|Assembly delegates to consider over 1,500 petitions|
Delegate Carol Winn Crawford of Louisiana speaks
during a legislative committee session at the 2004 United Methodist
General Conference in Pittsburgh. Delegates to the 2008 legislative
assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, will consider more than 1,500 pieces of
proposed legislation. A UMNS file photo by Paul Jeffrey.
A UMNS Report
By J. Richard Peck*
March 5, 2008
1,000 delegates to the United Methodist General Conference are now
wading through 1,564 pieces of proposed legislation to be considered
during the April 23-May 2 meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.
On Feb.15, United Methodist Publishing House mailed 1,540 copies of the Advance Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate to delegates, first alternates, bishops and others. Portuguese and French editions later were sent to delegates in Africa.
Delegates received a 157-page Handbook for Delegates, which
includes the proposed plan of organization and rules of order for the
assembly and a listing of delegates and committee assignments. They also
received the hefty two-volume Advance DCA, which includes
reports from churchwide agencies and proposed legislation. The page
count is 1,560, up from 1,411 in 2004 when the last assembly was held.
Most petitions sent by agencies, annual conferences, local churches and individuals propose changes in the Book of Discipline, which is the church's book of law, and also in the Book of Resolutions, which outlines the church's positions on social-justice issues.
These petitions are assigned by subject matter or disciplinary
paragraph to one of 14 legislative committees. Committee members
consider each petition and then recommend approval as submitted,
approval as amended, or they recommend defeating the petition.
When a petition not involving money or a change in the denomination’s
Constitution receives 10 or fewer negative votes, it is placed on a
time-saving consent calendar and is voted on as a bloc along with other
Since so many petitions relate to social justice issues, these 414
petitions are assigned to two Church and Society legislative committees.
The Legislative Committee on Ministry and Higher Education will
consider 229 petitions, the highest number of petitions assigned to any
single legislative committee.
The petition process
The Rev. Gary Graves, a pastor in Beaver Dam, Ky., serves as
petitions secretary and is responsible for sorting and filing all
petitions. While there are nearly 1,600 different pieces of proposed
legislation, many submissions were identical.
While sorting through thousands of petitions, Graves suffered three
kidney stone attacks, resulting in the same number of trips to the
emergency room. "I don’t attribute that to the petitions process," he
Graves is especially grateful for petitioners who have transitioned
to e-mail submissions, which decreased the number of boxes of "snail
mail" to his office from 47 in 2003 to just over two boxes in 2007. For
the last assembly, Graves shipped 18 boxes of petitions to the site of
General Conference. This year, he will ship four boxes to Fort Worth and
the rest of the petitions will be handled electronically.
Graves praised petitioners for limiting the rationales behind their
legislation to 50 words––the word count permitted to be printed in the Advance DCA.
If the explanation for the proposed changes exceeds that total, the
rationale is sent to the chair of the legislative committee considering
Here is a roundup highlighting some of the petitions to be considered this spring:
The most far-reaching petition comes from a six-member task force
that proposes to make the church's five U.S. jurisdictions into a
regional body, similar to the church's central conferences that exist
outside of the United States. That action requires a change in the
Constitution and must be approved by two-thirds of the General
Conference delegates and two-thirds of the aggregate total of annual
The issue that seems to grab most of the headlines also received the highest number of petitions.
Supporters of full rights for gays and lesbians in
The United Methodist Church march in protest of church policies on the
floor of the 2004 assembly. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
Petitions from 616 groups or individuals ask General Conference to
make no change in the existing statements on homosexuality within the
church's Social Principles. That statement declares homosexuals to be
"individuals of sacred worth," but declares the practice of
homosexuality to be "incompatible with Christian teaching."
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church's social
action agency, is asking the assembly to delete the incompatibility
clause and replace it with: "While Christians of good faith differ on
what Christian teaching reveals regarding gender and homosexuality, we
affirm God’s grace is available to all." The Iowa Annual (regional)
Conference offers a similar petition
Another 326 petitioners are asking delegates to make no change in the
present statement supporting laws that define marriage as the "union of
one man and one woman." However, petitions wanting to delete that
clause are from the Board of Church and Society along with the Kansas
East, Northern Illinois, Minnesota, California-Nevada, Oregon-Idaho, New
England, California-Pacific and New York conferences.
The United Methodist Church now recognizes the "sanctity of unborn
human life" but also respects the "life and well-being of the mother,
for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy."
Seventy-six petitions want to replace the words "an unacceptable" with
"a life threatening."
Another 322 petitions want to make it clear that abortion is only
acceptable if the "physical death of the mother" would result from the
"continuation of a pregnancy."
A total of 370 petitions, including the North Carolina and Northwest
Texas conferences, call for churchwide agencies to withdraw their
membership from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. They
argue that the church opposes partial birth abortion while the coalition
supports the practice. Eighty petitions, including one from the
Mississippi conference, ask for a resolution supporting the coalition to
be deleted from the Book of Resolutions. A total of 375 petitions support parental notification if an abortion is being considered.
The Board of Church and Society wants the church to call for
legislation which will "entitle all persons within the borders of the
United States to the provision of health care services, the cost of such
services to be equally shared by American taxpayers." Public funds
would be generated by individual premiums and a payroll tax.
The Board of Discipleship and the United Methodist Publishing House
are asking delegates to authorize the creation of a 27-member Hymnal
Revision Committee to "prepare and present to the 2012 General
Conference a single-volume hymn and worship book."
The discipleship agency also wants the assembly to create a
nine-member committee to study the possibility of publishing "an
official United Methodist hymnal for North American Christians of
African descent in the Wesleyan heritage." That Nashville, Tenn.,-based
agency also wants to continue the Strengthening the Black Church for the
21st Century initiative––a program started in 1996 and renewed by the
following two General Conferences.
The General Council on Finance and Administration will propose a
denominational budget of nearly $642 million for the 2009-2012 period,
up 4.8 percent. That four-year total includes $333 million for World
Service, a 4.96 percent increase for ministries of churchwide agencies.
The agencies have been asked to develop their budgets around four areas
of focus: 1) leadership development; 2) church growth; 3) ministry with
the poor; and 4) global health.
GCFA recommends no increase for funds supporting ministerial
education, black colleges, Africa University or interdenominational
ministries. The proposed budget for the operation of bishops’ offices
would increase 13 percent to more than $94 million. The administrative
cost of operating GCFA, General Conference, Judicial Council and the
Commission on Archives and History would total nearly $37 million, up
almost 9 percent from the 2005-2008 period.
A full listing of all petitions is scheduled to be available by early April on the General Conference Web site at http://gc2008.umc.org.
*Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference and
has attended 10 General Conferences, four of which he served as the
editor of The Daily Christian Advocate.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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