Committee proposes bishops as legislative chairs
By United Methodist News ServiceThe
committee that establishes rules for the United Methodist Church's
lawmaking assembly has recommended that bishops - rather than elected
laity or clergy - lead the assembly's legislative committees, beginning
The 10-member Committee on Plan of Organization and
Rules of General Conference, meeting in Chicago May 3, proposed that two
bishops be assigned as chairpersons for each of the 11 legislative
committees that review and recommend petitions to General Conference. If
approved by the opening plenary of the 2004 General Conference, the
rule change would go into effect at that session of the church's
assembly, which meets every four years. The Rev. Jerome K. Del Pino, top
executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and
Ministry, is chairman of the rules committee.
The current rules
stipulate that, once legislative committees are organized at General
Conference, committee members themselves elect one of their own as
chairperson. Supporters of the rule change say the current practice is
problematic because committee leadership may be uneven, depending on who
is elected, and because it removes those chairpersons - elected
delegates from the church's regional units - from participating in
discussion and debate.
"After serious and careful research and
discussion, the committee has made a bold decision that is worthy of the
defining moment that awaits our denomination when the 2004 General
Conference undertakes its legislative task," Del Pino said. "In a word,
the committee's decision will enable that task to be taken utterly
seriously by providing leadership that is prepared, focused and
Assigning bishops as chairpersons would foster more
consistent leadership and give all delegates a chance to participate in
debate, proponents of the change say. The recommendation by the rules
committee would not allow bishops to make reports to the full body at
General Conferences, as is the current practices of legislative
committee chairpersons. Rather, a delegate - possibly a recorder elected
by each committee - would make those reports.
change surfaced last year, when an ad hoc committee of the Commission on
the General Conference was seeking ways to improve the denomination's
lawmaking process. The commission oversees planning and logistics for
General Conference, which includes about 1,000 delegates from United
Methodist annual (regional) conferences in Europe, Africa, the United
States and the Philippines.
Currently, United Methodist bishops
only preside and serve as parliamentarians during full plenary sessions
at General Conference. They have no voice or vote in setting church law.
Under the new rule, bishops would chair the 11 legislative committees
at the 2004 General Conference.
The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss,
reporting for the ad hoc group to the rules committee, said she hopes
naming bishops as chairpersons will allow more equal participation among
the delegates during legislative committee proceedings. She also sees
it as a way to take some of the negative political nature out of what
should be "holy conferencing" by the church, lessening divisiveness by
eliminating the highly partisan election of chairpersons.
Conference delegates can change anything in the denomination's Book of
Discipline except the church's Constitution. The 2004 assembly, meeting
April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh, will have 11 legislative committees:
church and society; conferences; discipleship; faith and order;
financial administration; general administration; global ministries;
higher education and ministry; independent commissions; judicial
administration; and local church.
Each legislative committee deals
with petitions related to a series of paragraphs from the Book of
Discipline. Petitions related to the Book of Resolutions are sorted by
subject matter. A legislative committee can recommend to the full
delegation concurrence or non-concurrence with the language as
submitted, or the committee may change the language and then recommend
concurrence. Legislative committees can also submit majority and
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