.

How do we faithfully serve Christ in such a time as this?

Every day, as part of my private devotional time, I read Ephesians 4 which begins with these words: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Paul calls us to humility. Paul calls us to gentleness and patience. He also calls us to bear with one another in love. As I read these words, I am hoping to stay in dialogue with those who see issues from a different perspective than mine. I want to honor them. I do not want to act rashly. I seek to serve the unity of the church and lead all United Methodists. I embrace our racial, geographical, theological and political diversity.

At the same time, I will only be able to faithfully serve through these turbulent times if I am also talking with those who agree with my perspective and who will encourage me in the godly traits Paul describes. Our church is complex enough that gatherings of people who share similar points of view are necessary to discerning the best way forward.

Recently several persons have expressed concern about the formation of a new group in the life of our church. The Wesleyan Covenant Association will host a gathering this week of people in Chicago. Some, reacting out of fear and stereotypes common among liberals for forty years, see this as a schismatic group. I disagree. I take the WCA’s leaders at their word when they say “We are a coalition of congregations, clergy, and laity from all jurisdictions that are committed to promoting ministry that combines a high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment. We encompass a broad range of worship styles and ministry practices. What links us together is our desire to witness to the transforming power of God to change and redeem human lives and societies. We have come together to support, network, and encourage one another as the future of The United Methodist Church comes into clearer focus.” This makes them comparable to other groups in the life of our church that are clearly within the boundaries of our discipline and yet gather for strategic thinking and mutual support.

In difficult times, returning to the basics of our faith and our purpose is essential. The main thing is our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I am supportive of all efforts that focus our resources on serving that cause.

Young Preachers Festival

Bishop Scott Jones believes preaching is an essential part of a holistic ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ in the local church, and will talk about how a pastor spends her/his time, crafts the sermons, and relates it to other ministries in the congregation. He will also address communication patterns in the 21st century and how the standards for fruitful and effective preaching have changed while also remaining the same in the last few decades.

I. Purpose
A. These are times of crisis—danger and opportunity
1. In such times disciplined purpose is crucial
2. Church of the Resurrection
a. Our Purpose: To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.
b. Our Vision: Changing lives, transforming communities, and renewing the church.
c. Our Journey: Knowing, loving and serving God
B. Purpose—mission—is crucial
1. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing
C. The Wesleyan Way
1. Creation in the image of God
2. Original Sin
3. Repentance
4. Justification
5. Sanctification
D. Salvation by Grace through faith—the outstretched hand offering life
1. Ephesians 2:8-10
E. Means of Grace
1. Worship plus 2
2. Preaching is a means of grace
a. Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
b. 1 Corinthians 4:1 Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.
3. Through us, God is creating a sacred world where certain things just make sense
a. my friend and the OJ Simpson trial

II. Planning
A. Series better than lectionary
B. Engaging secular culture in topic choice
C. Solid content—not moral therapeutic deism

III. Presentation
A. Preaching in a video age
1. use of video clips as illustrations
2. minimal use of notes
B. personality
C. Spectacle–occasionally
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayTZegTQHzI 5:20 to 8:05
D. Teamwork

The Way of the Cross Leads Home–United Methodist Ecclesiology

The Way of the Cross Leads Home: United Methodist Ecclesiology
Scott J. Jones
April 15, 2016

I. We all work for the church
A. This workshop is about ecclesiology—the doctrine of the church
B. the good and the bad, the best and the worst
C. You are important
1. Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
2. shared consciousness—each part of the system needs to understand the purpose of the whole and how each part contributes to that
II. You are here so that you can understand your calling better and improve your service to Christ
A. Remember the Great Commandments as the guide of all that you think and do and say. They should govern your attitude, your words and your behavior.
B. We are called to love everybody.
C. The Theme for your meeting is “There’s no Place Like Home”
D. Let’s watch a clip from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy repeats those words [watch]
E. The contrast between home and the Emerald City is stark
F. How we think about home is crucial and it shapes our understanding of who we are, where we are and what we do. It is a matter of perspective, but perspective and self-understanding is crucial to how we live
III. Heaven is home
A. The way of the cross leads home
B. The Wesleyan Way of salvation is the way of the cross
1. Creation in the image of God
2. Original Sin
3. Repentance
4. Justification
5. Sanctification—Christian Perfection
IV. Church is our temporary home—and there is no place like home
A. I was ordained deacon in 1978 and took my first appointment as a pastor in 1986
B. There is nothing better than being a United Methodist minister.
C. I hope you can say the same thing about being a United Methodist staff person.
D. I can still say that as bishop, even though I now see the worst parts of our church as well as the best parts of it.
E. Bishop Marvin Stuart once told me he had a lover’s quarrel with the church and I now understand that more deeply than ever before. I love the church and I want it to become what God needs it to be. My job as a leader is to help it make progress toward that goal.
F. This talk is going to be about United Methodist ecclesiology—who we are as a people. We are one part of the church universal and so many of these characteristics apply to other churches as well.
1. I want to talk about 7 key characteristics
G. At the very end of my presentation I will take questions from the floor

V. United Methodist Key Characteristics
A. Missional
B. Sacramental
C. Connectional—One
D. Transformational—Holy
E. Diverse—Catholic
F. Evangelical—Apostolic
G. Extreme Center

VI. Church is the missionary body of Christ
A. We serve a missionary God
1. God is creator
2. God is triune—love divine
3. In the fullness of time God sent himself to earth for us human beings and for our salvation
B. The Church is the body of Christ, and thus mission and salvation are at the heart of our identity
1. As a fire is to burning, so is mission to the church
B. This is especially true of the UMC—our origins in the 18th century
1. Not a doctrinal dispute
2. We were born so that the Wesleys could reach those not included in the Church of England
C. Failures to be the church
1. club identity
2. focus on the trivial
a. coffee pot location

VII. Church is sacramental—means of grace
A. Sacraments
1. baptism
2. communion
B. Christ’s promise to be present
1. worship
2. small groups
3. service to the poor
4. Bible Study
5. Prayer
C. Expectations of disciples
1. Stonebridge UMC
D. Failures to be the church
1. lowering our expectations of members to be a club

VIII. Church is connectional
A. One
1. Unity in the congregation
2. Denomination/Church
3. Hierarchically Democratic
a. Elders and Bishops
b. Conference—clergy and laity
c. local level—DS and pastor, church conference
B. Failures to be the church
1. division over non-essential matters

IX. Holy
1. Called to be different
2. God is love—Love Divine All Loves Excelling
B. Failures to be the church
1. tolerance of open, unrepentant sin

X. Diverse
A. Catholic
1. Diversity and Unity
a. preparation for heaven
2. Body image with many members
3. Hospitality
B. Failures to be the church
1. when we take steps to only have “people like us” as part of the congregation
2. Africans wander into the church and we don’t welcome them
3. Hispanics in our communities and no one learns Spanish

XI. Evangelical
A. Apostolic
1. Belief
2. Evangelistic
3. Continuity in time
B. Failures to be the church
1. Far too many of our congregations have no professions of faith. In Great Plains in 2015, it was 532 churches or 52% of them. That is even worse than 2012 when it was 504 or 47%.
2. This goes to a deeper concern—too many of our pastors and church leaders talk about God, but rarely about Jesus and almost never about the Holy Spirit. In the words of Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, we have too often become preachers of moralistic therapeutic deism.

IX. Extreme Center
A. United Methodist Doctrine—the extreme center
1. totally opposed to the dead center
2. Opposable thumbs, Opposable minds
B. Examples
1. Episcopacy and Conference
2. Sacraments and preaching
3. Justification and sanctification
4. Abortion
5. Homosexuality
6. Hilary Clinton and George W. Bush
C. Failures to be the church
1. biggest failure is occupying the dead center
2. giving in to the extremes

X. The Lion King—remember who you are.
A. Dorothy remembered who she was.

Bearing With One Another in Love

Webcast on the Unity of the Church in the Midst of Difficult Conversations

September 13, 2014

 

I love The United Methodist Church. One of my friends tells me that I am a genetic Methodist—it is in my DNA. But I have spent many years studying our history, our doctrine and our polity, and I truly believe that if I had been born into a non-Christian family, I would have become a United Methodist by choice. I love the diversity of our church. I love that we have congregations and conferences on four continents. I believe in the unity of Christianity, and I believe that the best way to live out that unity is in a connectional church. The church needs bishops, and clergy need supervision, and I am a whole-hearted supporter of our appointive system for deploying our clergy. (By the way, I was a supporter of it when I was a local church pastor, too. I decided early on that God works through the bishop and cabinet and I was content to serve where I was appointed. That conviction is quite humbling for me now.)

I am thrilled to be part of a church that is focused on its mission. WE do occupy the extreme center. We are committed to both social justice and evangelism, to both preaching and the sacraments, to corporate worship and small groups for discipling, to both social holiness and personal holiness, to the authority of the bishop and the democracy of conferencing.

Sometimes we forget or undervalue the incredible blessings of our connection.

I believe God has raised up the people called United Methodist to be a means of saving grace for individuals, societies and the world. When we are at our best, we lead non-Christians and nominal Christians to saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We proclaim the classical faith of the church as expressed in our doctrinal standards and statements. We believe God’s grace is at work preveniently in all persons, and the journey of grace through faith is most fully experienced in vibrant contextual worship, spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible Study, baptism and holy communion, disciplined small groups pursuing personal holiness, works of justice and mercy to transform the world pursuing social holiness, and sharing the gospel with others. We are a Church, and recognize that we are only one part of the larger body of Christ. We are focused on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We do this by holding in tension deep values of the Christian life, such as corporate worship and small groups, social justice and evangelism, preaching and the sacraments, global unity and local discipleship, episcopal authority and democratic discernment. Our goal is obedience to Christ and, by God’s grace, to be a useful instrument for God’s purposes of transforming individuals and the world to become the holy creation God intended.

Yet, we have our issues as a church. We need to reinvent our leadership development system. We need to improve our course of study and our seminaries. We need to rethink our mission shares and our relationships to our mission agencies. As the bishops said in our call to action a few years ago, we need “to redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

The good news is that all three conferences in Nebraska and Kansas were making significant progress on all of these issues, and the creation of a new conference has allowed us to take giant steps in positive directions. We are becoming more fruitful.

At the same time, in a variety of ways, the future of our church and especially its unity is being brought into question. Most often, the topic of schism or separation, or splitting is mentioned in the context of our disagreements about human sexuality. We United Methodists have been debating abortion, the practice of homosexuality, same-gender marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian persons in a variety of ways for the last forty-two years. Recent changes in the laws of some states and the deliberate disobedience of some ministers and bishops to the discipline of the church have raised question and led several to propose various forms of separation in response.

In this context, it is timely to remind ourselves of who we are. For me, that is to asking about our Wesleyan DNA.

There are some key points from our doctrine that should shape who we are and how we live. The title of this text is “Bearing with One Another in Love”. It is part of Ephesians 4:2 and summarizes a number of key points. First, we need to remember that we are all sinners. Romans 3 makes it clear—all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Second, God’s grace is amazing. God continues to love us despite our shortcomings, our failures, our sins. God’s prevenient grace woos us before we are aware, convicts us about our sin and our need for a savior, justifies us by faith, and then continues to shape us toward the goal of being fully sanctified. The powerful, amazing love of God is saving us.

Third, that grace is available to all persons. There is no one outside of the love of God. Charles Wesley put it well in a powerful hymn: “Come sinners to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus guest, yet need not one be left behind, for God hath bid all humankind.”

Fourth, when we are baptized and then confirmed, we become part of the body of Christ. We belong to each other. As I tried to make clear in my book Staying at the Table: the Gift of Unity for United Methodists” our unity as the body of Christ is a gift of God, one that we can embrace and live into or we can reject and ignore. First Corinthians 12 gives a powerful image of why the diversity of gifts makes the body function well and why we need each other. Sometimes in the current conversations, one group is described as “progressive” and another group is described as “traditionalist.” I believe the vast majority of United Methodists are somewhere between those two groups. I think the UMC would be weakened if either the progressives or the traditionalists decided to leave. We need each other. Yet, Paul is also clear that maintaining that unity is hard and requires the love of Christ to make it work. Hence, the title of this talk. Paul exhorts us to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.  7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

In the context of current US culture, all of this means that our church is called to be inclusive, engaged in ministry with all kinds of people. On the issue of gay and lesbian persons, our Social Principles are clear in saying “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. . . . We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” (¶ 161F) Many of our churches have members and constituents who are self-identified gays and lesbians. This is a good thing.

This diversity is hard, though. We are a diverse, worldwide church united by its doctrine, discipline and mission through our connectional covenant. (¶101) We are old and young, Democrat, Republican, libertarian and tea party, black, white, brown, red, yellow, white, Asian, European, African, North American, progressive, traditionalist, centrist, liberal, conservative and many other descriptions of people. We speak many different languages. 25% of United Methodists live in countries where French is an official language. At General Conference there was simultaneous translation into many languages, and we are printing material in English, French and Portuguese.

All of this diversity bothers some people. They want to be in a church with only people like them—whatever that means. Me, I prefer the diversity. I think most of these people are going to end up in heaven, and I want to get there myself, and so I ought to start preparing myself for it. One way I describe this in the US context is to say that our church is big enough that both Hilary Rodham Clinton and George W. Bush are active, faithful members. Before that the same could have been said of Bob Dole and George McGovern.

We are united, according to the Book of Discipline, by our doctrine, discipline and our mission. Doctrinally, we share the same commitment to the essentials of the faith. When it comes to matters of opinion, we embrace the differences that arise naturally among such a diverse group of people. When it comes to our discipline, there are some areas where we allow for diversity of practice and rules. Think for a minute about the various ways that United Methodists worship worldwide. There are a variety of music styles from the formal hymns with tunes by dead Germans to the American folk tunes of the Cokesbury hymnal to contemporary rock and roll music to the world music we find among indigenous cultures in Africa and the Philippines. Some of our worship is highly liturgical and some is emergent. One church in our conference has five services each weekend, and each one has a different way to praise the Lord and experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

At the same time, we do insist on uniformity of practice in some areas. While we acknowledge that there are Christians who do not practice infant baptism, we don’t tolerate differences on that issue. If you are a United Methodist, you must acknowledge the validity of infant baptism. The same is true with the ordination of women. Our discipline is clear and we don’t allow variation on that issue. While we embrace diversity on some points, there are others where we insist on uniformity of practice.

