A day after tabling potentially contentious legislation on human sexuality, General Conference 2016 moved through its calendar at a steady clip, possibly noticing that time to finish its task is running short. Though discussion on the difficult subject was avoided, that other difficult subject — money — had to be addressed. Would the “way forward” set the church financially backward?
How much does the bishops’ plan cost?
The bishops’ plan to find a way forward in the church’s longtime homosexuality debate comes with a price tag, but perhaps not a steep one.
Moses Kumar, chief executive of the General Council on Finance and Administration, said the church can pay for the bishops’ plan without altering the proposed 2017-2020 general church budget of $599 million.
The finance agency estimates a special General Conference session would cost $3.39 million for two days and $4.12 million for three days. To offset the cost, Kumar recommends shortening the 2020 General Conference by the number of days used for any special General Conference session.
Bishops have told Kumar they expect to keep costs for the commission to study the church’s stance on human sexuality below $1 million. A fund the General Council on Finance and Administration has already designated for litigation or conflict resolution could pay the commission’s costs.
Oppose mascots that demean Native Americans
Delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on United Methodist agencies to raise awareness about the harm caused by sports teams that use mascots or symbols that disrespect Native Americans. The petition had been amended in the Discipleship Committee, deleting language that would have called on United Methodist groups not to have meetings in cities that have sports teams with such mascots or symbols, which previous church resolutions contained.
In 2006, the denomination’s Commission on General Conference retracted Richmond, Virginia, as the site of General Conference 2012, having belatedly learned that the city’s minor league baseball team was the Richmond Braves. Tampa, Florida, became the location.
29 new missionaries commissioned
On May 19 The United Methodist Church sent new missionaries from 11 countries to serve in16 lands. The liturgy of commissioning was believed to be the first at a United Methodist General Conference.
Bishop John K. Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Episcopal Area preached during the service of commissioning. Reflecting the 2016 General Conference theme, “Therefore Go,” he urged United Methodists to “go out” beyond the walls of sanctuaries to serve the poor, the marginalized, and neglected. “We have become too comfortable,” Yambasu said.
Retiring bishops honored
General Conference recognized retiring United Methodist bishops during plenary May 19.
They are, from the North Central Jurisdiction, Bishop Michael Coyner, Bishop John Hopkins, Bishop Jonathan Keaton, Bishop Deborah Kiesey.
Retiring from the Western Jurisdiction is Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr. and from the Northeastern Jurisdiction are Bishop Marcus Matthews and Bishop Jane Middleton. Middleton retired previously but had been serving an interim appointment.
The Southeastern Jurisdiction retirees are Bishop Young Jin Cho, Bishop Lindsey Davis, Bishop Larry Goodpaster, Bishop James King and Bishop Michael Watson.
From the South Central Jurisdiction, the retirees are Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. and Bishop Janice Riggle Huie.
The Central Conference retirees are Bishop John Innis (Liberia), Bishop Kainda Katembo (Southern Congo), Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo (North Katanga), Bishop Rosemarie Wenner (Germany) and Bishop David Yemba (Central Congo).
Delegates react to plan to defer human sexuality petitions
After a long day of back-and-forth debate over whether to vote on human sexuality legislation or table it and refer it to a soon-to-be created commission appointed by the Council of Bishops, delegates ultimately chose the latter. Though the decision may have fended off the strong emotions that come with polarizing issues, delegates on both sides have mixed emotions to the decision to refer.
Votes of note
Delegates voted to create a new provisional central conference in Southeast Asia and Mongolia.
A petition to withdraw denominational membership from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice was passed, as was a second petition to remove language supporting the coalition from the Book of Resolutions. The United Methodist Church was a founding member of the organization in 1973 and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women are currently members.
Delegates voted to adopt a petition updating the language of the “Health Care for All in the United States” entry in the Book of Resolutions. The amendment features updated language to reflect changes in health care delivery in the United States during the previous quadrennium.
Delegates defeated Thursday, by a vote of 336 to 446, a petition titled “Confronting Twenty-First-Century Anti-Semitism.” The committee that handled the petition had not supported it, instead backing one titled “Called to Be Neighbors and Witnesses: Guidelines for Interreligious Relationships.”
Throughout the day, delegates paused to celebrate a number of milestones: the 60th anniversary of the Methodist Church granting full clergy rights to women and the 200th anniversary of Francis Asbury’s death. They also recognized the service of Neil Alexander, outgoing president of the United Methodist Publishing House.
Also on Thursday, General Conference turned to a presentation and video on the Korean War and on efforts, including by United Methodists, to bring about peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. Bishop Minerva Carcaño, presiding the afternoon session, highlighted the small wooden Korean “peace crosses” that have been part of this General Conference. She noted that they were made in the part of Korea where Wisconsin Area Bishop Hee-Soo Jung is from.
In other news
The Judicial Council May 19 ruled a proposed establishment of a United Methodist “Standing Committee on Strategy and Growth” funded by $20 million taken from denominational coffers was unconstitutional. The court’s decision noted that the amended petition did not include how the committee’s membership “is to be determined nor how the $20 million is to be spent,” adding that such a committee also “cannot dictate the duties, functions or responsibilities of the general agencies.”
For the first time, a member from outside the United States has been elected president of the United Methodist Judicial Council. N. Oswald Tweh Sr., a lay member from Liberia, will lead the denomination’s top court for 2016-2020.
The new leadership team of the Council of Bishops was formally introduced during plenary on May 19. Bishop Bruce Ough is the incoming president, and Bishop Kenneth Carter is the president-designate. Bishop Cynthia Harvey is returning as secretary. Serving as executive secretary will be Bishop Marcus Matthews, and serving as ecumenical officer will be Bishop Michael Watson. Past Council of Bishops President Warner H. Brown Jr. will be part of the leadership team as well.
General Conference delegates learned in the morning that Delmar P. Robinson, a General Council on Finance and Administration board member, had passed away. Robinson had been nominated to return to the finance agency board. Delegates joined in prayer for Robinson and his loved ones. With his death, General Conference delayed voting on general agency board members until the Council of Bishops could revise its list of nominees.
Butler is a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications. Contact him at [email protected] or 615-742-5470.