April 19, 2004
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
survey of delegates to the upcoming United Methodist General Conference
shows homosexuality is one of the top issues facing the denomination as
well as society at large.
Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, gathers every four
years. This year, 998 delegates, elected by their annual (regional)
conferences, will meet April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.
survey, conducted by the denomination’s Office of Research &
Planning, General Council on Ministries, also listed war and violence,
racism, poverty and “engaging a changing world” among the top five
issues facing society.
Church finances, membership loss and restructuring were named as the other major denominational issues.
“diversity and inclusivity” was considered the fifth top issue facing
General Conference, the fifth issue facing the United Methodist Church
as a whole was “unity for the denomination.”
church’s major concerns are not new. Craig This, a council executive,
noted that delegates have listed homosexuality, church finances,
restructuring and membership loss as the top issues before General
Conference in surveys since 1988.
October, 800 surveys for the 2004 General Conference were distributed
to U.S. delegates, and 573, or 72 percent, of those polled gave
responses. At the time, a lack of mailing addresses prevented mailing
surveys to delegates outside the United States, according to the Office
of Research and Planning.
The report on those surveys, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to U.S. Delegates at the 2004 General Conference,
provides a description of the delegates — who they are, what they
believe, where they serve the church, and what issues they see facing
those responding, 35 percent are serving as delegates for the first
time, compared to 38 percent in 2000. In terms of gender, 57 percent are
male and 42 percent female. The number of clergywomen continues to
increase, but “the number of laywomen appears to be declining,” the
out of 10 delegates polled reported an intense involvement in their
local congregations, which included attending worship every week,
assuming leadership roles and “regularly giving 5 percent or more of
their net income” to their local church.
common perception is that General Conference delegates are nothing more
than politicians,” the report stated. “General Conference delegates, by
the very nature of their work, are called to be political — to debate,
to caucus, to vote — but they bring to General Conference the qualities
of individuals who are well-equipped to discern the will of God for the
United Methodist Church.”
percent of the responding delegates are lifelong United Methodists.
Among those who are not, 33 percent are former Baptists. Sixty-one
percent serve or attend churches with 500 or more members, 56 percent
are age 55 or older, and 30 percent are retired.
Conference delegates tend to be more educated and have higher incomes
than both the average person attending a local church and the U.S.
population as a whole, according to the report. For example, while 12
percent of U.S. households have annual incomes of $100,000 or more, 35
percent of delegates earned at that level. Only 15 percent of delegates
have household incomes of $50,000 or less, compared to 58 percent of the
overall U.S. population.
than three-fourths of the respondents — 79 percent — are white. Blacks
and African-Americans represented 14 percent; Asians and Pacific
Islanders, 3 percent; Hispanics and Latinos, 2 percent; and Native
Americans, 1 percent.
a denomination, the United Methodist Church tends to reflect (the
demographics) of other mainline denominations in terms of race and
ethnicity,” the report said.
A copy of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to U.S. Delegates at the 2004 General Conference can be downloaded at http://www.gcom-umc.org/pdfs/methodistics/2004_report_2.pdf online.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.