Given that these conversations need to take place, how do we have them?

I want you to know that our teaching sessions at annual conference next June will center on the theme of difficult conversations and we have invited Ms. Stephanie Hixon and Bishop Janice Huie to be with us. Between now and then, Rev. Evelyn Fisher our own Director of Congregational Excellence, is leading workshops for clergy about how to talk about difficult subjects in our local churches.

Today I want to summarize some of the spiritual principles that should be guiding us. Throughout, I want to stay rooted in the Word of God. I am reading Ephesians 4 every day, and it begins with these words:

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

This text reminds is of who we are—we are to lead lives worth of our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are to remain humble—there is not one of us who is so perfect that we are sure we are right on every point. We are all sinners. We are all connected and we need to bear with each other. We need to remember the great commandment of Jesus, that above all we are to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means listening to each other, respecting each other, acknowledging that the other might be right, and remaining connected to each other even when our emotions start to interfere.

Many of the conflicts in our culture arise because of a lack of love, a lack of communication, a lack of mutual respect, a lack of staying connected to each other, and a lack of unity. That is true in our families, our congregations, our communities and our nation. As technology has changed patterns of conversation, people have migrated to talking only with those who agree with them. Conversations have become less thoughtful and deep and more focused around sound bites and slogans. Our American culture has become more polarized, and those attitudes are infecting our church. We Christians, united by the love of God and our baptism into the body of Christ, can surely do better than this.

One key resource for us Wesleyans is John Wesley’s sermon “Catholic Spirit”. He starts with the text from 2 Kings 10:15 where Jehu meets Jehonadab and asks, “Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart? Jehonadab answers, “It is.” Then Jehu responds, “If it is, give me your hand.” Wesley makes it clear that different people will have different thoughts on matters of opinion. The essentials we are agreed upon. But on other matters, disagreements are inevitable. If you were to make a list of my opinions and they totaled 100, I am certain that I am wrong on at least one of them. I don’t know which one is wrong—if I did I would change it. But I know that somewhere I am mistaken. So if you and I disagree about something, even though I think I am right on that point, I should remember that this may in fact be the place where I am wrong and you are right. That helps me respect you more, and enhances my humility, and keeps me in conversation because I might learn where I am mistaken. This allows for what Wesley calls a catholic spirit. Here is what he says in one of his closing paragraphs:

But while he is steadily fixed in his religious principles in what he believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus; while he firmly adheres to that worship of God which he judges to be most acceptable in his sight; and while he is united by the tenderest and closest ties to one particular congregation, –his heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not; he embraces with strong and cordial affection neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies. This is catholic or universal love. And he that has this is of a catholic spirit. For love alone gives the title to this character: catholic love is a catholic spirit.

Over the next few years we will be having difficult conversations about many topics, and the most important way to have them is for all of us to embody and practice Catholic Spirit.

Now let’s talk specifically about the controversies around human sexuality. We have been debating the topics of abortion and homosexuality since 1972. There are two sets of questions that are before the church.

The first set concerns our doctrine. One way to pose it is to ask, “What is our doctrine of sanctification regarding human sexuality?” We believe in sanctification as the goal of the Christian life, and we have described that pathway ever since the general rules were first published in 1743. They have evolved over time, but the basic format of doing no harm and avoiding evil of every kind, doing good, being in every kind merciful and doing good every possible sort, and attending upon all of the ordinances of God as the means of grace—these are still binding on United Methodists.

Now same-gender marriage is becoming more widely accepted, and I am assuming it will soon become legal in all 50 US states. Modern scientific views of sexual orientation are changing people’s attitudes, and we routinely talk about LGBTQ as five sexual orientations different from heterosexual monogamous orientations. We find a lot of discussion about premarital sex, cohabitation, polygamy and polyamory in our culture today. Given all of these changes, how should the church respond? What is our doctrine of sanctification? What do we teach as the way of salvation for believers?

The focus of these debates is the wording in our social principles, paragraph 161F. It is the General Conference that speaks for our church and determines our doctrine. The social principles are one of our doctrinal statements, even though they have lesser authority than our doctrinal standards (such as the Articles of Religion, Confession of Faith and Wesley’s Sermons). It is obvious that United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue, but the General Conference decides every four years what we officially teach.

As with all doctrinal questions, we are fundamentally talking about how to interpret Scripture. We believe that the Bible is our supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice. On matters of sanctification, we have long distinguished between ceremonial laws which are not binding on Christians and moral laws which are binding on us. I have been informed by reading a number of books on this topic, but two of the most helpful are Richard Hays’ Moral Vision of the New Testament and Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible. Both of these are United Methodist elders, both are people I highly respect, and they offer you different ways of reading Scripture on this issue. Some persons will seek to deploy the so-called Wesleyan quadrilateral on this issue, and I have written books about the primacy of Scripture and how we use reason, tradition and experience in our interpretation.

The second set of questions revolves around our discipline. Is homosexuality an issue that all United Methodist clergy and congregations must practice alike? Can we tolerate different practices? What are the roles of bishops and general agencies? How will our mission shares (apportionment dollars) be used?

In the conversations currently going on in the church, several proposals advocate loosening our uniformity of practice on this issue. Some have proposed new jurisdictions, some have proposed local church options, and others have proposed amicable separation.

All of this will be decided by General Conferences every four years. If you are asking what I am doing about it as your bishop, I would remind you that I do not have either voice or vote in the General Conference. Instead, I am called to a different ministry. In my consecration as a bishop, I promised to “guard the faith, to seek the unity, and to exercise the discipline of the whole church; and to supervise and support the church’s life, work, and mission throughout the world.” I am the bishop of congregations that would describe themselves as being very progressive, very traditionalist, and very centrist on this issue. Since last year, I have been in deep and long conversations about this issue with many persons who hold many different opinions about human sexuality and sanctification and who have different opinions about the best way forward for the UMC. By and large I am disheartened by the low level of the conversation. I find too many people talking past each other in sound bites, making unfounded assumptions about the other’s position, and proposing solutions that deeply violate United Methodist connectionalism. So I have set out to improve the conversation by engaging various persons in conversation and asking them questions that will clarify their proposals. I have published my August 22 draft of this paper on my personal website, www.extremecenter.com.

I am not trying to endorse any one of these proposals. Instead, as the church discerns its future through our system of conferencing, I hope we can maintain a truly catholic spirit of love and faith, and conduct ourselves in ways that truly bring honor and glory to God.

[Questions and Answers]

A number of years ago I took a group of youth on a mission trip. The conversation in the van turned to our favorite movies and they asked me about mine. I was embarrassed but I told them the truth: “The Lion King”. I love it in part because of a scene near the end. Simba is the son of the king of the lions, and he is in exile. He is leading the good life and his watch word is “akuna matata, no worries for the rest of our days.” But back home things have gotten to be very bad, for his uncle Scar is ruining the pride of lions and disrupting the circle of life. So a messenger comes asking that Simba come back home and take his rightful place. He thinks he cannot go back, and wrestles with the decision all night. During the night he has a vision of his dead father who says to him, “Simba, remember who you are.”

My message to United Methodists is that, as we go through these difficult conversations in the next few years, let us remember who we are.

Finding a Way Through: Options for the UMC and Homosexuality

Finding A Way Through: Options for the United Methodist Church and Homosexuality

Bishop Scott Jones, August 22, 2014

 

[This paper is intended to improve the quality of conversations taking place within the United Methodist Church around the issue of homosexuality. I have sought to be fair and objective. I have chosen to list the most significant of the options being discussed, recognizing that others are being formulated and many different versions of each will be proposed. I am not endorsing or opposing any of them but simply seeking clarification and improved mutual understanding.]

 

The current discussions about how the church should adapt to the controversies about same-gender marriage and the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals could be improved by a more explicitly theological approach and greater ecclesiological precision.

Theological depth would be enhanced if participants would address how their stated positions answer the following questions, based on the three aspects of our unity (Book of Discipline, ¶101): doctrine, discipline and mission.

With regard to doctrine, what does a sanctified Christian life look like with regard to practices of sexuality, marriage and family? For example, many progressives appear to teach that God has created many sexual orientations (such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer) and that their expression within certain limits should be blessed by the church. We need answers about how many sexual orientations will be blessed by the church. We need clarity about the boundaries shaping a sanctified life. A clear understanding of the Christian view of justice should inform our mission to transform the world. On the other side, many traditionalists have made accommodations for the remarriage of divorced persons and the acceptance of serial divorces despite the clear teaching of Scripture. A clearly articulated theology of divorce, marriage and celibacy would enhance the conversation.

With regard to discipline, how much latitude with regard to marriage and ordination should be permitted by our connectional polity? Can we loosen the bonds of connection in order to preserve unity and yet give space for diverse practices about same-gender marriage and ordination of persons who are engaged in non-heterosexual relationships blessed by the church?

With regard to our mission, what vision of discipleship is offered to potential Christians and how do we propose that the world should be transformed to conform to God’s will? We know that we have differences on these issues, so clarity about our mission should find as much common ground as possible. Our commitment to pursuing justice should be a hallmark of our mission.

Ecclesiological precision would be enhanced if proposals seeking to answer disciplinary questions spelled out in greater detail exactly what changes in our polity were included and not included. What follows is a list of proposals currently being discussed. Significant efforts to consult with proponents of each proposal have been made and the conversations have sought to clarify what is included and what are the potential ramifications. Many questions yet remain. Many of these proposals carry with them implications for doctrine and mission, but those have been left unaddressed in this list. The proposals are grouped along a continuum of increasing loosening of the connection.

Assumptions

1.  Some advocates for full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) persons seek marriage equality, full inclusion of LGBTQ persons as ordained clergy and other ways of advancing their understanding of justice. They will not cease advocacy for their cause until their goal of full inclusion is attained.

2.  Many traditionalists believe it is unfaithful to belong to a denomination that teaches that the practice of homosexuality, including in covenanted, two-person relationships, is a permissible way of life for believers. In our connectional polity, the possibility of a self-avowed, practicing LGBTQ person being assigned as their pastor, providing leadership in a connectional position, or serving as a bishop is a key issue for many. Providing money for the propagation of this teaching or the support of such persons’ ministry is also a key issue. For these reasons, disciplinary changes resulting in full inclusion of LGBTQ persons would, in their view, require dividing the church. In particular, many Africans and East Europeans believe they cannot belong to a church where gay marriage is doctrinally approved or routinely permitted.

3.  Whether there is a middle ground that would allow most traditionalists to stay and yet satisfy most of the progressives is an important question. Anything short of full inclusion means that the debates and disobedience will continue.

4.  Many on the traditionalist side believe that the main issue is the disobedience of bishops and elders and the actions of annual conferences to defy the church’s doctrine and discipline. Many on the progressive side see this as an issue of justice and that disobedience to the church’s law is being done for the good of the church.

5.  Many persons in the middle are prepared to stay in a church where others believe and practice differently. However, different groups have different concerns and tolerance levels for what compromise would be sustainable over the long run and not force them to leave.

6.  Each of the proposals may need to provide enhanced exit possibilities for progressives unable to live with current teaching and practice.

7.  United States courts will continue to strike down laws that prohibit same-gender marriage. Eventually, same-gender marriage will be permitted in all 50 states. Thus, in the US, cultural pressure to grant full inclusion of LGBTQ persons will increase over time. How various churches position themselves in this cultural situation will vary, with the United Church of Christ, Episcopalians and the Evangelical Lutheran  at one place, and Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists at another. How the UMC is positioned is our question.

8.  The percentage of African delegates to the General Conference will continue to increase over time. The percentage from the most liberal US conferences will continue to decrease over time.

9.  The proposals below are subject to considerable amendment and revision between now and General Conference.

10.  Very little serious consideration has been given to analysis of whether any of these could actually pass General Conference and the annual conferences and how practicable they would be if passed.

 

The following are nine of the most significant options being discussed as ways forward.

 

 

 

 

1. Continuing Discernment with no substantive change

The General Conference makes no significant changes to the Social Principles, moral standards for ordination, appointment and conduct, or chargeable offenses regarding homosexual practice and same-gender unions and marriages.

During this time, US bishops will lead efforts to bring together persons of opposing views for dialogue and mission. In addition to dialogue, persons will be encouraged to spend the quadrennium working together on a project of charity, mission or justice.  For example, what if in 2020 we could point to 50, 100 or 200 habitat houses that were built as a part of our commitment to constructive conversation while we disagreed?

 

2. Proclaiming the Heart of United Methodism with Enhanced Exit Procedures

Leaders of the UMC redouble their efforts to share the mission, purpose and spiritual energy of the Wesleyan way of following Christ.  We find ways of communicating internally and externally the heart of United Methodism. We provide easier ways for local churches to leave if they are unable to accept our doctrine and discipline.

The Heart of United Methodism

We believe God has raised up the people called United Methodist to be a means of saving grace for individuals, societies and the world. We lead non-Christians and nominal Christians to saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We proclaim the classical faith of the church as expressed in our doctrinal standards and statements. We believe God’s grace is at work preveniently in all persons, and the journey of grace through faith is most fully experienced in

  • vibrant contextual worship
  • spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible Study
  • baptism and holy communion
  • disciplined small groups pursuing personal holiness
  • works of justice and mercy to transform the world pursuing social holiness
  • sharing the gospel with others

We are a Church, and recognize that we are one part of the larger body of Christ. We are focused on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We do this by holding in tension deep values of the Christian life, such as corporate worship and small groups, social justice and evangelism, preaching and the sacraments, global unity and local discipleship, episcopal authority and democratic discernment. Our goal is obedience to Christ and, by God’s grace, to be a useful instrument for God’s purposes of transforming individuals and the world to become the holy creation God intended.

