Vol. 24, No. 17/April 26, 1996
Newscope will be available free to internet users during General Conference courtesy of Rich Peck, Newscope editor, and the United Methodist Publishing House.
Episcopal Address Seeks Balance in Theological Stance
Addressing twin temptations of doctrinal indifference and doctrinal control, Bishop Judith Craig (Ohio West) invited the 1996 General Conference to engage in "holy conferencing."
Speaking on behalf of the Council of Bishops, Craig told the Denver assembly that "opposing temptations beckon us--one is to go on to new things disregarding tradition altogether," she said. "The other is to stand so rigidly in tradition as to believe we simply must make what once was happen again." Noting that "some retreat into memory, others tend to run ahead as if suffering amnesia," the bishop called for a balance between these poles and invited the delegates to "step out of party spirit and walk together in Holy Spirit."
In other matters, the bishop: 1) expressed concern about violence around the world; 2) celebrated the global nature of the church and the membership growth in central conferences; 3) lamented humankind's loss of a sense of reverence; 4) urged delegates to keep the image of the most powerless of people--the poor, children, youth, women--in the forefront of their work; 5) called for a confession of the "sad truth" that our institutions favor Caucasians; 6) lamented the rising numbers of clergy sexual-misconduct cases and said response "must evidence swift, just, and gentle care for all the aggrieved" including the wounded and wounders; 7) yearned for a holy community that embraces sexuality as a good gift of creation; 8) affirmed the sanctity of marriage but called for a "spirit of welcome for persons of many realities and persuasions"; 9) urged delegates not to establish any structure that weakens the "urgency of solidarity in witness and practice in a fractured world"; and 10) called delegates to "stay at the Table" in times of "conflict and differing opinion."
The episcopal address was the first to be accompanied by videos and slides on a large background screen. The speech was preceded by a first-ever choir of bishops and spouses.
General Conference Affirms Human Rights of All Persons
In 1992, Colorado approved Amendment Two, a state measure that "some UMs felt was at odds with our historic Wesleyan witness for human and civil rights for all." F. Belton Joyner, a clergy delegate from North Carolina, reminded delegates that the April 18 "Call to Witness and Prayer" originated with feelings that the constitutional amendment would deny basic human-rights to gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual persons.
At the beginning of the 105-minute service, Joyner acknowledged that some UMs supported the amendment and "saw it as an extension of our official denominational view that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." However, others said it was no longer appropriate for General Conference to be held in Colorado. The end result was a decision to stay in Denver and conduct a service affirming human rights for all persons.
In the meditation, William Abraham, professor at Perkins School of Theology, said Methodism's history on social justice and civil rights is a mixed one. "We have wobbled and we have wavered," he said. "No doubt we will wobble and waver again." He said, "Any movement which takes the gospel--this gospel--seriously cannot restrict the faith to a circle of private existence or experience." He urged UMs to "go over against the secular world...to make disciples."
In addition, five persons witnessed to human rights abuses:
Andrei Kim of Moscow said Russian citizens do not have any guarantees for life and civil rights. "Guarantees are given only by the Lord and the Funeral Services Bureau."
Dorothy Yeoman of Elgin, Ill., said she has been ministering for 12 years to some 800 women imprisoned at the Dwight Correctional Center for Women in Illinois. She said that in the past 75 years, 417 have been wrongly convicted and 23 of these innocent persons were executed.
Francisco de Castro Maria of Angola said that "for more than four centuries Angolan people experienced the violation of human rights and discrimination" due to colonization. One measure of conditions in that African nation is that more than 500,000 persons have recently fled Angola, creating "one of the worst refugee problems in the world."
Although I am not yet 40 years old," said Randy Miller, San Francisco, "I have seen enough discrimination and hatred as an African-American man and as an openly gay man, to turn the heart to stone." He told of his sadness when the religious community responded only in silence to the torching of a newly-built Metropolitan Community Church in Atlanta.
