May 2 wrap: Delegates approve new structure

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Bishop presides over restructure debate at United Methodist General Conference by 2012 United Methodist General Conference Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Houston Area presides over a May 2 debate on denominational restructure at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey. Click on image to enlarge.View more photos.

After several false starts to create a new structure, the May 2 session of the 2012 General Conference approved a modest realignment of the 13 general agencies that serve the 13 million-member United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Scott Campbell, a pastor in Cambridge, Mass., called for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on whether any part of the structure plan is unconstitutional. The request was granted, 505-344, well in excess of the required 20 percent of the delegates.

Costs of the new structure will be evaluated by the General Council on Finance and Administration and the Connectional Table for a final vote during the May 4 closing session.

The plan retains GCFA and four general program boards - Higher Education, Global Ministries, Church and Society and Discipleship.

The general commissions on the Status and Role of Women and Religion and Race will be combined as a Committee on Inclusiveness no later than June 30, 2013. An effort to continue the two commissions failed, 459 to 453.

That committee and the four program boards will report to a 45-member General Council on Strategy and Oversight. The top executives of those agencies will be nominated by the boards and elected by the council. If there is a conflict between guidance of a top executive of the council and the governing body of the agency, the agency executive should follow the directions of his or her board of directors.

The council will elect an executive general secretary who cannot be a bishop.

The Commission on Archives and History will be changed to a committee of the finance agency before June 30, 2013. The general director will be an associate general secretary of the council.

As established in an early plenary session, United Methodist Women will become an independent agency to join United Methodist Men, the Board of Pension and Health Benefits, the United Methodist Publishing House and United Methodist Communications as agencies that will report to General Conference. Executives of those agencies will be nonvoting members of the General Council on Strategy and Oversight.

The Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns will become an office of the Council of Bishops by June, 30, 2013.

Plan architects

The plan, dubbed the Plan UMC, evolved from conversations between members of the legislative committee of the Connectional Table and delegates who submitted "Plan B" at the General Administration Legislation Committee during the first week of the conference.

Authors of a proposed restructuring plan from the Methodist Federation for Social Action said they were not consulted.

While the names of the 18 people drafting Plan UMC were listed in the Daily Christian Advocate, several delegates wanted to know about their conference, age and ethnicity before voting on a motion to refer. That information was not available at the time of voting.

The Rev. Tracy Malone, a delegate from Northern Illinois, argued in favor of referral. "There has been little time for delegates to consider the plan, and it was not published in other languages." She also said there was not broad representation of youth, women and members of central conferences on the writing team.

"The time is now," argued Evan Drexler, a delegate from Susquehanna Conference, speaking against referral. "The world is waiting to see what we are going to do to save The United Methodist Church."

The motion to refer the proposal to the Connectional Table for further study was defeated, 395 to 555. The structure was approved 567 to 384.

Proposed amendment referred

The denomination's Constitution carries a paragraph stating that no "organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, gender, color, national origin, status or economic condition."

The Commission on the Status and Role of Women asked the conference to begin steps to amend the Constitution to add "gender" to the list, and the assembly added the word "age" to the list of characteristics that cannot used to prohibit membership or attendance.

By a squeaker vote, 443-439, delegates agreed to refer the proposal to the Commission on the Status and Role of Women for further study.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Delegates received two petitions with minority reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Don House, a delegate from Texas argued against a minority report that called for United Methodist agencies to divest investments in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard until those companies end their involvement in the Israeli occupation.

He likened the effort to blame the cited companies to an effort to blame a company that manufactured a car for a car wreck caused by a drunk driver.

After defeating the minority report, the assembly reaffirmed a resolution opposing Israeli settlements in Palestinian land and added a clause affirming "the church's commitment to non-violent response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and (acknowledging) the need to hear the voices of all those Muslims, Christian, and Jewish harmed by the conflict...."

Other issues

In other business, the assembly:

  • Approved a revised judicial trial process for clergy that removes the Committee on Investigation step. Delegates also called for open trials unless the presiding officer decides the trial should be closed. The trial itself is unchanged.
  • Observed the presentation of an ecumenical award to the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director of Church World Service, an international humanitarian agency with programs in development and humanitarian affairs, advocacy for social justice, and refugee assistance around the world.
  • Reaffirmed a resolution calling for the phasing out of nuclear weapons production and the closing down of five weapons-producing reactors and the Rocky Flats Plutonium Processing Plant.
  • Referred a request to the United Methodist Publishing House that electronic access be provided to the series of 27 booklets titled "Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation." Delegates were told it will cost $95,500 in acquisition and other costs to provide the service, and the Publishing House would lose $1.1 million in sales.

*Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference attending his 12th General Conference, including four times as editor of the DCA and three times as a member of the UMNS news staff.

News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Tampa, Fla. (813) 574-4837 through May 4; after May 4: (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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