Human Sexuality Actions in 2016

The General Conference makes no significant changes to the Social Principles, moral standards for ordination, appointment and conduct, or chargeable offenses regarding homosexual practice and same-gender unions and marriages. These remain in the Book of Discipline. Bishops and others make new efforts at continuing conversation and discernment. Authority for deciding changes resides in the General Conference.

The General Conference explicitly says that we recognize disagreements among us, and we recognize that some among us in good conscience, based on their understanding of the teachings of Scripture, can no longer live in connection with us. For those who believe the tension between obedience to the doctrine and discipline of the UMC and their understandings of justice for LGBTQ persons is unbearable, we do not want them to suffer or to forsake their perceived calling from God. Thus, the General Conference clarifies procedures for local churches to leave an annual conference. Paragraph 2548.2 will be amended to cover the following.  ‘With the consent of the resident bishop, a majority of the cabinet, and a majority of the local church conference, an annual conference may deed the property, furnishings and all tangible and intangible assets belonging to the local church to a local church belonging to another Wesleyan or evangelical denomination. The church must pay that year’s apportionments in full before the property is transferred. The motion requesting such a transfer of property must state that the persons voting in favor of such a request are doing so because they can no longer, in good conscience as Wesleyan disciples, serve Christ effectively under United Methodist doctrine and discipline regarding human sexuality, and that they intend to transfer their memberships to the congregation receiving the property and assets.”

The General Conference amends ¶422 to give the Council the responsibility of censuring its members when they fail to adequately enforce the Book of Discipline in their area. The handling of complaints against bishops is shifted to the Council of Bishops.

 

3. Integrity and Unity Led by Bishops

The issue is not ultimately one of sexuality alone, but of covenant and governance. The Council of Bishops bishops at the close of their 2014 fall meeting would issue a public statement to restore the unity of the church and the integrity of our life together. Faithful expressions of this governance in keeping with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church would include:

  • The Council’s commitment to promote, defend and uphold the church’s biblical teaching that marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman;
  • A commitment from all active bishops that they will fully enforce the Discipline with respect to those clergy members who disregard church teaching and choose to preside at same sex services;
  • A strongly worded directive to all annual conferences and jurisdictions not to circumvent the Discipline’s teachings regarding same sex services or the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals;
  • A public statement noting that those bishops who have stated they will use their influence to prevent trials as a means of just resolution for clergy who preside at same sex services have been censured by the council; and,
  • A commitment from all bishops that when trials occur they will appoint as counsel for the church individuals fully supportive of the church’s teachings and the necessity for organizational accountability.

 

4. Local Church Empowerment

Local churches would have the option of identifying themselves as inclusive of lesbian and gay persons, discerning or traditionalist. Lesbian and gay (LG) inclusive churches would be willing to perform same gender, two-person marriages and/or unions and would welcome ordained gay or lesbian clergy as pastors along with their spouse or partner. Traditionalist churches would not allow same-gender marriages or unions or allow their pastors to perform them and would not accept a lesbian or gay pastor. Churches that did not self-identify in one of those camps would consider themselves still discerning.

Clergy would self-identify in one of those three categories, and bishops would seek to match up clergy with congregations so that the categories match. Elders who self-identify as LG inclusive or traditionalist would agree to go on leave of absence if an appointment to a church with the same commitment is not available. Only clergy who self-identify as still discerning would receive guaranteed appointment.

Annual conferences would be permitted to determine whether they will or will not ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals while allowing local churches to determine if they would or would not be willing to receive gay and lesbian clergy.  In conferences where the ordination of gay and lesbian people was allowed, they would be held to the same standard heterosexual clergy are held to:  fidelity in marriage (including same-gender marriage or covenanted relationship) and celibacy in singleness.

The possibility of electing and assigning gay and lesbian bishops would be a decision made by each jurisdiction with input from the annual conferences’ members of the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee or by resolution of the annual conference. Bishops who self-designate as LG inclusive would be free to perform same-gender marriages and unions.

No provision for the full inclusion of bisexual, transgender and/or queer persons is provided in this proposal other than what currently exists.

 

5. Annual Conference Empowerment

Our UMC Constitution declares that the Annual Conference is the basic unit of our church – not the local congregation, not the Jurisdictional or Central Conference, not the Council of Bishops, not the Judicial Council, and not even the General Conference. Article IV also comments on the primary role of the Annual Conference (AC), as does ¶604, which describes the powers and duties of the AC. This proposal allows each AC around the world to make its own decisions on all matters other than those restricted by the Constitution. It allows each AC to be innovative and flexible on all matters other than our basic doctrine and theological task.

  • Each Annual Conference would be allowed to adopt its own Social Principles and approve its own resolutions applied to the cultural and political settings of its geography and people.
  • General Conference would retain authority over doctrinal standards and doctrinal statements subject to the restrictive rules. No Annual Conference would be allowed to change these.
  • Each Annual Conference would establish its own standards and processes to credential clergy and laity to serve their churches and mission field. For example, the list of approved seminaries, standards for moral conduct, the content of the course of study, processes and standards for exiting ministry and all other matters related to licensing, ordination and continuing appointment are determined by each annual conference.
  • Each Annual Conference would elect its own bishop, either for life or for a term and pay her/his salary and office expenses. Any General Church work would be paid for by the Episcopal Fund.
  • Salaries for bishops would be set by the General Conference on recommendation from GCFA.
  • Salaries and office expenses for bishops outside the United States would be paid by the Episcopal Fund.
  • General Conference would still set apportionments for all annual conferences, but at a much reduced level. General Church apportionments would support the General Administration, Episcopal (for salaries and office expenses of bishops outside the US and for all episcopal travel for General Church responsibilities), Africa University, Black College, and Interdenominational Cooperation funds. The World Service Fund and Ministerial Education Funds would be completely voluntary, decided by each annual conference.
  • Each Annual Conference would partner with the general agencies of the UMC for such services, resources and ministries which it determines that it needs.
  • Each Annual Conference would assume complete pension liability for its pre-2016 pension obligations.
  • Each Annual Conference would establish its own policies about how much latitude they would allow for ministry to gay and lesbian persons, especially taking into account the differing laws of various states in the United States and countries outside of the United States
  • Each Annual Conference would structure itself in the best ways to accomplish our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” in each AC’s unique setting
  • Jurisdictions in the United States would be abolished.
  • General Conference would focus on its primary task of adopting policies, mission goals and budgets for the whole of the UMC
  • General boards and agencies would be partners with the Annual Conferences, and would have permission to raise funds by charging for services rendered,

 

6. Strategic Disunity through Jurisdictional Empowerment

First, the five geographically-defined jurisdictions would be replaced by two ideologically-defined, non-geographic U.S. jurisdictions. (This would require Constitutional updates). Both jurisdictions would be national in scope. One would be in keeping with the present language of The Book of Discipline, and the other would take the more progressive approach.  These two jurisdictions would be equivalent to Central Conferences outside the U.S.

Second, each annual conference would vote to be part of the jurisdiction that best serves their missional needs. Conference property would go with the majority. Churches and pastors in the minority who feel they cannot stay in their conference would have a year or so to indicate their desire to be placed in the other jurisdiction. A jurisdictional committee would place these churches appropriately as they redraw the boundaries of their conferences. Displaced clergy could find a new appointment through a jurisdictional task force created to address this need. In the end, each jurisdiction would have an overlapping system of conferences that would en-compass the nation. Both jurisdictions would have freedom to do ministry anywhere in the U.S.

Third, our U.S. bishops would each choose a jurisdiction in which to serve and be assigned appropriately by their new Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy.

The most divisive matters related to ordination standards and human sexuality would be relegated to the central and jurisdictional conferences.  The Social Principles in The Book of Discipline could be reduced to something akin to the Preamble to our Social Principles that currently exists.  The bulk of the specifics in our social statements could be given to the jurisdictions and central conferences who could freely adapt them to best address their own convictions and social challenges.   The General Conference would continue to function under the rubric of Section IV of our Constitution and preserve the global connection of United Methodism.

The general boards and agencies would undergo reorganization to best serve the growing Central Conferences and two U.S. Jurisdictions.  For instance, the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits might require minimal change while the work of the General Board of Church and Society might be divided among the jurisdictions.  The goal would be to divide up the work of the church in such a way as to avoid future conflicts between jurisdictions.  (For instance, making The Episcopal Fund a jurisdictional matter might avoid a future conflict over apportionments in the more conservative jurisdiction going to pay the salary of a LGBTQ bishop elected in the more progressive jurisdiction.)

After the reorganization is complete, a church seeking to change its jurisdictional affiliation would be able to do so only by vote of their annual conference.  Clergy could transfer from conference to conference using the same process we currently have in place.

 

7. Full Inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Persons

The scriptures describe God’s creating human beings for loving and faithful relationships.  Committed relationships between LGBTQ persons were unknown in biblical times, and the application of biblical texts for the contemporary situation is very complex.   Human sexuality is a mystery, and culture has continually been a strong filter in the study of the Biblical texts.   God creates great diversity, and God’s loving purpose is loving redemption of the whole creation. The hymns of Charles Wesley resonate with the strong word “all,” describing the all-encompassing greatness of God, the all-sufficient grace available to all, and the mission of Jesus Christ to all people.  In our human family are persons who are heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer. These persons have long been misunderstood and marginalized in ways that are contrary to the teaching of scripture.

The church should guide all persons into faithful, covenanted expressions of two-person relationships based on their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is not a basis on which the UMC should deny church membership and leadership opportunity.  Persons should not be denied clergy rights on the basis of sexual orientation. United Methodist clergy and congregations should not be restricted from offering pastoral care and marriage to LGBTQ persons.  No pastor or church should be required to perform marriages either traditional or same-gender.  This is a matter of pastoral discretion.  Persons with gifts for leadership should be welcomed at all levels of the church.

 

8. Amicable Separation by Annual Conference

The Book of Discipline would be amended to give to annual conferences in the United States the same privilege available to those outside the US to withdraw from the denomination to become or join an autonomous Methodist, affiliated autonomous Methodist or affiliated united church (see ¶ 572). Thus, with permission of the jurisdictional conference, an entire annual conference could leave to form or join a new methodist or united church. Local churches that do not want to follow their annual conference into the new church would be allowed to separate under ¶2548.2 and join a United Methodist conference, thereby remaining in the UMC. Any new church formed through this process would determine its own doctrine, discipline and name.

 

9. Amicable Separation into Two Different Denominations

The United Methodist Church would divide into two different denominations with an equitable and gracious division of general church assets. Each annual conference would choose whether to align with the Progressive Methodist Church or the Traditionalist Methodist Church. Congregations that did not want to follow their annual conference would have a period of time in which to change conferences. This might well result in two denominations each of which had at least one congregation in all fifty US states. All clergy, including bishops, would choose which denomination to belong to. If one denomination had too many active bishops, the bishops would decide who should retire or be assigned to serve as pastor of a local church.

The two new denominations would quickly move to choose their own names, neither of which would be “The United Methodist Church.” General church assets would be divided equitably and amicably. Both denominations would continue to belong to the World Methodist Council. Both would continue to be served by the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits and the United Methodist Publishing House. Each church’s general conference would retain as much or as little of the present Book of Discipline as it wishes.

Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the UMC 2012 report

Total Number of Pages: 12

Agency: Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The UMC

Title of Report: Report to General Conference from the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church

 

Executive Summary

From August, 2009 to July, 2011, the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church held six meetings to fulfill its mandate. It spent significant time in listening sessions in the United States, the Philippines, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Europe. What the Study Committee heard was both a deep commitment to the worldwide unity of the UMC and a deep yearning for change. All over the world people wanted to be part of one global church and yet there were many ideas for how to live more fully into our worldwide nature.

 

The requests for change were many: greater equality among the parts of the church; less United States dominance of General Conference; locating General Conference in countries besides the United States; moving cultural issues out of General Conference into Central Conferences; greater emphasis at General Conference on the mission of the Church. We heard requests for more opportunities for interaction among the Central Conferences. We heard negative comments on the politicization of elections, both of delegates and of bishops; we heard concern about salary inequalities and desire that economic conditions in episcopal areas be taken into account in determining bishop salaries. We heard many comments about The Book of Discipline, in particular of its irrelevance to impoverished portions of the world and the need for a more useful and contemporary book. We heard requests for a smaller global Book of Discipline containing only those things necessary to the identity and common mission of The United Methodist Church, and for separate Books of Discipline dealing with what are currently the adaptable portions of the Discipline. There were many issues concerning Boards and Agencies, structural problems, financing, social principles, and the great need for more educational opportunities in Africa and in the Philippines. The Study Committee is aware that some of these issues, such as salary inequalities, are not addressed in the proposed model, but that they should require further study for integral change.

 

The Committee has sought to address the concerns raised regarding the constitutional amendments passed by the 2008 General Conference and not approved by annual conference members: increased financial burdens due to an added layer of bureaucracy; weakening of the denomination’s connectional unity; and relativization of the Social Principles.

 

Since the earliest forms of central conferences in 1884 there have only been slow modifications with additional powers given to them up to the union of 1968. Despite repeated calls for changes, the denomination’s worldwide structure remained the same, mainly due to the U.S. church’s preoccupation with its own local concerns and interests. It is now imperative for The United Methodist Church to reconsider the global realities of its connection, as its parts outside the bounds of the United States, in particular in Asia and Africa, rapidly grow as never before. The Committee’s report, with three petitions and one model for conversation, constitutes its response to what its members heard. The Committee believes that living more fully into the worldwide nature of our church is a long process and it offers four next steps to the General Conference. Three are petitions to change the Book of Discipline. The most important of these is a covenant to continue shaping our hearts, minds and behaviors throughout our denomination. Another of these offers clarity about what parts of the Book of Discipline are truly global and what parts can be adapted by Central Conferences. Another proposed change instructs general agencies to “build up and empower ministry through sustainable programs and infrastructure which enable local and regional units to increase ownership and responsibility.”

