April 30, 2010 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)
A UMNS 2007 map courtesy of GCFA.
In many United Methodist circles, debate over the role of gays and
lesbians in the church sparks controversy and creates bitter divisions.
In order to avoid having their work overshadowed, the committee
asked to craft a worldwide vision for The United Methodist Church
decided to leave issues of ordination of gay and lesbian ministers to
General Conference. At present, self-professed practicing homosexuals
are not eligible for ordination.
“While some will view this as a victory for one side in the debate,
the committee believes it best to advance the worldwide nature of the
church and leave this process as it is,” said Kansas Area Bishop Scott
Jones, chair of the committee that met April 19-22 in Manila.
In other actions, the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The
United Methodist Church also agreed to ask the 2012 General Conference
- Grant more autonomy to regional United Methodist bodies while
retaining the denomination’s unique connectional nature. That includes
allowing regional bodies to determine if bishops are elected for life,
or to shorter terms.
- Shorten and simplify the Book of Discipline, now mainly
North American in focus, so it can be used effectively around the
- Continue the Council of Bishops as the key unifying force in the
- Retain the Social Principles, which have guided the
denomination’s Wesleyan commitment to social justice, in the Book of
- Retain doctrinal standards such as the Articles of Religion,
Confession of Faith and General Rules as binding for the worldwide
Bishop Scott Jones
After much discussion, the committee agreed more research and input
are needed on the role of general agencies. That debate focused on
which of the church’s general agencies are U.S.-focused, and which are
truly worldwide in nature. A main issue is whether entities outside the
United States should have their own agencies, or whether some general
agencies should be located outside the United States.
Despite varying views on the emotional issue of the ordination of
non-celibate homosexuals, the hour-long conversation among the members
of the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist
Church remained civil and respectful.
The Rev. Kathy Stengel of the Western New York Annual (regional)
Conference said taking ordination standards away from the General
Conference would guarantee defeat of all committee recommendation at
the 2012 General Conference.
“I am not willing to sacrifice the work of the committee over the
issue of homosexuality,” said an emotional Marjorie Suchocki, a
California theologian who supports ordination of non-celibate gays and
The Rev. Timothy McClendon of the South Carolina Annual Conference
said committee members struggled with the issue, but decided “this was a
core principle that needed to be held with the General Conference,” the
church’s top legislative body.
McClendon added that the Judicial Council has ruled ordination “is
not local, not provincial, but is worldwide.”
Created by the 2008 General Conference, the 20-member committee is
seeking to develop a just, balanced framework for a denomination whose
focus, historically dominated by the United States, is shifting to
Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
The Rev. Forbes Matonga
Members of the committee represent the
United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines. Its members include
bishops, theologians, experts on church law, laypersons and ethnic
One member, the Rev. Forbes Matonga of Zimbabwe, said the
committee’s work is vital for United Methodists who live outside the
“Connectionalism is not top down, but side by side. If we
decentralize, we empower our denomination to be more involved
regionally,” Matonga said. “By creating this structure, we are giving
more legitimacy to our churches (outside the United States).”
Jones said, “We are making quite a list of how we might live more
fully in our worldwide nature. We have seen a vision of The United
Methodist Church as a worldwide embodiment of Christ.”
The committee adopted a vision statement to guide the rest of its
“We see a worldwide United Methodist Church driven to make disciples
of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. To live more
fully into this vision, we are working toward deeper connections
throughout the church, greater local authority, and more equitable
sharing of power and representation around the world.”
The committee will next meet in August in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
That meeting will be preceded by a series of listening-post sessions in
Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia. The
committee’s full report for the 2012 General Conference is due by July
*Drachler is communications consultant for the study committee.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470