May 6, 2004
By Linda Bloom*
(UMNS) — The floating of a proposal to dissolve the United Methodist
Church into two separate denominations sparked hallway discussions at
the church’s top legislative meeting. This proposal and a morning
demonstration by gay-rights supporters overshadowed May 6 legislative
it appeared unlikely that such a proposal to separate the 10-million
member denomination would come to the floor of the 2004 General
Conference before its May 7 adjournment, two key conservative church
leaders openly talked about an “amicable” divorce over “irreconcilable
business was peacefully interrupted around 11:10 a.m. when more than
500 people circled the floor for 35 minutes, carrying banners and
singing hymns of reconciliation. The demonstration was led by Soulforce,
a non-denominational gay rights advocacy group.
A UMNS Photo by John C. Goodwin.
than 500 supporters of full rights for gay men and lesbians march in
protest of church policies during the 2004 General Conference.
in the week, delegates had upheld the denomination’s positions on
homosexuality, including the belief that the practice of homosexuality
is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed
practicing homosexuals” should not be allowed into the ordained
in liturgical robes, some members of the group walked to the altar and
poured water into the baptismal font, symbolizing a common bowl. “We’ve
been holding water at the entrance to General Conference every morning
and inviting people to remember their baptism,” explained Marjorie
Carlson, a participant in the demonstration. “We brought that water here
to remember what we bring to the church –– that we are of one faith and
baptized by one God.”
to the proposal, yet to be presented to the delegates, the Rev. William
Hinson, president of the Confessing Movement, said, “United Methodist
is an oxymoron. We haven’t been united for a long time.”
Rev. James Heidinger, president of the Good News organization, believes
there is “no expectation” that agreement will ever be reached among the
various constituencies of the church. “This is a deep theological
other conservatives do not endorse the idea of separation. The Rev.
Eddie Fox, a delegate and director of World Evangelism for the World
Methodist Council, said, “I don’t want to go there, and there are many
who would take the same stand. I know a lot of people have strong
feelings, but that’s not where I am.”
liberal groups supporting gay rights also rejected a split. The Common
Witness Coalition, made up of the Reconciling Ministries Network,
Methodist Federation for Social Action and Affirmation, said it was not
in favor of a schism and was fully committed to inclusion of all
Bishop C. Dale White called the proposal hurtful and destructive. “Why
should we destroy a great church on the basis of peripheral issues? On
the core issues of ministry and theology, the whole church agrees, even
if we articulate them differently.”
the worship service before the day’s business began, Bishop Robert E.
Fannin, Birmingham, Ala., tried to keep things in perspective by
reminding the delegates, “If we cannot agree that our primary task is
the presentation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then some of you
got on the wrong bus, came to the wrong town and the wrong conference.”
UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin.
Bishop Robert E. Fannin gives the sermon during morning worship.
the May 6 morning session, delegates continued to struggle with
overwhelming needs around the world and pressing financial concerns of
the church’s top fiscal agency proposes a 2005-2008 budget of $585
million, the financial administration legislative committee at General
Conference estimates the 10-million-member church could apportion a
total of $612 million.
the end of the morning, delegates had added another $43.8 million to
the $585 million budget proposed by the General Council on Finance and
Administration. That agency will consider all requests for additional
funds before making its final presentation on May 7, the final day of
the final figure is, the organization of the church will be somewhat
different after 2004, according to action taken by delegates. Beginning
Jan. 1, a “Connectional Table,” with 47 members, will help guide the
work of general agencies.
was adopted by delegates is an alternate version of the “Living into
the Future” proposal presented to General Conference by the
denomination’s Council on Ministries. That group had proposed that the
new Connectional Table would have performed both its own functions and
that of the General Council on Finance and Administration, meaning that
both agencies would have gone out of existence.
the finance agency will remain intact, while the Council on Ministries
will cease to operate after a transitional period.
new table will be composed of 28 people elected through jurisdictional
and central conferences; the presidents of most of the church’s general
agencies; a member from each of the racial-ethnic caucuses; one youth
and one young adult from the new Division on Ministries with Young
People; and the general secretaries of the agencies, who will have voice
but no vote.
on evangelism efforts in Africa, southeast Asia and Europe, delegates
approved a $4 million Global Education Fund to assist the 748 Methodist
schools, colleges, universities and seminaries in 69 countries.
Administered by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and
Ministry, the fund will help in its training of new generations of
clergy and lay leaders.
proven success is the United Methodist-related Africa University in
Zimbabwe, which serves 1,123 students from 22 African nations. Delegates
approved $10 million in apportioned funds and an additional $10
million, to be raised through World Service Special Gifts, for the
university over the next four years.
other business, delegates ordered the United Methodist Board of
Pensions and Health Benefits to conduct a study on the feasibility of
providing health care coverage that would effectively unite all U.S.
annual (regional) conferences into one single plan.
it is feasible, the pensions agency would provide detailed information
to the annual conference boards of pensions by Jan. 1, 2007, and work
with those boards to produce the most acceptable plan for submission to
the 2008 General Conference.
General Conference delegates also:
the creation of an African-American Methodist Heritage Center, which
will be housed at the United Methodist Commission on Archives and
History at Drew University in Madison, N.J., until a permanent facility
is built at one of the denomination’s historically black colleges or
a task force to study the connection between teen sexual identity and
suicide risk and publish a resource on the issue for congregations and
petitions that would have changed or eliminated the mandatory
retirement age of 70 for bishops, clergy and general agency staff.
the Okinawan government and its people in their efforts to remove or
substantially reduce U.S. military bases and U.S. military personnel on
the island of Okinawa.
all agencies of the church, local congregations and affiliated
organizations to purchase coffee for corporate and personal use through a
fair trade partner, such as Equal Exchange.
previous General Conferences in requesting that the U.S. government
lift its economic embargo against Cuba and seek negotiations with the
Cuban government for the purpose of resuming normal diplomatic
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.
News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7.
After May 10: (615) 742-5470.