 

The Committee’s fourth contribution is a model to stimulate and guide the continuing conversation about the most appropriate global model for our worldwide structure. The key lesson of the constitutional amendments passed by the 2008 General Conference is that the church must take time to think these issues through as carefully as possible. The Committee is proposing a model for conversation during the next quadrennium. This model, we hope, will stimulate proposals for action in the 2016 General Conference to change our worldwide structure. The Committee strongly believes that significant conversation on our worldwide nature must continue.

 

Our Vision

The Study Committee sees a worldwide United Methodist Church driven to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. To live more fully into this vision, we are working toward (1) deeper connections throughout the church, (2) greater local authority, (3) and more equitable sharing of power, representation, and responsibility around the world.

 

Our Process

The twenty members of the Study Committee and its thirteen consultants represent the rich diversity within the United Methodist Church. Its first meeting was held in Atlanta, United States August 23-26, 2009. At this meeting, the Committee organized and identified issues, and adopted its policies and procedures. Members shared experiences from Central Conferences and Jurisdictional Conferences. They listened and asked questions, seeking to understand the life of the United Methodist Church throughout the world. Learning from previous work, the Study Committee saw the importance of transparency throughout the whole process. Out of this first meeting a process started with the leading words: transparency, listening and being in conversation. In order to be transparent and to get knowledge about the worldwide church, the Study Committee actively sought input from the United Methodist Church around the world. Invitation was send out to boards and general agencies, to caucuses and other church-related interest groups, to come and present their view of a worldwide church. Input was solicited from all affiliated autonomous and united churches. members of the Study Committee attended a variety of meetings to listen and share our process, including the World Methodist Council Executive Committee, Global Young People’s meeting in Europe, the European Methodist Council meeting in Spain, and  the Methodist Church of Great Britain (with representatives of Methodist Churches in Ireland, Portugal and Italy). A website was started where everyone could give their input to the process and get information about the process. To be able to listen and be in conversation you need to meet people, therefore the Study Committee decided to place two of the six meetings in Central Conferences.  The first meeting outside United States was held in Manila, Philippines, April 18-21, 2010. To be more effective the Study Committee was divided into four listening, groups when the next meeting was held in Africa, August 2010. The Study Committee met people in Liberia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Cote d’Ivoire. Between the meetings the Study Committee has been working in small working groups with different tasks to make the work move forward to the next meeting. Phone conferences and e-mail have been used in this work. The last two meetings were held in the United States, in Dallas, Texas and Chicago, Illinois in 2011 to finalize the work.

 

What We Heard

The following is a summary of what the study committee as a whole or in small groups heard across the connection.

 

I. General Conference

  1. GC      should be limited to issues essential to identity and essence of UMC (Philippines,     Maputo).
  2. Too      much time is spent in GC onUSissues (Philippines,     Europe); Central Conferences are forced      into US issues (Europe).
  3. Take      cultural items out of GC and place them either in Central Conferences,      Annual Conferences, or Jurisdictions (Maputo).
  4. US      not sensitive enough about keeping cultural differences in mind      (Kamina/Lubumbashi)
  5. We      need time and space opportunities at GC for Central Conferences to meet      together around pan-continental Central Conference issues (Liberia).
  6. Need      opportunities at GC to share Central Conference issues with the whole      church, such as bringing issues that particularly affect African churches      to the whole church (Liberia).
  7. Central      Conference decisions made at the level of Central Conferences should be      presented to GC (Liberia).
  8. We      need greater transparency in Central Conference election of delegates to      GC, and training should be made available to help delegates to fulfill      their responsibilities (Zimbabwe).
  9. We      should de-politicize the election of delegates to GC (Philippines).
  10. The      varying cultures of the worldwide church should be taken into account in      GC worship services (Cote        d’Ivoire).
  11. The     US     location of GC, and the length of time it requires away from one’s home      responsibilities, are problematic both financially and missionally (Philippines).
  12. GC      too focused on legislation and too occupied with parliamentary rules (Europe).
  13. We      are too focused on doctrine and polity and not enough on mission and life      together (Europe).

 

II. Bishops

  1. Consistency in election is critical; the diversity of term elections/elections for life/re-election brings chaos to continent ofAfrica(Congo,Maputo).  Limit terms of office so that more people can become bishops (Liberia)
  2. Need consistency in election practices across church (Philippines)
  3. Where there is no itineration of bishops, the affected Episcopal area does the election (Zimbabwe)
  4. Bishops should be able to itinerate (Maputo)
  5. Inequality of salaries between bishops and pastors a problem  (Philippines,Liberia)
  6. For the election of bishops, have a monitoring system with independent observers who supervise the process from nomination through election (Zimbabwe)
  7. Necessity, given strong cultural and language differences, for AC’s to elect their own bishops (Maputo, Kamina,Lubumbashi)
  8. More bishops are needed, but episcopal funds are allocated to travel to US for retired bishops rather than for appointment of more bishops as needed (Zimbabwe)
  9. CollegeofAfrican Bishopsonly has funding to meet once a year (Zimbabwe)
  10. Elections of bishops highly politicized [partly due to salary inequities] (Philippines)
  11. District Superintendents are extensions of office of bishop, and should be funded just as bishops are funded (Philippines)

 

III. Book of Discipline (BoD)

  1. No      common BoD inAfrica(Zimbabwe,Congo)
  2. Widespread      unavailability of BoD leads to arbitrary decisions (Zimbabwe)      and to use of 1988 BoD as determinative (Maputo)
  3. Need      for more general global BoD (Zimbabwe,Congo,Liberia,Philippines,     Europe)
  4. Central      Conference persons should write CC adaptations of BoD (Liberia)
  5. Central      Conference adaptations should be in the language/s of the CC’s (Congo)
  6. Current      ability to adapt BoD to CC’s very important (Congo,Philippines,     Europe)
  7. Assimilate      practices of Central Conferences into BoD (Liberia)
  8. No      functional BoD  (Maputo)
  9. What      general church requires does not fit domestic and cultural needs of      Central Conferences; need freedom and power to adapt Discipline and      ministerial practices to local context (Philippines).
  10. Current      BoD does not reflect cultural diversity       (Europe).
  11. Current      BoD overwhelmed with too detailed regulations (Europe)
  12. Better      to keep a global BoD for at least a ten year period, thus requiring fewer      translation and publishing costs (Europe).
  13. A      global BoD can only give general guidelines, not precise legal      stipulations, because of the wide differences of cultural and legal      settings (Europe)

 

IV. Social Principles

  1. Must      be sensitive to cultural differences (Zimbabwe)
  2. Very      strong social ministry across African conferences and inPhilippines     (noted in every area we heard from).
  3. Best      to take cultural differences (homosexuality) out of Book of Discipline and      leave such issues to Central Conferences (Maputo)
  4. Child      labor an issue (Cote        d’Ivoire); inLiberia, child      apprenticeships.  Work with parents,      such as family farms, a norm.
  5. Human      trafficking and sex trade an increasing problem (Cote d’Ivoire)
  6. In      US, “justice” orients mission; inCote d’Ivoire, mission is to      help people, and to train people to help.       Organized humanitarian work, and fight against discrimination (Cote d’Ivoire)
  7. Missionof church      transcends races and regions (Philippines)

 

V. Agencies

  1. Agencies/donors      typically do not listen to needs and priorities of local church.  Ideally, AC leaders would meet, share      and list concerns, organize workshops together, then ask for funding.  Programs are typically determined by US;      if aUS     group wants church to do something, money is available, but ifZimbabwe     initiates it, funding is difficult to find (Zimbabwe).
  2. Why      not African Board of Missions, funded by African conferences? (Zimbabwe)
  3. UMCOM      training not applicable to African situation (Zimbabwe)
  4. Some      boards and agencies of GC are irrelevant to situation of CC’s (Philippines)
  5. Need      for regional boards and agencies (Philippines)
  6. Although      GBOD has planted an Upper Room ministries office in South Africa, the      greater needs for educational/spiritual resource materials throughout the      continent outstrip the financial capacity to print, distribute, or      purchase them (GBOD)
  7. GBOD      experimenting with hiring local people for onsite training systems; “We      need strong and robust regional efforts to build sustainable local      ministry efforts” (GBOD).
  8. Boards      and agenciesU.S.     oriented; come to European Central Conferences with US-based perspective      or resources.  Difficult for them to      understand fully the cultural and social contexts of the Central      Conferences (Europe).

 

VI. Pan-Connection Issues

  1. Easier      to travel to US than to various African AC’s/CC’s.  Funding available from US for former,      not latter.
  2. Need      time and place and funds to meet
  3. Appreciate      ability to share experiences through Central Conferences (Cote d’Ivoire)
  4. There      are regional issues, and the regions of the UMC need to gather to address      regional issues (GBOD).

 

VII. Finances

  1. Poverty      inAfricaleads to financial dependence      on US church
  2. Strong      desire that US funds be used to start projects that will provide      sustainable source of African income so that African churches can be more      self-supporting (Liberia,     Congo)
  3. CCs      must do their share in contributing financial resources to the whole      church (Liberia,     Cote d’Ivoire,     Philippines)
  4. Pastors      are paid less than they can live on; necessary to provide pastors with      living wage (Congo,     Liberia)
  5. GCFA      doesn’t cover travel within continent, but only to US (Zimbabwe)
  6. Power      and financial resources linked too strongly; hence non-monetary resources      of African church not recognized as valuable (Zimbabwe)
  7. Rising      new communities do not have the resources available to sustain growth of      the church (Maputo)
  8. Churches      inEuropegive more per capita than US      churches.  European Central      Conferences contribute to general funds and to mission projects and      theological education.  European      Central Conferences do various ministries cooperatively on equal terms (Europe).

 

VIII. Education

  1. Ministerial      education problematic and uneven across church (Philippines,Liberia)
  2. Accessible      educational institutions a huge need (Liberia)
  3. Difficulties      of intra-African travel make participation inAfricaUniversity     difficult for non-Zimbabwean Africans.
  4. Poverty      makes tuition requirements a huge barrier (Congo)
  5. Lack      of education and no common language are two of greatest barriers to      progress and ability to work within the connection (Congo)
  6. Lack      of basic structural needs, such as electricity, dormitories, and      mattresses for students in new UM University (Congo)
  7. Need      for lay education at all levels (Liberia,Zimbabwe)
  8. Need      for local educational resources (Zimbabwe)
  9. Need      for African developed educational resources for whole church (Zimbabwe)
  10. Lack      of clarity regarding relationship between the conference andAfricaUniversityboard (Zimbabwe)
  11. Only      a minority have internet access; need for hard copy accessibility (Zimbabwe)
  12. Need      education for women, laity

 

IX. Laity

  1. Association      of Conference Lay Leaders US dominated; need regional association of lay      leaders (Zimbabwe)
  2. Need      for Council of Laity, parallel to Council of Bishops (Zimbabwe)
  3. Education      for laity—especially Staff Parish committees—essential (Liberia,Zimbabwe)
  4. Board      of Laity holds seminars to train lay leaders; also, have aLayLeadershipAcademy     (Cote d’Ivoire)

 

X. Other

  1. Legal      issues inMaputo     involving courts, break-away pastors
  2. UMC      presence in South Africa creating problems as Methodist Church of South      Africa members switch to UMC, especially because of its more democratic      structure (Maputo)
  3. Need      for greater transparency and greater democracy in all processes of global      and local church life, but especially in terms of pastoral appointments (Maputo)
  4. Disparity      between nature and practice of Central Conference churches and      jurisdictional churches an enduring problem (Philippines)
  5. Missionaries      fromAfricaandPhilippines     to US (Philippines,     Liberia)
  6. Crucial      for European churches to be and remain part of the worldwide UMC in order      to be fully recognized as a church and not a sect.  Ecumenical relations very important (Europe)
  7. Current      UMC structures too complex and place unnecessary strain on small local      congregations (Europe)
  8. Need      for clarity and details concerning any restructuring proposals, and for      teaching sessions across the church prior to any General Conference      legislation (Confessing Movement)
  9. We      promote our Catholicity by taking our diversity seriously, such as by      promoting regional boards and agencies in places other than theUnited States     (National Association of Asian American United Methodists)

 

IX. From the Report of the Study Committee on the Relationship Between The United Methodist church and the Autonomous Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean

  1. Affirm      a mutuality of mission, extending itself in both directions
  2. Create      a comprehensive committee on Connectional Program, to meet once per      quadrennium.
  3. Encourage      ongoing program of visitation of bishops and lay and clergy leaders to      facilitate mutual understanding of each partner’s context of mission and      ministry.
  4. Support      and enable direct relationships between local churches and Annual      Conferences.
  5. Activate      the Conference of Methodist Bishops
  6. All      communications between The UMC and the Methodist churches ofLatin Americaand theCaribbean     be conducted through official lines of authority in the official languages      of the receiving churches.
  7. Official      Web pages include links to each other’s Web pages.
  8. All      GC documents be translated into Spanish and made available to delegates      whose language preference is Spanish.
  9. That      all our churches join in being a prophetic voice in the face of multiple      social justice issues, particularly to injustices caused directly and      indirectly byU.S.     international policies.

 

A Covenant for The United Methodist Church as a Worldwide Church

Proposed New ¶ after ¶124

United Methodists throughout the world are bound together in a connectional covenant in which we support and hold each other accountable for faithful discipleship and mission. Integrally holding connectional unity and local freedom, we seek to proclaim and embody the gospel in ways responsible to our specific cultural and social context while maintaining “a vital web of interactive relationships” (131). Through a worldwide covenant relationship, we carry out our missional calling beyond national and regional boundaries. For our connectionalism to become a living practice, we need to carry the worldwide nature of The United Methodist Church deep into the life and mission of our local congregations. Only when we commit ourselves to interdependent worldwide partnerships in prayer, mission, and worship can connectionalism as the Wesleyan ecclesial vision be fully embodied. Guided by the Holy Spirit, United Methodist churches throughout the world are called afresh into a covenant of mutual commitment based on shared mission, equity, and hospitality.

