|Request anticipates constitutionality questions|
Phil Roughton, a delegate from the Florida Annual
Conference, receives his credentials to the United Methodist General
Conference from Nancy Sherman, a local volunteer, on opening day of the
2008 assembly. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.
The Rev. Kathy Noble*
April 24, 2008 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)
Petitions that would mandate the membership in decision-making bodies of
The United Methodist Church have resulted in the 2008 General
Conference's first request to the church's Judicial Council.
Near the end of its business session late in the evening of April 23,
delegates voted to ask the denomination's "supreme court" for a
declaratory decision on the constitutionality of "various petitions that
require mandatory membership levels for select groups of people" in the
General Conference and on denominational boards and agencies.
Kevin Goodwin, delegate from the Peninsula-Delaware Annual (regional)
Conference, asked for the ruling in light of previous Judicial Council
decisions where language about the makeup of membership using words such
as "required," "shall" and “must" were ruled unconstitutional, while
statements saying membership of certain groups was "recommended" has
One specific petition to which he referred would require that at least
one person with a disability be included on each general agency's
governing board. Another would require that 30 percent of the total
membership of the general agencies be from central conferences (outside
the United States). Other petitions would require no less than 20
percent of the delegates to General Conference be youth or young adults.
Goodwin said the request for the decision was not to prevent committees
from discussing the petitions but to secure guidelines as to what might
be unconstitutional action by a General Conference working in a
shortened time frame --¬ 10 days rather than the 12 of past sessions.
Officially welcoming the delegates to what she termed their "$6 million
dollar meeting," the Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss, chair of the Commission on
General Conference, urged the delegates to consider favorably proposals
to reduce the maximum size of the assembly from the present 1,000 to
600. The reduction would be a "significant change which we think will
lead to equally big improvements" in terms of "better relationships,
richer conversations and, in the end, a holier gathering that Wesley
might recognize," she said.
It would also be less costly, she said, noting that the $6 million
expenditure for the 2008 General Conference would educate 26,000 girls
in the Congo or provide 500,000 malaria tests across Africa.
"We have much to celebrate," Murphy-Geiss said as she marked the
conference's opening on the 40th anniversary of the day that The United
Methodist Church was created in nearby Dallas, "but we are here to plan
'A Future with Hope.'"
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Houston Area presided as the delegates
adopted the rules under which they will work and participated in
Debate on a ban on cell phone use during plenary and legislative
committee sessions was limited to a motion by Pat Meadows, delegate from
North Alabama, that the restriction be limited to audible use.
Meadows' amendment was referred to the Rules Committee for a report on
April 24 as was one offered by Joe Kilpatrick, North Georgia, to
prohibit submission, publication or consideration of any petition that
"censures or demeans an individual or their character."
"We should not expect a legislative committee to act as a judge and jury."
Also referred was the motion of the Rev. Bryan D. Collier of Mississippi
to allow delegates requesting them to receive the Advance Daily
Christian Advocate in digital form only.
Delegates did agree to move the deadline for submitting petitions from
150 to 180 days before the opening of General Conference, beginning with
the 2012 session. Janet Stephenson, chair of the Commission on the Plan
of Organization and Rules, said the earlier deadline was requested by
the United Methodist Publishing House to facilitate printing and
distribution of the Advance Daily Christian Advocate in several
The commission will also consider a proposal to study and report to the
2012 General Conference on the possibility of codifying The Book of
Sensitivity training for delegates ended the evening. Erin Hawkins,
chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race,
and M. Garlinda Burton, the Commission on the Status and Role of
Women’s chief executive, reminded the delegates "how important it is to
reflect and respond to the whole community of God as we do our work."
Thwarting a person's participation because of race, gender or ethnicity,
they said, creates "blocks to hearing what God has to say."
The 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church opened April 23 and continues through May 2 in Fort Worth.
*Noble is editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine, publications of United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Kathy Noble, e-mail: email@example.com.
Phone calls can be made to the General Conference Newsroom in Fort
Worth, Texas, at (817) 698-4405 until May 3. Afterward, call United
Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., at (615) 742-5470.
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