Minerva G. Carcano, Albuquerque, N.M., told of a jurisdictional conference that uttered an "unholy mantra"--"two is enough...two is enough," following the election of two Black bishops. "It did not matter whether a Black sister or brother had greater gifts," she said, for "two is enough." She also told of hateful remarks made by Christians about homosexual persons.
Fifteen Bishops Express Pain at Lesbian, Gay Proscription
Personal "pain" at "proscriptions...against gay and lesbian persons" in official policies was voiced by 15 bishops in a dramatic statement released late yesterday.
The bishops, 11 active and four retired, affirmed their commitment to "continue our responsibility to order and discipline of the church," but urged congregations "to open the doors in gracious hospitality to all our brothers and sisters in the faith."
"We believe it is time to break the silence and state where we are on this issue that is hurting and silencing countless faithful Christians," the statement said. The bishops disagreed with paragraphs 71F, 402.2, and 906.12. Active bishops signing the statement were: Judith Craig, William W. Dew Jr., Calvin D. McConnell, Susan M. Morrison, Fritz Mutti, Donald A. Ott, Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Roy I. Sano, Mary Ann Swenson, Melvin G. Talbert, and Joseph H. Yeakel. ÿ20Retired bishops signing were: Jesse R. DeWitt, Leontine T.C. Kelly, Melvin G. Wheatley, and C. Dale White.
In the following morning's session, William A. Hinson, pastor of the 14,000-member First UMC in Houston, urged the other bishops to "break their silence" and tell a "shaken, hurting church" to "assure us that our standards are based on Scripture and majority rule." Good News charaterized the statement as an act of desperation by 15 bishops "who may well realize the tide in the church continues to recognize the incompatibility of homosexuality with Christian teaching. The Denver Post reported, "Methodists are mad as Hell." On the other hand Mark Bowman, national coordinator of the Reconciling Congregations Program said the statement helps nudge the church toward "full inclusion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons in the UMC."
UM Bishops Plea for Unity of Spirit
Several calls for unity were issued by UM bishops during the one-half hour worship services preceding General Conference:
Bishop William Boyd Grove (Albany): "Our truth is not compelling to the world because our disagreements have led to alienation; and the world, seeing our alienation, is not really interested in our truth. Billy Graham recently said that the first mark of discipleship is not orthodoxy, but love."
Bishop Alfred Lloyd Norris (Northwest Texas-New Mexico): "My sisters and brothers, our problems are not economics, or health, or education. We have a crisis of faith and trust. We're fighting each other, and maiming each other, and defacing each other."
Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader (Wisconsin): "God wants relationship and any worthwhile relationship includes honesty....How can we worship, truly worship, if we don't tell the truth about ourselves and our world?....Special interest groups demonize those who do not agree with their particular understanding of truth....Racism, hetero-sexism, and classism too often characterize our life together in spite of our desire to do otherwise."
Bishop Joseph C. Humper (Sierra Leone): "Man is the wolf of humankind. The elements--in all their fury--have not been as terrible as man has been to his fellows. Human beings have waged war on peace and so do not give peace a chance."
Meeting during General Conference, the Judicial Council ruled that it is legal, but unwise for a bishop's spouse to serve on a Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy. The request for the ruling came from the Pacific Northwest Conference. The request for a ruling came from the Pacific Northwest Conference.
Bishop Roy I. Sano challenged delegates to embrace a future that appreciates the distinctive contributions of women, people of color, and the marginalized. Speaking at the opening Communion service, the bishop said, "the past will be surpassed, but not supplanted." He urged delegates to "keep open to new possibilities and respectful of our past."
The 10th anniversary of Disciple was celebrated during General Conference. An April 17 gathering celebrated a "dream" that began in Flower Mound, Texas, in March of 1986 and an intensive Bible study process that has involved over 400,000 persons around the world. At the end of the 20-minute program of remembrance and celebration, Neil Alexander, president of the UM Publishing House, announced a third Disciple study with a simple message: "Call home." That series will be available to local churches this summer.
In a dramatic moment at General Conference, Helen Worth, a member of the Interagency Task Force on AIDS, gave a moving account of her discovery that she became HIV positive following a blood transfusion. "I implore you," she said. "Let God do the judging. All we have to do is love our fellow man.