 

In covenant with God and with each other:

We affirm our unity in Christ, and take faithful steps to live more fully into what it means to be a worldwide church in mission for the transformation of the world.

 

We endeavor to understand, respect, and embrace the diversity of ethnicity and culture in our denomination, and commit ourselves to mutual love and trust.

 

We participate in God’s mission as partners in ministry, recognizing that our God-given gifts, experiences, and resources are of equal value, whether spiritual, financial, or missional.

 

We commit ourselves to full equity and inclusion in our relationships, structures, and responsibilities for the denomination.

 

We enter afresh into a relationship of mutuality, creating a new sense of community and joyously living out our worldwide connection in mission for the transformation of the world.

 

Litany for the Covenant of The Worldwide United Methodist Church

Leader: In covenant with God and each other, we affirm our unity in Christ.

People: We will take faithful steps to live more fully into what it means to be a worldwide church in mission for the transformation of the world.

Leader: In covenant with God and each other, we endeavor to understand, respect and value one another.

People: We embrace and celebrate the diversity of ethnicity and culture in our denomination, and commit ourselves to mutual love and trust.

Leader: In covenant with God and each other, we participate in God’s mission as partners in ministry.

People: We gratefully recognize that our God-given gifts, experiences, and resources are of equal value, whether spiritual, financial or missional.

Leader: In covenant with God and each other, we commit ourselves to full equality.

People: We uphold equity in our relationships, structures, and responsibilities for the denomination.

Leader: In covenant with God and each other, we enter afresh into a relationship of mutuality.

All: With God’s grace we joyously live out our worldwide connection in mission for the transformation of the world.

 

Global Book of Discipline Petition

 

New Part II, ¶101 (Renumber Parts III, IV and V)

The Book of Discipline reflects our Wesleyan way of serving Christ through doctrine and disciplined Christian life. We are a worldwide denomination united by doctrine, discipline and mission through our connectional covenant. The Book of Discipline expresses that unity. Each central conference may make changes and adaptations to the Book of Discipline to more fruitfully accomplish our mission in various contexts. However, some portions of the Book of Discipline are not subject to adaptation. The following parts and paragraphs are not subject to change or adaptation except by action of the General Conference. The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters has primary responsibility for proposing to General Conference revisions to this paragraph.

 

Parts I-IV (new Parts I-V)

1.  Constitution ¶¶ 1-61

2.  Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task ¶¶ 101-104

3.  The Ministry of All Christians ¶¶ 120 – 142

4.  Social Principles Preface, Preamble and ¶¶160 – 166

Part V (new Part VI)

5.  The Local Church and Church Membership ¶¶200-205

a.  The requirements, definition, and meaning of membership ¶¶214-242,

b.  local church organization ¶¶243-252, 259-260

6.  Ministry of the Ordained ¶¶ 301-341, 343, 346-348, 353-369

                   a.  Paragraphs 324.3 through 324.7 are not global

7.  The Superintendency  ¶¶401-417, 419-435

8.  The General and Central Conferences ¶¶501-11, 540-591

9.  The Annual Conference ¶¶ 601-612.1, 631, 635, 657-658

10.  Administrative Order

a.  General provisions ¶¶ 701

11.  Church Property ¶¶ 2501–2512, 2524, 2532

12.  Judicial Council ¶¶ 2601-2612, 2701-19

Addition to ¶335.(3) as a new (e): Annual Conference boards of ordained ministry outside the United States are empowered to set different educational standards for candidates for full conference membership and ordination as elders so long as they include courses in United Methodist history, doctrine, polity and evangelism.

Addition to ¶330.(3) as a new (d): Annual Conference boards of ordained ministry outside the United States are empowered to set different educational standards for candidates for full conference membership and ordination as deacons so long as they include courses in United Methodist history, doctrine, polity and evangelism.

 

General Agencies Petition

Amend ¶701.3 and create new ¶701.4:

Insert the following after “capable of rapid response:”

They contribute to the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church both in the United States and in other parts of the world through a collaborative systemic and holistic approach. They build up and empower ministry through sustainable programs and infrastructure which enable local and regional units to increase ownership and responsibility.

4.

 

A Model for the Worldwide Structure

Of The United Methodist Church

 

STRUCTURE

  1. As the highest legislative body of the United Methodist Church, the General Conference has the authority for all things distinctively connectional and is the only body that speaks for the entire church.
  2. TheUnitedMethodistChurchshall consist of Central Conferences.
  3. A Central Conference shall be created in theUnited Statescomprising the five jurisdictions. The U.S. Central Conference shall have the rights and privileges defined by the Constitution except for the election of bishops which would continue to occur in Jurisdictions. Central Conferences would not alter the Global Book of Discipline which could be changed only by action of the General Conference.
  4. Existing Central Conferences will remain the same, except that a larger Central Conference shall have the right to create jurisdictions within its boundaries.
  5. Central Conferences across the connection shall be decision-making bodies for initiatives, programs, and matters related to their particular missional contexts.
  6. There will be a reconfiguration of agencies including some agencies that are global and others that are regional.
  7. There will be a reconfiguration of connectional funding to the effect that some funds will be global and under the authority of the General Conference, and others be local and under the authority of the Central Conferences.
  8. Economics within episcopal areas shall be taken into account in determining Bishops’ salaries.

 

 

THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE

  

  1. The      Book of Discipline shall be comprised of two volumes.
  2. Volume      I shall be the Global Book of Discipline, which is amendable only by the      General Conference:

Parts I-IV

  • Constitution ¶¶ 1-61
  • Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task ¶¶ 101-104
  • The Ministry of All Christians ¶¶ 120 – 142
  • Social Principles Preface, Preamble and ¶¶160 – 166

 

Part V

  • TheLocalChurchand Church Membership ¶¶200-205
  • The requirements, definition, and meaning of membership ¶¶214-242
  • Local church organization ¶¶243-252, 259-260
  • Ministry of the Ordained ¶¶ 301-341 (with the exception of ministerial educational standards), 343, 346-348, 353-369
  • The Superintendency ¶¶401-417, 419-435
  • The General and Central Conferences ¶¶501-11, 540-591
  • The Annual Conference ¶¶ 601-612.1, 631, 635, 657-658
  • Administrative Order
  • General provisions ¶¶ 701
    • Church Property ¶¶ 2501–2512, 2524, 2532
    • Judicial Council ¶¶ 2601-2612, 2701-19

 

  1. Volume      II shall consist of all paragraphs not included in Volume I and be      adaptable by the Central Conferences in accordance with their missional and      cultural contexts.

 

FUNCTIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY

 

General Conference

  • Worship and Worldwide Missional Celebration
  • Maintaining the Connection
  • The Global Book of Discipline (Volume I) including Social Principles
  • Reports from the Central Conferences concerning changes made to their respective Volume II of the Book of Discipline
  • Opportunities for Central Conferences to engage with other Central Conferences in their geographical area to address common issues
  • Election of Judicial Council
  • General Church Programs and Initiatives
  • Financial Action on Global Funds
  • Accountability for Global Agencies
  • Doctrines and Rituals for Worldwide Use
  • Membership
  • Opportunities to engage with Ecumenical Partners/Affiliated Churches delegates

 

Central Conferences

  • Central Conferences shall have the right to create jurisdictions within their boundaries for reasons such as the geographical size of the conference or different language areas within the conference.
  • Election of Bishops and Episcopal Assignments in Central Conferences without  Jurisdictions
  • Establishment of Boundaries for Annual Conferences and Episcopal Areas in Central Conferences without Jurisdictions
  • Formulation of Petitions to General Conference for the Global Book of Discipline (Volume I) and making changes in Volume II of the Book of Discipline
  • Equitable Sharing in the Mission and Support of the General Church
  • Financial action on Central Conference funds
  • Accountability for relationships with Regional Agencies (United Methodist or ecumenical)
  • Educational Standards and Opportunities for Clergy and Laity
  • Lifting up Lay Leadership
  • Existing Central Conferences may meet as they do currently; and the US Central Conference may meet either before or after General Conference. The general Church fund shall provide for the expenses of the sessions of Central Conferences.
  • Judicial Court

 

Jurisdictions

  • Election of Bishops and Episcopal Assignments
  • Establishment of Boundaries for Annual Conferences and Episcopal Areas
  • Formulation of Petitions to the Central Conference for changes in Volume II of the Book of Discipline

 

Annual Conferences

  • Election      of Delegates to General, Central, and Jurisdictional Conferences
  • Formulation of Petitions to General Conference      for the Global Book of Discipline (Volume I) and to Jurisdictions and/or      Central Conference for changes in Volume II of the Book of Discipline

 

IMPLEMENTING PROCESS:

  1. The      Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church      will present a model for a new worldwide structure at the 2012 General      Conference.
  2. The      Study Committee will develop a study guide on the proposed worldwide      structure of The United Methodist Church for study and response by annual      conferences during 2012-2014.
  3. The      Connectional Table shall enable a process to support the study and receive      the results. In the fall of 2014, the Connectional Table shall oversee the      development of recommendations, petitions, and constitutional amendments      for the 2016 General Conference based on their consideration of the study      results.

 

Membership of the Study Committee:

Bishop Christian Alstead, Northern Europe Central Conference

Dr. David Beckley, Mississippi Annual Conference

Ms. Elisabeth Englund, Sweden Annual Conference

Rev. Ruby-Nell Estrella, Philippines Annual Conference

Ms. Sandra Ferguson, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference

Dr. Richard Grounds, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference

Bishop John Innis, West Africa Central Conference

Bishop Scott Jones, chairperson, South Central Jurisdiction

Rev. Dr. Ilunga Kandolo Kasolwa, North Katanga Annual Conference

Mr. Matthew Laferty, East Ohio Annual Conference

Rev. Forbes Matonga, West Zimbabwe Annual Conference

Rev. Dr. Timothy McClendon, South Carolina Annual Conference

Ms. Christina Mlambo, East Zimbabwe Annual Conference

Rev. Lyssette Perez, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference

Rev. Joon-Sik Park, West Ohio Annual Conference

Rev. Dr. Bruce Robbins, Minnesota Annual Conference

Bishop Leo Soriano, Philippines Central Conference

Rev. Dr. Cathy Stengel, Upper New York Annual Conference

Dr. Marjorie Suchocki, California-Pacific Annual Conference

Ms. Monalisa Tuitahi, California-Pacific Annual Conference

 

Consultants

Bishop Minerva Carcaño (Affiliated Autonomous Churches in Latin America)

Bishop Lindsey Davis (General Council on Finance and Administration)

Rev. H. Eddie Fox (World Methodist Council)

Bishop Larry Goodpaster (Council of Bishops)

Mr. Moses Kumar (General Council on Finance and Administration)

Bishop Bruce Ough (General Board of Global Ministries)

Bishop Gregory Palmer (Council of Bishops)

Mr. Thomas Kemper (General Board of Global Ministries)

Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader (Ecumenical Officer)

Bishop Roy Sano (Affiliated Autonomous Churches of Asia)

Rev. Stephen Sidorak (General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns)

Bishop Patrick Streiff (Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters)

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson (General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns)

World Wide Nature of the UMC 2007 report to COB

 

 

WORLDWIDE MINISTRY THROUGH THE

UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

 

An Interim Report of the Task Group on the Global Nature of the Church

Council of Bishops and The Connectional Table

Spring, 2007

THE WORLD-WIDE MISSION OF THE UMC

 

The global dimensions of The United Methodist Church have resulted from the strong missionary outreach of its predecessor denominations.  Faithfulness to the Wesleyan interpretation of the gospel imperative to share the joy of salvation in Christ and to become agents of that saving grace in serving neighbors through programs of personal and social development has manifested itself in a church implanted on five continents…

 

The challenge has always been, and remains today, learning how to accommodate or enable the witness of this global community of faith within the connectional spirit and structure of Methodism.[1]

 

We believe God needs a church that is more fully ready for world-wide mission and ministry. United Methodism, because of its missionary thrust and connectional nature, could play a leading role among Protestant churches in the 21st century in modeling a new way of being church in the world.

 

The world is changing. People move more often from one country to another. Many nations are more interdependent socially, economically, politically and spiritually than ever before. Many are connected by new means of digital communication. In that changing context (described variously as globalization, interdependence, or digital revolution) where the world is becoming more closely connected and interdependent, we believe that the missional witness of the disciples of Jesus Christ should also be appropriately connected and interdependent.

 

In short, The United Methodist Church should live into its world-wide nature more fully.  We choose to use the word “worldwide” to describe the nature of United Methodism. “Worldwide” differs from “global” as it has been used in the discussion of recent decades. Referring to the world is wider and more appropriate than to the globe. The Church’s mission is to the world, not to the globe. “World”, theologically, is more than a geographic term: it is God’s blessed creation, God’s adversary in its fallen state, the object of God’s love and salvation through Christ and reconciliation.

 

WHY NOW?

 

The urgency is in attempting to answer our call as Christians to live differently in the world, to offer the world a better version of unity and interdependence, in short to be a counter culture. Recent developments in world Christianity call for a new emphasis on a concept of mission that addresses a world community and would not be impeded by national, cultural and economic barriers. A renewed conversation was initiated during the 2004-2008 quadrennium as a result of: 1) new mission initiatives, missional cooperation and church growth, especially in Africa, 2) new initiatives by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table, 3) the possibility of the congregations in thePhilippines seeking greater relationship with other Methodist churches in Asia and therefore considering autonomy, and 4) the establishing by the 2004 General Conference of a Consultation to Study the Relationship between the Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean and The United Methodist Church.

 

While we celebrate the worldwide nature of our ministry as United Methodists, we confess that too often we fail to operate as the body of Christ as described in 1 Corinthians 12.  As with secular society, economic and political power in the denomination rests in the United   States.  A look at the Book of Resolutions provides proof of the predominance of U.S.-centric issues at general conference.  We know that cultures outside of theUnited States are just as complex, yet the legislation does not reflect the complexity.  Why?

