How are paragraphs 4 and 214 different?

I know the debate on changing paragraph 4 of the Book of Discipline.

But I was reading my 2004 Book of Discipline this evening and found paragraph 214, which is about eligibility for church membership. Here is what its says: “All people may attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacrements and become members in any local church in the connection.”

Paragraph 215 explains that to become a member you have to be baptized and profess your faith. Later paragraphs explain means of accountabilty for members who do not live in accord with their vows.

You will notice that the pernicious langauge of “all” without modifiers is already there in the Book of Discipline in paragraph 214.

So, what gives here? Is the key issue not the language about membership? It seems the BOD already has very broad language about who can become members.

Is the real debate about the last sentence in paragrph 4? It is there – it seems – that the change in language changes the meaning.

Here is the current last sentence of paragraph 4.

In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constiuent body of the Church because of race, color, national orign, status or economic condition.

Here is the sentence if amended.

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.

By dropping the last clause, you do seem to change significantly the meaning of the entire sentence. The first version is designed to protect certain classes of people. The second sentence say no “member” can be excluded. Each individual member suddenly becomes a protected class that cannot by excluded by “the structure” of any organizational unit of the UMC.

That does seem rather broad and open to some unforseen consequences. As a member, I want to serve on an annual conference commitee. If I am told I cannot because there are only 12 seats on that committee, does the new language of paragraph 4 give me a right to appeal?

We already have lots of contending sides politicking and campaigning. I’d be interested in some dispassionate and objective legal advice. What does the new language really mean? What might it lead to? I’m not really interested in the RMN and Confessing take on these questions. I’m looking for what I’m told we should have – infromation.

6 thoughts on “How are paragraphs 4 and 214 different?

  1. John, I share your desire for information on these issues… not policy statements from Good News, the Confessing Movement, RMN or anyone else for that matter. Give me the information and let me make up my own mind. Although it really won’t make much difference what I think; as a local pastor I have no vote on constitutional matters (para 316.6 2008 BOD).

  2. I think the problem comes with saying that no Conference can exclude for any reason, which implies (if taken to its logical conclusion) that no Conference can exclude a self-avowed practicing homosexual from ordination. Or, for that matter, ANY “unrepentant sinner” from any position. A KKK Grand Dragon would be theoretically eligible for ordination (though WHY he’d seek it, I have no idea). Wesley was pretty big on strict standards, and we’ve lost much of that. I know I have.

  3. Great post, great insight. It still boggles my mind that we spend so much time trying to figure out who to keep out, who to control, and who to marginalize. We cannot seem to take a reflective view of our own history, steeped in battles over how to keep racial minorities and women out of power, and how to control our membership to the “worthy.” Playing with language is a desperate last resort to make sure we still have the power and capacity to build “dividing walls of hostility” and to keep the church pure and untainted from “those” sinners (who make us sinners so uncomfortable…)

  4. I absolutely agree with you on the first part of the amendment. We already have the idea of “all persons” in our BOD – so it should be there in the constitution as well. I have especially noted that the amendment talks about eligibility – and I don’t necessarily see that as denying the rights of pastors to determine readiness for membership, or the rights of BoOM to examine candidates for ministry.

    The wording on the last part is unfortunate I believe. I think the intent is to make it a consistent paragraph and it may have shot itself in the foot. I, too, am interested from a strictly procedural standpoint what the implications are. I don’t have the fears that others do about it.

    As I would read it, just in a common sense sort of way, it makes me think that no conference or organizational unit can build discrimination into their structure. And to me, that doesn’t mean that they can’t have a process for readiness or standards for participation.

    Who really should be up in arms about this (and I haven’t seen any official word) is the United Methodist Men and Women’s units…

    1. Katie, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      By instinct, I tend to think people who cry panic over these sorts of things tend to be over-reacting – or trying to scare people. But, I’d also like someone with expert opinions – in other words not some guy like me – to tell me the likely result of such changes.

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