Debates and votes over organizational structure and the budget implications of mission programs dominated the May 5 agenda of the United Methodist General Conference.
The morality of church pastors also was considered in a late action May 4.
By a vote of 455-445, delegates to the denomination’s top legislative body amended Paragraph 2702 in the Book of Discipline to clarify language and give bishops, pastors and diaconal ministers a list of offenses that could result in a trial.
Offenses that will be chargeable, according to the new paragraph, are: a) immorality, including, but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not being faithful in a heterosexual marriage; b) practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including, but not limited to, being a self-avowed practicing homosexual, or conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions, or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.
In May 5 action, delegates decided to create a new organizational model, called the “Connectional Table,” to guide the work of the denomination’s general agencies. However, the assembly rejected a Connectional Table proposed by the General Council on Ministries and adopted an alternative plan developed by the General Administration legislative committee. The adopted plan calls for a Connectional Table that would be smaller and, according to proponents, less costly than that offered by the council.
Delegates voted by a 2 to 1 margin to adopt the alternative plan. The new Connectional Table will begin operating Jan. 1, and the Council on Ministries will go out of existence at the end of a transitional period.
Focusing on its external operations, the denomination voted to expand its media effort, which promotes a message of “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” The vote paved the way for United Methodist Communications to add 18 weeks of additional airings of denominational TV advertising to its established schedule and to develop a youth component.
However, the amount of funding made available for the core TV ad campaign was reduced by more than one-third — from a proposed $33.5 million to $22 million. The youth proposal survived with its requested $5.4 million in funding intact. Earlier in the week, delegates approved another $2.3 million for a plan submitted by United Methodist Communications to improve communications for church members in countries outside the United States.
In other business, General Conference delegates received a May 5 ruling from the denomination’s high court that said the unwillingness of a pastor to lead a local church toward full payment of its apportionments is not a chargeable offense. Apportionments are defined as the funds each annual conference or local church pays to support international, national and regional mission programs.
The Judicial Council affirmed that encouraging full payment of apportionments is one of the duties of a pastor, but declared that holding a pastor “personally accountable” if apportionments are not paid is unjust.
Four people were elected to the 25-member University Senate, a body of professionals in higher education that determines which academic institutions meet the criteria for affiliation with the United Methodist Church.
Chosen from a slate of 13 nominees were the Rev. David Maldonado Jr., president of Iliff School of Theology in Denver; Socorro Brito de Anda, president of Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas; the Rev. Rebekah Miles, professor of ethics and United Methodist doctrine at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas; and the Rev. L. Gregory Jones, vice president of the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools.
In other business, General Conference delegates:
- Approved a special United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, with $3 million to be raised through apportionments and an additional $5 million to be raised through the Advance giving program.
- Agreed to continue the Korean American National Plan, the Asian American Language Ministry Study and the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry. Funds for the plans are included in the budget of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
- Endorsed two special mission programs, “Holistic Strategy on Africa” and “Holistic Strategy on Latin America and the Caribbean,” to be funded and coordinated through the Board of Global Ministries. Delegates also agreed to mandate a study on the relationship between the United Methodist Church and autonomous Methodist churches in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Voted to continue the denomination’s initiative on “Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.”
- Established an office of service for laymen, called “home missioners,” that parallels the historic office of deaconess for lay women.
- Adopted a resolution on “charitable choice,” or the use of public funds for church-related social services and community development programs, which encourages separate nonprofit incorporation for those groups receiving the funds.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.
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