Committee proposes bishops as legislative chairs

The committee that establishes rules for the United Methodist Church's lawmaking assembly has recommended that bishops - rather than elected laity or clergy - lead the assembly's legislative committees, beginning in 2004.

The 10-member Committee on Plan of Organization and Rules of General Conference, meeting in Chicago May 3, proposed that two bishops be assigned as chairpersons for each of the 11 legislative committees that review and recommend petitions to General Conference. If approved by the opening plenary of the 2004 General Conference, the rule change would go into effect at that session of the church's assembly, which meets every four years. The Rev. Jerome K. Del Pino, top executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, is chairman of the rules committee.

The current rules stipulate that, once legislative committees are organized at General Conference, committee members themselves elect one of their own as chairperson. Supporters of the rule change say the current practice is problematic because committee leadership may be uneven, depending on who is elected, and because it removes those chairpersons - elected delegates from the church's regional units - from participating in discussion and debate.

"After serious and careful research and discussion, the committee has made a bold decision that is worthy of the defining moment that awaits our denomination when the 2004 General Conference undertakes its legislative task," Del Pino said. "In a word, the committee's decision will enable that task to be taken utterly seriously by providing leadership that is prepared, focused and competent."

Assigning bishops as chairpersons would foster more consistent leadership and give all delegates a chance to participate in debate, proponents of the change say. The recommendation by the rules committee would not allow bishops to make reports to the full body at General Conferences, as is the current practices of legislative committee chairpersons. Rather, a delegate - possibly a recorder elected by each committee - would make those reports.

The recommended change surfaced last year, when an ad hoc committee of the Commission on the General Conference was seeking ways to improve the denomination's lawmaking process. The commission oversees planning and logistics for General Conference, which includes about 1,000 delegates from United Methodist annual (regional) conferences in Europe, Africa, the United States and the Philippines.

Currently, United Methodist bishops only preside and serve as parliamentarians during full plenary sessions at General Conference. They have no voice or vote in setting church law. Under the new rule, bishops would chair the 11 legislative committees at the 2004 General Conference.

The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss, reporting for the ad hoc group to the rules committee, said she hopes naming bishops as chairpersons will allow more equal participation among the delegates during legislative committee proceedings. She also sees it as a way to take some of the negative political nature out of what should be "holy conferencing" by the church, lessening divisiveness by eliminating the highly partisan election of chairpersons.

General Conference delegates can change anything in the denomination's Book of Discipline except the church's Constitution. The 2004 assembly, meeting April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh, will have 11 legislative committees: church and society; conferences; discipleship; faith and order; financial administration; general administration; global ministries; higher education and ministry; independent commissions; judicial administration; and local church.

Each legislative committee deals with petitions related to a series of paragraphs from the Book of Discipline. Petitions related to the Book of Resolutions are sorted by subject matter. A legislative committee can recommend to the full delegation concurrence or non-concurrence with the language as submitted, or the committee may change the language and then recommend concurrence. Legislative committees can also submit majority and minority recommendations.

Sign up for our newsletter!

umnews-subscriptions
General Conference
Bishop Kenneth H. Carter speaks during an oral hearing before the United Methodist Judicial Council meeting in Evanston, Ill. Carter is president of the denomination's Council of Bishops. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Church exit plan already in effect, court says

But the United Methodist Judicial Council has no ruling on Traditional Plan questions from bishops.
General Conference
Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, president of the Council of Bishops, discusses his ideas for the interim time as the church works toward its future. He proposes a moratorium on the complaint process related to LGBTQ infractions alongside a loosening of the trust clause. Video image courtesy of UM News.

Bishop suggests hold on trials, trust clause

The Council of Bishops president proposes coupling a pause in church trials related to LGBTQ restrictions and a relaxation of the denomination’s trust clause.
General Church
United Methodist Judicial Council member Warren Plowden (left) asks a question about the investigation of improper voting during the 2019 United Methodist General Conference. He was questioning Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, president of the denomination's Council of Bishops, and William Waddell, the council's legal advisor, during an oral hearing at the Judicial Council meeting in Evanston, Ill. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Top court raises questions at lively oral hearing

Judicial Council members wonder about authority, lack of documentation over ruling request on improper voting.