By Jessica Brodie
Five constitutional amendments that came out of General Conference 2016 will go before the South Carolina Annual Conference in June for a vote.
General Conference, the denomination’s gathering held every four years of United Methodists around the world, met May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon, and ultimately passed the five amendments, which now must be voted on by all annual and central conferences.
“They will be ratified pending majority vote by the annual and central conferences,” said South Carolina conference secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson.
Nelson said the language of the amendments cannot be altered.
“There is only a straight up or down vote in favor or against,” Nelson said.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment I
This amendment adds a new paragraph between current Para. 5 and 6 in the 2012 Book of Discipline, Division One, regarding gender justice. The paragraph would become the new Para. 6, and the current Para. 6-61 would be renumbered as Para. 7-62.
The paragraph would read:
“As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl’s equality and well-being.”
General Conference-approved rationale for the amendment notes that the constitution contains a paragraph on racial justice but not one on gender justice.
“The language of this petition is parallel to the language of Article 5 on racial justice already in our constitution,” the rationale states. “It is an affirmation that, as part of our core foundational beliefs, this church will forever stand against any actions, organizations or individuals that discriminate or dehumanize women and girls anywhere on this planet.”
Proposed Constitutional Amendment II
This amendment changes Para. 4, Article IV, of the 2012 Book of Discipline, Division One, to modify gender equity language.
The new paragraph would read, “The United Methodist Church is part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability, or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.”
The rationale for the amendment notes that adding gender to the Constitution affirms and protects the UMC’s commitment to gender equity throughout our worldwide connection. “‘Gender’ is the disciplinary term for fair treatment of women and men (e.g., Para. 16),” the rationale states. “The addition of the proposed final clause allows gender-specific groups like United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men.”
Proposed Constitutional Amendment III
This amendment attempts to fix what the rationale calls “unduly vague” language. Section VI, Para. 34, Article III, of the 2012 Book of Discipline, Division Two, would add language about delegates to General Conference needing to be elected (not appointed).
The new Para. 34 would read:
“The annual conference shall elect clergy and lay delegates to the General Conference and to its jurisdictional or central conference in the manner provided in this section, Articles IV and V. Such elections shall include open nominations from the floor by the annual conference, and delegates shall be elected by a minimum of a simple majority of the ballots cast. The persons first elected up to the number determined by the ratio for representation in the General Conference shall be representatives in that body. Additional delegates shall be elected to complete the number determined by the ratio for representation in the jurisdictional or central conference, who, together with those first elected as above, shall be delegates in the jurisdictional or central conference. The additional delegates to the jurisdictional or central conference shall in the order of their election be the reserve delegates to the General Conference. The annual conference shall also elect reserve clergy and lay delegates to the jurisdictional or central conference as it may deem desirable. These reserve clergy and lay delegates to the jurisdictional or central conferences may act as reserve delegates to the General Conference when it is evident that not enough reserve delegates are in attendance at the General Conference.
According to the rationale, the change adds clarity.”
“General Conference delegates shall be elected by the body of annual conference instead of simply being appointed by the bishop,” the rationale states. “Bishops appointing delegates without delegates being properly elected has been a practice in some central conferences.”
Proposed Constitutional Amendment IV
This amendment adds language to Para. 46, Article I, of the 2012 Book of Discipline, Division Three, about episcopal elections being held in the same manner for central conferences as in jurisdictions.
The new paragraph would read, “The bishops shall be elected by the respective jurisdictional and central conferences and consecrated in the historic manner at such time and place as may be fixed by the General Conference for those elected by the jurisdictions and by each central conference for those elected by such central conference, provided that episcopal elections in central conferences shall be held at a regular, not an extra, session of the central conference, except in the case where an unexpected vacancy must be filled.”
Proposed Constitutional Amendment V
This amendment adds a new sentence to the end of Para. 50, Article VI, of the 2012 Book of Discipline, Division Three, enabling the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work. According to the rationale, Judicial Decision 475 ruled unconstitutional the Council of Bishops holding its individual members accountable for their work, referencing Para. 50, so this legislation follows the Judicial Decision 1275 requirement of a legislative resolution from General Conference so the Council of Bishops may provide such oversight.
The new paragraph includes a new last sentence and would read:
“The bishops, both active and retired, of The Evangelical United Brethren Church and of The Methodist Church at the time union is consummated shall be bishops of The United Methodist Church.
“The bishops of The Methodist Church elected by the jurisdictions, the active bishops of The Evangelical United Brethren Church at the time of union, and bishops elected by the jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church shall have life tenure. Each bishop elected by a central conference of The Methodist Church shall have such tenure as the central conference electing him shall have determined.
“The jurisdictional conference shall elect a standing committee on episcopacy to consist of one clergy and one lay delegate from each annual conference, on nomination of the annual conference delegation. The committee shall review the work of the bishops, pass on their character and official administration, and report to the jurisdictional conference its findings for such action as the conference may deem appropriate within its constitutional warrant of power. The committee shall recommend the assignments of the bishops to their respective residences for final action by the jurisdictional conference.
“These provisions shall not preclude that adoption by the General Conference of provisions for the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work, both as general superintendents and as presidents and residents in episcopal areas.”
The constitutional amendments are available in pre-conference materials.