 

U.S.dominance in denominational governance damages both the church in theUnited Statesand in central conferences.  It disempowers central conferences from being fully actualized within the body and allows the church in theUnited   Statesto escape responsibility from dealing with its internal issues.  To be whole is to take responsibility for all that God gives us and to value the unique gifts that God spreads among God’s people.  To be whole is to value all.  Our structures must reflect this value and prompt us to ever-greater degrees of responsibility for reflecting God’s reign in the church and the world.

 

 

THE UMC’S CONNECTIONALNATURE

 

The UnitedMethodistChurchis connectional. We are one church serving the cause of Christ in over thirty-eight countries. We are connected by common doctrine, common mission and common discipline. We make decisions through a single General Conference with regional and local decisions made in Jurisdictional, Central, Annual, District and Charge Conferences. Our Book of Discipline states these missional decisions and processes for us.

 

The work of the current Task Group proceeds from our understanding of our United Methodist identity.  United Methodism, through its connectional nature, is – by its very essence – truly catholic. As a “catholic” movement, it cannot be confined by nation, country, continent, race or class, but transcends such borderlines and pertains to the whole world. It is this world to which John Wesley refers in his famous dictum “I look upon the whole world as my parish.”  Coined in a controversy about the right to evangelize, Wesley’s universal proclamation of Good News to all persons violated canonical principles of parish rights in his time. Wesley was convinced that the universal task of spreading the gospel must not be hindered. He would not recognize any limits.

 

At the same time The United Methodist Church lives in ecumenical relationships. Our connectional nature as well as our Constitution commits us to this self-understanding and to our efforts to work for greater unity in Christ’s Church. Our involvement in the ecumenical family might be described in a series of overlapping circles, showing those “family ties” moving from closest to more distant relationships.

 

UMC

Pan

Meth

Churches not        belonging to NCCs/WCC

NCCs/WCC

Aff.        Auton. United Churches

WMC

Family      Ties of The UnitedMethodist     Church

Circle 1—The United Methodist Church—all bodies subject to The UMC’s General Conference (our nuclear family)

 

Circle 2—Affiliated Autonomous andAffiliatedUnitedChurches(our extended family)

Circle 3—Churches who belong to the Pan Methodist Commission (our cousins)

Circle 4—Churches who belong to the World Methodist Council (our extended tribal family)

Circle 5—Churches who belong to various national councils of churches and the World Council of Churches. (participants in reunions of related families)

Circle 6—Churches who do not belong to national councils or the World Council of Churches (distant cousins, aunts and uncles)

 

All of these relationships are important and need to be strengthened. At the same time, the conversation about the world-wide nature of The United Methodist Church and how we appropriately live more fully in that reality is important and deserves our attention as well.

 

 

INTENT OF THIS LEGISLATION

The Task Group proposes that the following legislation as a first step toward living more fully into the world-wide nature that already exists in our church in a limited way. It does two things:

  • Makes      four constitutional changes allowing a future General Conference to create      structures for regional and jurisdictional conferences that are the same      everywhere theUnited     MethodistChurch     is in ministry.
  • Provides      for continued study and a report to the 2012 General Conference by the      Connectional Table and Council of Bishops.

 

The proposed legislation does not do any of the following:

  • It      does not change the number, purpose or function of Jurisdictional      Conferences
  • It      does not change the way bishops are elected or assigned
  • It      does not change the purpose, number or scope of any general agency
  • It      does not change the size or power of General Conference
  • It      does not change the way the Social Principles are decided upon or amended.
  • It      does not change the way money is apportioned or allocated.

 

 

LEGISLATION

We propose that the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table separately send the following five petitions to the 2008 General Conference:

    • Petition       1

Amend ¶ 10 by deletion of a few words:

There shall be central conferences for the church outside the United   States of America and, if necessary, provisional central conferences, all with such powers, duties and privileges as are hereinafter set forth.

 

  • Petition 2

Amend ¶28 by deletion of a few words:

There shall be central conferences for the work of the Church outside the United States of America with such duties, powers and privileges as are hereinafter set forth. The number and boundaries of the central conferences shall be determined by the Uniting Conference. Subsequently t The General Conference shall have authority to change the number and boundaries of central conferences. The central conferences shall have the duties, powers and privileges hereinafter set forth.

 

  • Petition 3

Amend ¶31.2 by addition of a few words

2. In those central conferences where there are no jurisdictional conferences, Tto elect bishops for the respective central conferences in number as may be determined from time to time, upon a basis fixed by the General Conference, and to cooperate in carrying out such plans for the support of their bishops as may be determined by the General Conference. In those central conferences where there are jurisdictional conferences, bishops shall be elected by the respective jurisdictional conference.

 

  • Petition 4

Amend ¶48 by addition and deletion of a few words

The bishops of each jurisdictional and central conference shall constitute a Collegeof Bishops. In Central Conferences where there are Jurisdictional Conferences, the Jurisdictional Colleges shall arrange the plan of episcopal supervision of the annual conferences, missionary conferences and missions within their jurisdictions. In Central Conferences where there are no Jurisdictional Conferences, the Central Conference and suchCollege ofBishops shall arrange the plan of episcopal supervision of the annual conferences, missionary conferences, and missions within their respective territories.

 

    • Petition       5

Enabling Resolution for Further Study

Resolved:  That the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table jointly continue their study of how to lead the UnitedMethodistChurchto reflect its worldwide nature and explore how the Book of Discipline might be altered so that theUnited States would be one Central Conference while maintaining the current jurisdictions.  Cost for this study will be borne by the Episcopal Fund and the General Administration Fund. It should be guided by the following principles:

  1. General Conference and US Central Conference
    1. The General Conference would meet for one week with the same number of delegates as currently elected apportioned in the same way as now done.
    2. Following the meeting of the General Conference, theUSdelegates to General Conference would meet as the US Central Conference to conduct its business.
    3. General Conference will always meet prior to any and all Central Conferences.
    4. While this arrangement could continue indefinitely, each body could decide to meet at a separate time and place.  However, for reasons of cost and the long-range plans already made for General Conferences in the near future, it is envisioned that back-to-back meetings will be held in theUnited Statesfor the first two quadrennia after passage.
    5.  Powers of the General Conference

Essentially, the power of the General Conference will remain the same. It will have authority over the following:[2]

  1. Constitution
  2. Doctrinal Standards, Doctrinal History, Doctrinal Heritage and  Our Theological Task
  3. Mission Statements and GlobalMissionInitiatives
  4. Social Principles
  5. Resolutions on Global Issues
  6. Clergy Orders
  7. Episcopacy. The Council of Bishops remains the Council for the whole church.
  8. Financial Matters regarding the following funds: World Service, Episcopal, Interdenominational Cooperation, and General Administration, andAfricaUniversity. All Annual Conferences in the connection will be apportioned their share of support for these five funds using a similar formula as presently employed. GCFA remains a Council for the whole church.
  9. Administrative Order defined or delegated.
  10. Judicial order for global matters. The Judicial Council remains a general church body elected at General Conference.
  11. Ecumenical relationships with other denominations, world communions and interreligious groups.
  12. Definition of and requirements for church membership defined or delegated.
  13.  General Agencies

All General Agencies remain as agencies for the whole church as they currently are. It is expected that they will continue to adapt as they more fully live into the global nature of their mission.

RATIONALE FOR THE LEGISLATION

General Conference should be able to create similar structures for all of our world-wide church. Each Annual Conference, should belong to a Central Conference which should be able to organize sub-units called Jurisdictional Conferences. Further study is needed to explore how to live more fully into our world-wide nature.

Respectfully,

 

Bishop Ann B. Sherer, Chair                           Kristina Gonzalez

Bishop Scott Jones                                          Forbes Matonga

Bishop Ruediger Minor                                   Dora Washington

 

Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Staff

 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

 

In the past 40 years, the Council of Bishops as well as other groups have studied, listened, and sought legislation that would allow our church to live with integrity in our many manifestations around the world.  Each conversation has brought new insight and hope. The following historical reviews and “working papers” of the task group are examples of the denomination’s attention to this central matter.

 

I. OUR THEOLOGY AT WORK

 

The work of the current Task Group proceeds from our understanding of our United Methodist identity.  United Methodism, through its connectional nature, is – by its very essence – truly catholic. As a “catholic” movement, it cannot be confined by nation, country, continent, race or class, but transcends such borderlines and pertains to the whole world. As a worldwide church, United Methodism proves its “Catholic ubiquity”[3].

 

In the recent discussion on the “global nature” of the UnitedMethodistChurch, points have been made about numbers of adherents and geographical distribution to decide, whether United Methodism is a worldwide church or not. The attempt has been made to locate the place of United Methodism in a typology of church structures in comparison to churches of other traditions, labeling the UnitedMethodistChurchas an “Extended-National Confessional” church, a USdenomination with some outposts on other continents. Instead of seeking to be a “global UnitedMethodistChurch”, recommendation is made to participate in World Methodist endeavors and contacts with Concordat, Autonomous and Affiliated churches as well as involvement in global Christianity through the Ecumenical movement[4].  While all these endeavors have their merits and are helpful in the process of clarification of United Methodism’s role and mission in our world today, they almost completely fail to consider the polity of United Methodism. In this way, they look at results and outside criteria and activities to determine the nature of United Methodism. We choose rather go in the opposite direction, showing that worldwide outreach and distribution flow from United Methodism’s “catholic” nature, which is distinctively expressed in the connectional system. While not denying the necessity and benefits of United Methodist participation in cooperation with other Methodist and World church bodies, it is our goal to demonstrate United Methodism’s inherent Catholicity.

 

We choose to use the word “worldwide” to describe the nature of United Methodism. “Worldwide” differs from “global” as it has been used in the discussion of recent decades. For many, the word “global” is problematic, tainted and blessed by the present process of “globalization”. Global United Methodism could be seen as part of a world trend, characterized by homogenization and dominance of Western economy and culture. “Worldwide” Methodism existed, and the word has been used, for many decades before “global” became fashionable. Referring to the world is wider and more appropriate than to the globe. The Church’s mission is to the world, not to the globe. “World”, theologically, is more than a geographic term: it is God’s blessed creation, God’s adversary in its fallen state, the object of God’s love and salvation through Christ and reconciliation.

 

It is this world, to which John Wesley refers in his famous dictum “I look upon the whole world as my parish.” It was coined in a controversy about the right to evangelize. Wesley’s universal proclamation of Good News to all persons violated canonical principles of parish rights in his time. Wesley was convinced that the universal task of spreading the gospel must not be hindered. He would not recognize any limits. For this he used the term “catholic”. While he was at odds with Roman Catholicism – as usual in his time for an English churchman with an evangelical zeal – he declared and maintained his catholicity. More specifically, he derived his right to evangelize from his ordination “to defend the Catholic faith”[5]. He remained a faithful member of the Church of England to his death, but he clearly saw her limitations as a national church[6] and he practiced a faith that went beyond her boundaries[7]. His spirit and his relationship with other people grew towards a wider fellowship than the ecclesial structures of his time[8]. The best known document of his principles and his attitude is the sermon “Catholic Spirit”[9].  Wesley imprinted on his followers as “fundamental principle… an anti-sectarian and Catholic spirit”[10].  It has been noticed that the organizational pattern of the Methodist movement, too, follows catholic principles.

 

A look at the “Methodist Connection” gives proof of this. This peculiar system of organization that grew out of the Methodist movement, first (and still) known in Englandas “Connexion”, describes the interdependence of persons, congregations, conferences and agencies on a variety of levels. In Methodist vernacular it has become synonymous for “Church”, and it “remains one of the greatest contributions made by Wesley to ecclesial polity”[11]. Though it would be interesting to look at United Methodist ecclesiology from the guiding principle of Connectionalism[12], we will concentrate on its catholic characteristics. Frank Baker describes “the general pattern of the connexional system” as a “society … subdivided into classes … with lay leaders, who assured the flow of inspiration and information between the individual members…, supervised by lay itinerant preachers; a network of itinerant preachers moving from society to society throughout the nation. … The itinerant system linked Methodism into a living unity, a ‘connexion’… The Established Church was a national machine… The Methodist societies were much more a national body.”[13] What Baker describes here is obviously a movement; however its organizational principle was the “Connexion, which in many ways admirably displayed the traditional Catholic ideal of strong and authoritative Church government, effectually exercised over the whole constituency of the faithful, and uniting them into one body.”[14] As a unified body in “Anglican” England, “Catholic” Ireland and “Reformed” Scotland, it overcame traditional confessional divisions, representing the Catholicity of the undivided Church. This even goes beyond traditional Western Christianity, representing Eastern Orthodox principles as well. “Those realizing [Wesley’s] strong ties with the primitive Greek tradition might suggest that Methodism was a new attempt at creating a Pilgrim community of the Holy Spirit, dedicated to Sobornost, ‘a community distinguished by unity in freedom and creating out of many races and nations the family of the redeemed’”.[15] “Sobornost” is the translation of “Catholicity” in the Slavic Orthodox churches, e. g. the Nicene Creed. In view of the similarity of “Connection” with “Catholicity” and “Sobornost”, Methodists could well translate the “marks of the Church” in the Nicene Creed: I believe in one holy connectional and apostolic Church.

 

From its very early time this connection was international, though on both sides of the Atlanticunder the British crown. American Independence was a decisive moment for the coherence of the Connection. We do not need to rehearse the steps that led to the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church at the 1784 Christmas Conference. John Wesley’s famous letter, however, needs to be read carefully in light of the accompanying actions. He states the full freedom of the “American Brethren … both from the State and from the English hierarchy”. Therefore, “They are now at full liberty simply to follow the Scriptures and the PrimitiveChurch”.[16] Wesley released them from obedience to the crown and the bishops. He did not release them from obedience to the Methodist connectional discipline. To the contrary, “follow the Scriptures and the Primitive Church” for Wesley and all Methodists meant: follow the Methodist way. To make this unmistakably clear, he sent a few more documents as appendices to that letter: a creed (The Articles of Faith), a liturgy (The Sunday Service) and a Discipline (The Large Minutes). There was no need to explicitly enforce Mr. Wesley’s authority among his “sons (sic) in the gospel”. It was undisputed, as he had explained it, for example at the 1769 Conference: “I am under God the centre of union to all our traveling as well as local preachers”.[17] (The more he was surprised and shocked, as later the American Methodists did not follow his sentiments concerning the office of bishops.) But even in laying the foundation for what was to become a separate church, we see the “catholic” Wesley at work. His editing[18] of both the Articles of Faith as well as the Book of Common Prayer carefully removed all specific references to the governing authorities in English church and society, making both documents more universal in spirit and language.

