Trapped in the belly of the UMC

POST DELETED

I wrote an intemperate post last night after district meeting. It was venting and not constructive, so I have taken it down. It was also unfair as my DS did give us an challenging sermon in the Wesleyan tradition.

I do believe we need to reform in significant ways our systems of meetings. But that post was little more than a screed.

Forgive me my trespasses.

Please explain Bledsoe vote

With the news that the South Central Jurisdiction has voted to retire Bishop Bledsoe against his will, I hope we will get some accounting of how he failed.

Accountability systems that have mysterious standards of success do not work. Please tell us why he was not deemed good enough to merit a new term. Be explicit.

End of Jurisdictions?

Indiana UMC Bishop Mike Coyner asks whether the day of the jurisdiction as a piece of United Methodist polity should be numbered.

What Will Become of Jurisdictions?

The post includes some interesting history and proposals. He suggests electing bishops at General Conference, but with each region still picking its own. It got me wondering if our denomination would be served by getting rid of regional control and having bishops elected by the entire church.

Whether you like that idea or not (which Coyner is not advocating, btw), the bishops raises some interesting points.

Jurisdictions are not central conferences

Retired UMC elder Gil Caldwell raises in the UM Reporter a line of argument that I have seen cropping up in a few places.

Paragraph 543.7 of the Book of Discipline, page 346 says this of Central Conferences: “A central conference shall have power to make such changes and adaptations of the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and the mission of the church in the area require ….” If we are  serious about “the special conditions and the mission of the church” in the Western, Northeastern and North Central Jurisdictions where states and the District of Columbia have approved or are considering marriage equality for same sex couples, then these Jurisdictions are challenged to preserve the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church vis-a-vis same sex couples through affirmation and action.

The language that permits central conferences to modify parts of the Book of Discipline to meet needs of annual conferences outside the United States has attracted attention as an important issue¹. General Conference authorized a study to determine exactly what changes have been made in different central conferences. This is important work as we come to terms with being a global church. It may or may not reveal problems that need further attention. It may also clear up some rumors.

But I do not understand arguments like the one raised by Caldwell. A jurisdiction in the United States is not a central conference. They each have their own governing provisions in the Constitution and other sections of the Book of Discipline. I suspect anyone who has read the Book of Discipline or taken a UMC polity course knows this. The argument Caldwell is making was an argument that should have been made at General Conference. Calling on jurisdictional conferences to void the Book of Discipline makes no sense to me.


¹Here is the full sentence from the Book of Discipline (2008) that Caldwell quotes in part: “A central conference shall have power to make such changes and adaptations of the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and the mission of the church in the area require, especially concerning the organization and administration of the work on local church, district, and annual conference levels, provided that no action shall be taken that is contrary to the Constitution and the General Rules of The United Methodist Church, and provided that the spirit of connectional relationship is kept between the local and the general church.” Taken as a whole, this sentence is hardly a green light for massive changes in church doctrine.

Powers of central conferences

The Constitution of The United Methodist Church outlines the powers and duties of central conferences. These provisions are repeated and expanded upon in later sections of the Book of Discipline. In this post, I am going to look at one paragraph and some of the Judicial Council decisions connected to it. (Disclaimer: I am no lawyer. This is may lay reading of the materials.)

¶543 of the 2008 Book of Discipline lays out the powers and duties of central conferences. I will quote some of the passages that appear to relate to recent discussion on this blog about the flexibility that central conferences have to change the Book of Discipline.

7. A central conference shall have power to make such changes and adaptations of the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and the mission of the church in the area require, especially concerning the organization of administration of the work on local church, district, and annual conference levels, provided that no action shall be taken that is contrary to the Constitution and the General Rules of the United Methodist Church, and provided that the spirit of connectional relationship is kept between the local and the general church. Subject to this restriction, a central conference may delegate to an annual conference within its boundaries the power to make one or the other of the changes and adaptations referred to in this paragraph, upon the request of such annual conference.

I’m not a lawyer, but I do see words and phrases here that you could drive a truck through if you had a mind to. Continue reading