Council of Bishops Announces Constitutional Amendments Voting Results

Bishop Gregory Palmer preaches during closing worship at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose. 

UMNS Report by David Briggs

May 5, 2010, COLUMBUS, OH

The United Methodist Church rejected several amendments that could have paved the way for making the church in the United States one of several regional bodies throughout the world.

More than 49,000 representatives of the worldwide church rejected 23 amendments to the denomination’s constitution that would have allowed for the organization of groups of annual conferences in a single nation or area into a larger regional conference. The term “central conference,” referring to the church outside the United States, could have been replaced by “regional conference” in other parts of the world.

Proponents of the changes said the new structure would reflect the growth of the church outside the United States, but some opponents expressed concern that it would lead to the division of the church into national groups.

The United Methodist Council of Bishops on May 4 announced and ratified the results of voting from some 135 regional conferences on constitutional amendments approved by the 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body. For a proposed amendment to be ratified, two-thirds of the aggregate number of voting annual conference members must approve.

Five of the 32 proposed amendments were ratified:

  • Amendment 8, adding “gender” to the categories of persons protected in the list of duties of General Conference.
  • Amendment 9, setting minimum levels of support for the election of bishops.
  • Amendment 17, allowing lay people to vote on ordination matters.
  • Amendment 19, permitting all clergy members of annual conferences to vote to elect clergy delegates to general, jurisdictional or central conferences.
  • Amendment 22, recognizing Bermuda congregations as part of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.

Illinois Bishop Gregory Palmer, council president, announced May 5 that Amendment 2, requiring ethics policies in United Methodist organizations, did not pass. The amendment failed to get the two-thirds approval required, with 32,413 votes in favor and 16,596 opposed.

The proposals for restructuring the church were denied, in many cases drawing more than 28,000 votes against and about 21,000 votes in favor.

An amendment on the inclusiveness of church membership, which some interpreted as a challenge to church teaching on homosexuality, also did not receive a majority of votes. The amendment would have clarified that “all people are eligible to attend worship services and receive the sacraments.”

In other business at its spring meeting, the Council of Bishops unanimously decided not to call a special session of General Conference on issues dealing with pensions and the reorganization of the church. The assembly’s next regular gathering will be in 2012 in Tampa, Fla.

Charges of colonialism

Some members of the Council of Bishops, which backed the proposed amendments on the restructuring of the church, criticized the “imperialistic mindset” of the churchwide  votes.

“Those who have power have refused to share power,” said San Francisco Area Bishop Warner Brown.  Retired Bishop Emilio DeCarvalho of Angola said the votes keep in place a “40-year-old colonial structure” that is a denial of the worldwide nature of the church.

Shortly after the voting results were announced, the bishops decided to continue their conversation in executive session, closing the meeting to the public.

In looking at preliminary figures broken down by conference, voters from the central conferences in Africa were the strongest opponents to the proposed changes, rejecting the amendments on restructuring by as many as 4,900 votes out of 5,165 votes cast. European voters, in contrast, overwhelmingly supported the amendments.

In the United States, the proposed changes were most strongly supported in the Western Jurisdiction and soundly defeated in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

Next steps

Bishop Palmer said church leaders will have to “think anew” about opportunities to adapt structures to reflect the growth of the denomination outside the United States.

The Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church said in a statement that there were many lessons to be learned from the vote.

“We believe members of annual conferences around the world are sending a strong message that this specific vehicle for change was flawed,” the statement said. “It left many issues open to broad interpretation. It was unclear how the changes, if approved, would have been implemented.”

But the votes do not change the fact that the focus of the church is moving from North America to other parts of the world. As it continues its work, the committee said it is seeking information from United Methodists around the world and will take the amendment votes into serious consideration as it develops “clear biblically- and Wesleyan-focused strategies” for regional church bodies.

At its recent meeting in the Philippines, the group decided issues regarding the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian ministers should be left to the 2012 General Conference.

No special session

There was little discussion as the bishops accepted a recommendation from their executive committee not to call a special session of General Conference a year ahead of the Tampa meeting.

The board of directors of the General Council on Finance and Administration late last year encouraged the Council of Bishops to call a special meeting of General Conference to deal with concerns about pension funding in the United States and the reorganization of the denomination.

North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson of the bishops’ Pension Task Force said the cost of holding a special session would be more than any potential savings from changes to the retirement funds.

In an interview, he also said there is no immediate danger of any annual conference being unable to meet its obligation and any changes need careful study. “Just hurrying along is not the way to run a pension program,” he said.

Bishop Leo Soriano of the Philippines also expressed concern about calling a worldwide meeting to deal with the issue of U.S. pensions.

*Briggs is news editor of United Methodist News Service.

 
The vote counts for each of the amendments were as follows:

Passed

Amendment VIII
, adds “gender” to the list of categories ensuring the rights of membership regardless of race or status: passed 41,434 yes; 7,712 no
Amendment IX, which ensures every jurisdictional conference have at least 100 delegates: passed 39,333 yes; 9,122 no
Amendment XVII, which allows laity on the committee on investigation to vote on matters of ordination, character and conference relations of clergy: passed 33,810 yes; 14,712 no
Amendment XIX, which allows all clergy members of annual conference to vote to elect clergy delegates to general, jurisdictional or central conferences: passed 38,604 yes 10,432 no
Amendment XXII, which recognizes Bermuda congregations as part of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference: passed 43,049 yes; 5,539 no

Failed
Amendment I
, which clarifies all people are eligible to attend worship services and receive the sacraments: 23,614 yes; 25,764 no
Amendment II, which requires all United Methodist organizations to adopt ethics and conflict of interest policies for members and employees: 32,413 yes; 16,596 no
Amendment III, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 21,126 yes; 28,218 no
Amendment IV, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 19,219 yes; 30,178 no
Amendment V, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,768 yes; 28,486 no
Amendment VI, allows newly established conferences be represented on a non-proportional basis for two quadrennia: 25,969 yes; 22,990 no
Amendment VII, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,840 yes; 28,588 no
Amendment X, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 19,386 yes; 29,920 no
Amendment XI, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,711 yes; 28,539 no
Amendment XII, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,825 yes; 28,568 no
Amendment XIII, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 19,566 yes; 29,819 no
Amendment XIV, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,851 yes; 28,505 no
Amendment XV, which allows definition of the lay and clergy membership of the annual conference by the General Conference without going through the constitutional amendment process; 31,233 yes; 17,218 no
Amendment XVI, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,823 yes; 28,586 no
Amendment XVIII, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,856 yes; 28,546 no
Amendment XX, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,639 yes; 28,653 no
Amendment XXI, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,921 yes; 28,425 no
Amendment XXIII, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 19,184 yes; 30,185 no
Amendment XXIV, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,575 yes; 28,853 no
Amendment XXV, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,581 yes; 28,688 no
Amendment XXVI, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 19,277 yes; 30,061 no
Amendment XXVII, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,711 yes; 28,657 no
Amendment XXVIII, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,588 yes; 28,656 no
Amendment XXIX, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,652 yes; 28,703 no
Amendment XXX, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,584 yes; 28,703 no
Amendment XXXI, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,658 yes; 28,685 no
Amendment XXXII, which allows the General Conference to create similar structures for the worldwide church: 20,698 yes; 28,591 no

Anyone with a question about the amendments may contact InfoServ, the denomination’s official information service, at infoserv@umcom.org. Visit UMC.org to see the amendments in full.

 
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