 

Unhindered by national sentiment and traditions, the Methodist Connection could grow throughout the North American continent over the 19th century – and beyond this continent. Its structure (Conferences etc.) and policy became a model for other groups and communities, even those with a less coherent polity. To the contrary, in England, Methodism returned to more traditional and particular national models of church organization. “The Methodist Connexion increasingly gravitated towards ‘the Dissenting interest’, and in the 19th century assumed a natural place among the Nonconformists”[19]. Methodists in Britain and the US never ceased in the noble duty, defined by John Wesley for all Methodists “to proclaim the good tidings of salvation”. They both did it at home and abroad. They differed, however, in the way they dealt with their grown up “children”. In the mid-19th century, English Methodism started to release foreign missions into national independency and autonomy[20], while American Methodists started with new forms of episcopal oversight for “overseas” parts of the Connection[21]. This and other measures (e. g. the creation of Central Conferences, various international programs and studies, agencies with representation from all parts of the worldwide church) were “an expression of the structural principle that areas outside the US are not mere colonies of the American church but fully qualified parts of the church that design their own rules according to their conditions of life, however within the framework of the common constitution… While English Methodism looks upon national autonomy in the different countries and, therefore, renounces organic union, American Methodism on its part seeks to build up the idea of federation, more and more granting responsibility of self-administration to the church in various continents and countries but maintaining the organic union of the worldwide Methodist Episcopal Church”[22].

 

The strong spiritual and organizational ties of the church in theUSwith its parts on other continents found an expression in shared oversight over “the Connection at large”. Other components were close cooperation and visits between the various parts of Methodism. Methodism was nurturing a sense of connectedness to the whole world – Methodists and others were experiencing a worldwide church.

 

There are numerous examples to this day: the Mission Initiatives of the General Board of Global Ministries, which started in 1991 with the “Russia Initiative” and provide “hands on” experiences of the worldwide connection of the United Methodist Church even for local churches and individuals; partnership programs between Annual Conferences and Episcopal areas on different continents; and international gatherings and convocations of youth, students, women, men and clergy.  All are expressions of the connectional structure of United Methodism and communicate an experience of the true catholic church, share in its mission, bridge the gaps and divisions in the human family and pave the way for the world community of all Christian believers.

 

We are a church with a distinctive theological heritage, but that heritage is lived out in a global (worldwide) community, resulting in understandings of our faith enriched by indigenous experiences and manners of expression…

 

We affirm the contributions that United Methodists of varying ethnic, language, cultural, and national groups make to one another, and to our Church as a whole.  We celebrate our shared commitment to clear theological understanding and vital missional expression…

 

United Methodists as a diverse people continue to strive for consensus in understanding the gospel.  In our diversity, we are held together by a shared inheritance and a common desire to participate in the creative and redemptive activity of God…

 

Our task is to articulate our vision in a way that will draw us together as a people in mission…

 

In the name of Jesus Christ we are called to work within our diversity while exercising patience and forbearance with one another…[23]

 

II. BEGINNING DIRECTIONS FOR OUR TIME  (a working paper)

A strong and clear word of gratitude must be extended to the General Board of Global Ministries.  The Board has been a major contributor in the building of relationships and ministry around the world.  While once only the General Board of Global Ministries had members on its board of directors from beyond theUnited   States, today nearly all general boards and agencies do.  The Board has provided staff and resources around the world to assist in maintaining our connection.

 

Annual conferences, congregations and yes, even individuals, have increasingly built direct relationships with one another across the world.  Volunteers in mission, partner congregations, visiting faculty opportunities, disaster response, and pulpit exchanges all expand knowledge and care for one another.

 

Yet despite our many studies, debates, consultations and conversations, if we look closely at our predominant practice, we find the United Methodist Church still operates from a consciousness that places the church in the United States central to denominational life, much like the consciousness that led to the naming of conferences outside of the United States as “central,” central meaning emanating from the United States.

 

Some might say that this is appropriate given that the majority of members and financial resources are “centered” in theUnited States.  Still others might name this moment as a “crucial” moment in the life of the denomination as we consider our relationships with one another.  Perhaps God is calling us yet to reflect more deeply on John Wesley’s formative statement, “I look upon the world as my parish.”

 

 

While we are called as United Methodist Christians to right relationship in the world—inside and outside of our structure—our actions do not consistently reflect our highest and best hopes.  As Bishop Clarence Carr, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, stated skeptically during the Service of Repentance and Reconciliation at General Conference 2000, “For what you do speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.”[24]

 

Much work remains to be done.

1)     This conversation must be expanded and deepened. Written responses will be requested from leaders in all of the Affiliated Autonomous Churches. Conversations will be sought wherever members of the task force and leaders of these churches can get together.

2)     We hope that a broader conversation will develop within theUnitedMethodistChurchto support greater understanding and dialogue surrounding the theology, history and recommendations contained in this paper in and amongst the congregations and conferences across the connection.

The Task Group invites theUnitedMethodistChurchto ponder the following questions:

  • If      we are a worldwide church by theology, how completely do we live our      theology?
  • How      shall we order our life together as United Methodists on many continents      so as to honor the contributions of all?
  • Will      we give equal weight to what is on the hearts and minds of all who gather      in holy conferencing?
  • Are      United Methodists in theUnited        Stateswilling to address issues of      power, trust, control, and fear— both within itself as well as in its      relationships with those beyond its borders?
  • Will      the church in theUnited        Statesaddress the matter of      “privilege” that accrues to it via money and membership?
  • Will      we disseminate information in a manner that honors differences in language      and culture, especially in our decision-making processes?

 

TheUnitedMethodistChurchis changing and becoming.  Living as a worldwide church we are invited to remember the words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the church atCorinth:  “Power is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Cor. 12:9)

 

 

III. SOME BRIEF HISTORY OF EARLIER CONVERSATIONS

Since 1964, there have been numerous studies, task groups, and legislative attempts to clarify the worldwide nature of The United Methodist Church.  What follows is a brief summary from the records of the General Conferences since that date.

 

A. 1964:  COMMISSION ON STRUCTURE OF METHODISM OVERSEAS (COSMOS) Quadrennial Study Paper

 

  • No one type of organization is ideal under all circumstances.
  • In the maturation and growth of overseas Methodist churches, two basic principles are apparent:  (1) the principle of freedom (allows a church to decide what patterns of church life will contribute most to its vitality and outer witness) and (2) the principle of fellowship (ability to recognize its oneness with other churches and to maintain it with bonds for mutual enrichment and for carrying out the mission of the Church to the world).
  • Recognized that affiliated autonomous Methodist Churches have provided an answer in particular areas and that some Central Conferences may wish to consider this as a possible structure for the future.
  • Mindful of the fact that the Central Conference may continue to have an important place in certain areas and recommended that each Central Conference study its future carefully so that the greatest opportunity for freedom and fellowship may be realized.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION: The primary recommendation was that during the 1964-68 quadrennium the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas be authorized to carry out a major study of the needs of episcopal administration in the Central Conferences of the Methodist Church and make its recommendations to the 1968 General Conference.

 

 In the words of Bishop Streiff (“The Global Nature of the United Methodist Church,” 2003, p.2), COSMOS “proposed that all parts of the Methodist Church outside the US consider to become autonomous.  These autonomous Methodist churches could then decide whether they would like to remain in an affiliation with the mother church in the US or unite with other churches in their countries.”

 

B. 1992: THE GLOBAL NATURE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH Petition from the Council of Bishops

 

The Petition set forth the need to:

  • Develop a truly global Church
  • Provide for equity (parity) between Central Conferences and Jurisdictional Conferences
  • Provide for connectional unity with flexibility and freedom for meeting regional needs
  • Redefine some General Conference responsibilities as regional ones
  • Develop sensitivity to how God seeks to manifest the Gospel in each unique culture and nation
  • Maintain a vital global connection in order to prevent both narrow parochialism and detrimental regionalism

 

RECOMMENDATION:  That the General Conference authorize the Council of Bishops, in cooperation with the General Council on Ministries, the General Council on Finance and Administration, and the Commission on Central Conference Affairs, to continue to develop this proposal on the Global Nature of The United Methodist Church and to report to the General Conference, 1996.

 

C. 1992: PROGRESS REPORT TO THE 1992 GENERAL CONFERENCE FROM THE COMMITTEE TO STUDY THE GLOBAL NATURE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS, THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

 

The report set forth the following:

 

  • A      belief that the time is right to consider new ways of relating within the      United Methodist Church that will keep the mission of Jesus Christ at its      center, allow greater flexibility and creativity, strengthen Methodist      fellowship around the world, and become an occasion for a new expression      of spiritual energy (Among other background statements, the report      recognized four important values of United Methodists:  (l) locality, (2) globality, (3) connectionality,      and (4) inclusiveness.)
  • Principles      and polity issues which guided their thinking are the same as those stated      in the 1992 petition
  • A      vision for the future which continues to emphasize common dignity and      respect, creative freedom and flexibility, connection of global membership      through common global ministries, and sensitivity to radically changing      cultures

 

PROPOSAL:  Set up an organizational structure for the Church, consisting of General Conference, Regional Conferences (Africa, Europe, Asia, andNorth America), and Annual Conferences. The Council of Bishops would continue to be a global council related to the General Conference, having spiritual and temporal oversight concerning the whole connection. The parameters and responsibilities of each of the foregoing were delineated.

 

D. 1996: A REPORT ON THE GLOBAL NATURE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH BY THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS

 

  • Become      a global Church:  “By      becoming a global church, theUnited      MethodistChurch      is only being consistent with its self-understanding, its membership and      fellowship, its identity and polity, and its commitment and witness to the      Christian faith.”
  • The      Church is best able to do global mission in a globalizing world rather      than from an American perspective.
  1. It is rather odd for a church of a national identity to do mission in another country for purpose of planting a church there.
  2. To do global mission requires global visioning and participation, coordination and pooling of resources
  3. A global world needs a global church
  4. Follow Wesley’s remark: “I look upon the world as my parish.”
  • Acknowledge      that both the church and mission are not only global but also local. “The      Church in mission must be acknowledged as free to be responsive,      flexible, and creative in expressing locally its life, faith, witness, and      service, including the development of structures and agencies for local,      national, and regional activity and governance, subject only to the      essential limits provided by the faith and Constitution of the United      Methodist Church.”
  • A global      Church should share its resources multi-laterally across the global      connection.
  • A      strengthened ecumenical commitment will grow out of a global church.

 

PROPOSAL:

  1. The      study proposed a Global Conference with stipulations for its authoritative      parameters, membership operations of Global Conference sessions, and      meeting times.
  2. The      study proposed a Global Mission Council whose purpose would be a global      forum for focusing, visioning, initiating, and coordinating the mission      task of the UMC. Regional Conferences would have the authority to define      their internal structure suitable to the life and mission of the Church in      their regions.
  3. The      petition to General Conference requested that a task force be established      to develop further the proposals that address connectionalism and      globality.

 

 

E. 2000: TRANSFORMATIONAL DIRECTIONS FOR THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

 

“The 1996 General Conference of the UnitedMethodistChurchestablished the Connectional Process Team to manage, guide and promote a transformational direction for theUnitedMethodistChurch to continue the work begun by the Connectional Issues Study of the General Council on Ministries and the Global Nature of the Church Study of the Council of Bishops.”

 

The following transformational directions were recommended:

  1. Center on Christian Formation
  2. Call Forth Covenant Leadership
  3. Empower the Connection for Ministry
  4. Strengthen Our Global Connection and Ecumenical Relationships
  5. Encourage Doctrinal and Theological Discourse

 

Growing out of the above broad areas, some of the specific directives were:

  • Create      parallel Covenant Councils on all levels—local to Global Mission and      Ministry–to oversee mission and ministry
  1. Central Conference Covenant Councils, with the exception of theU.S., will be encouraged but not required
  2. The Covenant Council for Global Ministry andMissionwill serve as a forum for theological discourse that promotes the on-going spiritual formation and discipleship of all members of the church.
  3. Affirm central conferences:  The United Methodist Church in theU.S.would be structured as a central conference
  4. Retain current jurisdictional conferences in the U.S. Central Conference.
  5. Redesign and align the work of general agencies.
  6. Affirm local flexibility in organization and increase independence for United Methodists to structure ministry within their own context.
  7. Reconstitute General Conference as United Methodist Global Conference with 500 delegates to meet quadrennially. Each annual and provisional conference would send two delegates (one clergy and one lay); remainder of delegates will be apportioned on the basis of annual conference membership.
  8. Strengthen global connections among educational institutions
  9. Explore relationships with autonomous and affiliated churches.
  • Create      a new structure
  • Strengthen      the global connection and ecumenical relationships.

 

A resolution, “Living Into the Future” referred the Connectional Process report and the Bishops’ Global Nature report to the General Council on Ministries for further study and to make recommendations to the 2004 General Conference.  The full report was not adopted; however, the five transformational directions were approved.

 

 

SELECTED READINGS

The Ecumenical Implications of the Discussions of “The Global Nature of The United Methodist Church”: A Consultation on the Future Structure and Connection of the UMC.  General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, The UnitedMethodist Church,New   York.  1999.

 

 

Harman, Robert, “ A Global UnitedMethodistChurch: Some Benchmarks or Historical Antecedents.”  Unpublished paper prepared for the Spring 2006 meeting of The Connectional Table of theUnitedMethodistChurch.

 

Harman, Robert, From Missions to Mission—The History of Mission of The United Methodist Church 1968-2000.  GBGMServiceCenter,CincinnatiOhio.

2006.