Meeting April 19, the one-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, General Conference paused in its deliberations to remember the 149 adults and 19 children killed in the explosion. The assembly sent a letter quoting a Daily Christian Advocate cover article to Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norrick. In that daily paper, Thomas Roughface of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, said "Scripture paints a vivid picture of people rebuilding out of ruin and claiming the promises of God."
The conference defeated a request to add a new sentence to Discipline Para. 113: "Exaggerated efforts at inclusive language that deny ecumenical triune teaching in the name of God, the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are to be rejected."
The assembly agreed (678 to 220) to send a delegation to meet with President Bill Clinton or Vice-President Al Gore to "express our deep desire as UMs for peace with justice in the Middle East." The action followed a speech by Bishop Judith Craig (Ohio West) who condemned attacks by the Hezbollah, but said the attacks did not justify "inhuman violations" by Israeli against innocent Palestinians.
A delegate from Liberia urged General Conference to request U.S. government intervention in that war-torn African nation. During a press conference, Lamark J. Cox Sr., lay leader in Liberia, said anarchy now reigns in his country. "Gangs roam the capital of Monrovia indiscriminately killing and destroying property," he said. Cox said he was packing for General Conference when 15 to 20 men held his family at gun point and stole suitcases they had been packing for Denver. Cox, his wife, and daughter managed to get out of Monrovia the following day on a U.S. military flight. Bishop Arthur F. Kulah (Liberia) was scheduled to arrive during the second week of the conference.
Noting that membership criteria of Gideons International stands "in opposition to the Discipline, General Conference urged the organization to "open their membership to all Christians, regardless of gender, socio-economic class, or denominational background."
A plea for the U.S. to end the embargo against Cuba was issued during General conference by the newly elected Methodist bishop of that nation. Bishop Gustavo Cruz said the embargo is penalizing the poorest Cubans, not government officials.
Following a presentation of the Ministry Study Committee, General Conference delegates broke into 25 non-legislative groups to discuss the proposals from the Council of Bishops. Following the 90-minute informal gatherings, the leaders found consensus on the following: 1) the ministry of all Christians is confirmed; 2) and seems to be elitist; and 3) we don't want any more ministry studies. Groups also sought clarification of several items and offered several concerns: 1) is the document global or more tailored to the U.S.?; 2) how does the proposal affect the ecumenical proposal? 3) does the two-step ordination proposal create a second-class citizenship for deacons?; 4) what will happen to current diaconal ministers?; 5) how do we deal with two orders of all members with different itinerancy patterns?; and 6) how do we deal with appointments beyond the local church? That consensus was given to the legislative committee dealing with the ministry study.
New World Outlook, Hoosier UM News, Christian Social Action, and the Christian Century received Associated Church Press Awards at an April 12 ceremony in Phoenix.
John Wesley's passion for education once again needs to be the center of work and mission of the UMC, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. Riley, a UM, delivered that message as a keynote speaker for a Higher Education Night for some 600 UMs attending General Conference. The former governor of South Carolina was given a copy of the 51-page Education: The Gift of Hope document to be considered by the conference during the second week. Riley urged delegates to make active efforts to help high school students prepare for college. Riley was also presented to the plenary session of General Conference.
Bishop Woodie W. White (Indiana) was installed April 18 as president of the Council of Bishops, succeeding Bishop Roy I. Sano (Los Angeles). Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil (Manila) was named president-elect for 1997. Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader (Wisconsin) succeeded Bishop Melvin G. Talbert (San Francisco) as secretary of the council.....First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, a UM, accepted an invitation to address General Conference on April 23.....Bishop L. Bevel Jones III, president of the North American section of the World Methodist Council (WMC), William K. Quick, pastor of Metropolitan UMC in Detroit, and Mary Hale, wife of Joe Hale, top WMC executive, were selected as recipients of the WMC "Seat of Honor" at an April 19 luncheon in Denver.....Robert K. Feaster, recently retired president and publisher of the UM Publishing House, was honored during a plenary session of General Conference.
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