 

Love, Janice, “United Methodist in a World Context: Navigating the Local and the Global.  2006 Willson Lecture presented to the fall meeting of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, October 2006.  Printed in Occasional Papers, No. 100.

 

Robbins, Bruce,  A World Parish? Hope and Challenges of the United Methodist Church in a Global Setting.  Abingdon Press, Nashville 2004.

 

Robinson, Elaine, “Recovering Los Desaparecidos” in A Living Tradition: Critical Recovery and Reconstruction of Wesleyan Traditions, ed. Mary Elizabeth Moore,Kingswood.  2006.

 

Streiff, Patrick, “The Global Nature of The United MethodistChurch: What Future for the Branch outside the United States?” in Quarterly Review,  Vol. 24/2, (2004).


[1] “A Global UnitedMethodistChurch: Some Benchmarks or Historical Antecedents”.  A paper prepared by Robert Harman for The Connectional Table, April 27-May 1, 2006.

 

[2] This list is a revised version of one proposed in “A Report on the Global Nature of the United Methodist Church” from the Council of Bishops to the 1996 General Conference, Advance Daily Christian Advocate, volume 1, p. 172.

[3] See the classic definition of Catholicism by Vincent of Lerins: “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all” (“ubique, semper, ab omnibus”).

[4] The most comprehensive overview of this discussion in Bruce W. Robbins: A World Parish?,Nashville, Abingdon 2004, and the subsequent discussion.

[5] “I was not appointed to any congregation at all; but was ordained as a member of the ‘College of Divines’ (so our statutes express it,) ‘founded to overturn all heresies, and defend the Catholic faith.” Wesley’s Works ed.Jackson, vol. VIII, p. 117.

[6] The idea of a national church is “a mere political institution” – Minutes, 1747 Conference; see Frank Baker: John Wesley and the Church of England,London, Epworth Press 1970, p. 113.

[7] In his famous “world parish” letter to James Hervey, Wesley wrote about his principles: “”If you ask on what principle, then, I acted; it was this: ‘A desire to be a Christian; and a conviction that whatever I judge conducive thereto, that I am bound to do; wherever I judge I can best answer this end, thither it is my duty to go. On this principle I set out forAmerica; on this, I visited theMoravianChurch; and on the same am I ready now (God being my helper) to go to Abyssinia orChina, or whithersoever it shall please God, by this conviction, to call me.” Quoted in his Journal, see Works ed.Jackson vol. I, p. 200s.

[8] “For thirty years last past, I have ‘gradually put on a more catholic spirit’, finding more and more tenderness for those who differed from me.” Works, ed.Jackson vol. IX, p. 55.

[9] The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Edition, vol. II,Nashville, Abingdon 1985, pp. 79 ss.

[10] From “The Life of the Rev. John Wesley” in: Works, ed.Jackson, vol. V, p. 551.

[11] Frank Baker in: A History of theMethodistChurch inGreat Britain,London, Epworth 1965, p. 230.

[12] To this author’s knowledge, a comprehensive presentation of United Methodist ecclesiology is still lacking, though most desirable. The usual discussion, whether the UMC is a church or a movement (as recently shown by the discussion of the “Johnson Case” and its treatment by the Judicial Council), could be overcome by a serious treatment of the connectional principle of a church that, built on mutual interrelationships, maintains its character as a movement, lest it becomes a “dead sect” – to use Mr. Wesley’s words.

[13] John Wesley and the Church of England, p. 114

[14] John Lawson in: A History of theMethodistChurch inGreat Britain, p. 198

[15] Frank Baker, op. cit. p. 117, quoting Brian Frost, Orthodoxy and Methodism

[16] „As our American Brethren are now totally disentangled both from the State and from the English hierarchy, we dare not entangle them again either with the one or the other. They are now at full liberty simply to follow the Scriptures and thePrimitiveChurch. And we judge it best that they should stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has so strangely made them free.” – The Letters of John Wesley, Standard Edition,London, Epworth 1931, vol. VII, p. 238s.

[17] quoted by Baker, John Wesley and the Church of England, p. 205.

[18] It should be remembered that Wesley’s editorial work was as clearly expressing his ideas as his writings as an author.

[19] John Lawson in: A History of theMethodistChurch inGreat Britain, p. 209.

[20] the first beingFrance in 1852 – see Brian E. Beck, British Methodist History and Perspectives on Relations with Churches of Other Nations, in: The Ecumenical Implications of the Discussions of The Global Nature of the United Methodist Church, New York, GCCUIC 1999, p. 190.

[21] Election of a first “missionary bishop” forLiberia 1856 – Patrick Streiff, according to Harry Wescott Worley: The Central Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church. A Study in Ecclesiastical Adaptation, or A Contribution of the Mission Field to the Development of Church Organization. Foochow China, Christian Herald Mission Press, 1940, p. 57.

[22] John L. Nuelsen: Die letzten Schritte zur Selbständigkeit der Bischöflichen Methodistenkirche in Deutschland, Bremen 1936, p. 7 – translation R. Minor.

[23] The 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline, Our Theological Task,Para. 104, pp. 83-84. 104, pp. 83-34.

[24] Proceeding of the 2000 General Conference of theUnitedMethodistChurch, Daily Edition Vol. 4 No. 5, Thursday morningMay 4, 2000, pg 1926.

2012 Immigration Testimony Kansas Legislature

Testimony Regarding HB 2712

Bishop Scott J. Jones, Kansas Area of The United Methodist Church

 

I wish to offer my support for House Bill 2712 and to speak on behalf of The United Methodist Church on the subject of illegal immigration more broadly.

Along with my colleague bishops from other churches and many other Christian groups, I am urging the Kansas Legislature to make Kansas a place that treats immigrants with the kind of hospitality and humane consideration that has been a hallmark of our state for more than 150 years.

We have repeatedly articulated three principles:

1. All persons are beloved by God and should be treated with dignity and respect. Leviticus 19:33-34 commands us to welcome the alien among us.

2. Kansas needs immigrants for a variety of reasons. Our economy, our culture and our way of life are enhanced by increased diversity. Just as immigration from Germany, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Korea, Vietnam and other countries has shaped our state for 150 years, so new immigrants from different countries will help us in many ways. We should welcome them and focus our efforts on genuine hospitality.

3. We must respect the laws of our country. We are a country of laws and respect for law is crucial to our way of life.  Scripture also commands us to respect and obey governmental authorities.  We are a nation shaped by the rule of law.  An economic and demographic situation that creates millions of persons who are not able to live with the full protection of the law is both unjust and detrimental to our future development. We should call upon the Federal government to find a legal way to resolve this situation for the benefit of all concerned.

House Bill 2712 exemplifies these principles. It recognizes we need these workers for our Kansas economy. It provides a way for them to contribute their labor and to receive the protection of our laws. It also recognizes the rule of law. It provides the kind of welcome we want to provide.

As a spiritual leader, I want to point to a larger need we have. Kansas needs people. We are worried about population decline in our rural counties. We need people with good values and strong family traditions. Our state is a better place with people who bring new ideas, new energy and new traditions to our communities.

On the other hand, you are considering some bills that I believe violate Christian principles. House Bill 2578 violates the biblical value of hospitality which has been a hallmark of our Kansas culture. By creating a hostile environment, we are sending a message that all persons of Hispanic origin are not welcome in our state.

House Bill 2576 has the same effect with an additional problem. It may criminalize my behavior. The United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church and many other Christian bodies are evangelizing Hispanic persons and welcoming them to Christian worship. I have preached the gospel in front of groups of Hispanics, ministering to their spiritual needs and offering to help them make Kansas a home for their families. I know many of these people and they are people with strong family values. But I cannot vouch for their immigration status. Do you expect me to ask for proof of citizenship as they enter our churches? If I preach the gospel or teach them English, and it turns out they are undocumented immigrants, am I guilty of harboring them and thus of a felony since there are more than 10 of them in the group? Please don’t send me or my preachers to jail for our obedience to Christ.

Council of Bishops: For the Sake of a New World, We See a New Church: A Call to Action

Look! I’m doing a new thing: now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. Isaiah 43:19, CEB

We see a new church. It is a renewed church that is clear about its mission and confident about its future, a church that is always reaching out, inviting, alive, agile, and resilient. We see a church that is hope-filled, passionate, nimble, called of God, and courageous. It is a church that is passionately committed to the doctrine, mission and vision of the Wesleyan movement. This church takes risks to reach new people for Jesus Christ, and it searches continuously for creative ways to help each person grow in grace, love, and holiness.

While this church is not yet here, we see a thousand signs of its emerging. We see it in radical hospitality, where spiritually hungry people everywhere are offered a saving relationship with Christ. We see it as the hearts of people are warmed by the awakening of renewed spiritual presence. We see it in passionate worship, where new generations sense the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We see it in small groups embodying intentional faith formation. We see it in pastors who find ways to reach young people and in annual conference leaders who dare to try different ways to serve congregations. We see it in general agencies learning new ways to network our Connection. We see it in the Council of Bishops opening itself to evaluation and establishing episcopal learning groups. We see it in risk-taking mission and justice. We see it in the efforts to end deaths from malaria, to start new faith communities, to participate in ministry with the poor, and to develop new leaders. We see it in extravagant generosity, as people share their resources in response to disasters.

Especially in Africa andAsia, we find multiple examples of Wesleyan evangelism, discipleship, and witness for social justice. In theU. S.andEurope, however, we recognize that our church’s strength and vitality have diminished over the last several decades. Both Europe and America face cultural trends that are very difficult. We confess that at times we have lost our way, substituting maintenance for mission, bureaucracy for vision, and passivity for passion.

Paragraph 120 of The Book of Discipline is clear: “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” We also know that local churches are a significant arena for community and world transformation. And paragraph 33 of our Constitution is equally clear: “The annual conference is the basic body in the Church.” The annual conference is the most important vehicle for creating and sustaining vital congregations.

We have studied our church and used independent consultants to give us information we needed about our church in the U.S. Our operational assessment identified a growing lack of trust among the parts of our Connection. It told us we have significant deficiencies and will have future difficulties because of our current pattern of economic contributions. It recommended more defined leadership roles, streamlined connectional structures, and better management systems. Our congregational vitality study used our own data to identify vital congregations and what drives them.

The Council of Bishops and Connectional Table both endorsed this core challenge: “To redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

We can see a new church, and to get from here to there the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops urge the People of The United Methodist Church to make several strategic commitments:

  • Engage in a return to our spiritual roots to reclaim the soul of our churches through intentional commitment to practice the means of grace.
  • Give the highest priority to 10 years of energetic and sustained effort to increase and sustain the number of highly vital congregations.
  • Invest in raising the standards of performance and results of leadership at all places in the UM Connection and employ key metrics as important contributing tools for cultivating continuous learning and improvement.
  • Redirect our investments of talent, time and money in ways that demonstrate an emphatic emphasis on building blocks for vital congregations, including:
    • At least $5 million from the 2013–16 General Administration or World Service Funds for use in theological education in the Central Conferences.
    • At least $5 million from the 2013–16 General Administration or World Service Funds for use in developing lay leadership under 35 years old.
    • Up to $50 million from the 2013–16 General Administration or World Service Funds for use in recruiting and theologically training UM clergy under age 35 and for use in creating “new places for new people” across the UM mission field.
    • Streamline and realign the governance and staff structures of program and administration agencies in order to increase focus on support of Annual Conferences in increasing and sustaining the number of vital congregations and provide for more integrated, efficient, nimble, and responsive operations.
    • Reform the Council of Bishops

The most important changes will not result from legislative action but require different actions and patterns of leadership by bishops, clergy, and laity in their conferences. These changes must be grounded deeply in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting. These changes have already begun, and the Call to Action is already starting to be employed in many congregations and conferences. Among the non-legislative actions that are required are the following:

  • The Council of Bishops reorder its work and internal processes to:
    • Make the work of supporting resident bishops in fostering congregational vitality the central agenda for the Council.
    • Support Jurisdictional and Central Conference Committees on Episcopacy in adopting stronger and more transparent measures (metrics) and procedures for the accountability of bishops.
    • Work with appropriate general church offices, seminary leadership, and Boards of Ordained Ministry to strengthen support for our seminaries, addressing curriculum requirements and clarifying expectations.
    • Annual Conferences strive to improve their recruitment and support of the most fruitful and effective young clergy.
    • Bishops and Cabinets strengthen their clergy recruitment, formation and appointment processes to improve vitality.

But some steps require legislation at General Conference. Therefore, the Council of Bishops affirms and approves the direction recommended by the Connectional Table and the Interim Operations Team. We urge the General Conference to take the following actions:

  • Give Annual Conferences freedom to organize their structures for greater fruitfulness.
  • Permit the mid-quadrennium reallocation of money from the general church funds for a sum up to $60 million for purposes related to the challenge of creating and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations.
  • Provide for the Council of Bishops to elect a non-residential bishop as President of the Council to help reform the Council and focus its energies on the core challenges.
  • Create aUMCCenterfor Connectional Mission & Ministry under one board of directors to combine the functions of the Connectional Table and nine general agencies: GBCS, GBGM, GBHEM, GBOD, GCAH, GCFA, GCORR, GCSRW, and UMCOM. They will be organized into offices of shared services (functions such as GCFA, UMCOM, and GCAH) and offices of congregational vitality, leadership excellence, missional engagement, and justice and reconciliation. This will help us align resources for greater effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Move the functions of GCCUIC to an office of the Council of Bishops, clarifying what have been overlapping responsibilities and improving our ecumenical efforts.
  • Set aside UMW and UMM as self-funding official UM membership-based organizations.
  • Provide a support system for collecting consistent information for all annual conferences about their financial practices and recommend to resident bishops and others strategies for reducing costs and increasing effectiveness.

We see a new church. It is a church that is clear about its mission and confident about its future, a church that is always reaching out, inviting, alive, agile, and resilient. We ask all United Methodists to join us as together we work to do the “new thing” God intends for our church and discover the path God is making for our future.

For more complete information about the work of A Call to Action, go to  www.umccalltoaction.org and www.umvitalcongregations.org.

 

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