Playing inside the box

In the wake of the Judicial Council’s decision tossing out the General Conference’s attempt to get rid of guaranteed appointment, it appears that those who want to both remain within United Methodism and reinvigorate it are going to have to get more familiar with the Restrictive Rules in our Constitution. It was on the basis of these that guaranteed appointment was upheld.

In case you have not read your UMC Constitution recently, these are the Restrictive Rules.

Article I — The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine.

Article II — The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Confession of Faith.

Article III — The General Conference shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with episcopacy or destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency.

Article IV — The General Conference shall not do away with the privileges of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of an appeal; neither shall it do away with the privileges of our members of right to trial before the church, or by a committee, and of an appeal.

Article V — The General Conference shall not revoke or change the General Rules of Our United Societies.

Article VI — The General Conference shall not appropriate the net income of the publishing houses, the book concerns, or the Chartered Fund to any purpose other than for the benefit of retired or disabled preachers, their spouses, widows, or widowers, and children or other beneficiaries of the ministerial pension system.

To change any of these rules requires a three-quarters majority vote of the General Conference and of the members of the annual conferences. This is an impossible hurdle to get over, I suspect.

I am not much of a systems thinker and certainly not an organizational genius, so I pray that someone who is can help us discern our way to be the church of Jesus Christ within the boundaries of these rules.

5 thoughts on “Playing inside the box

  1. John, I am too new to the UMC to have a strong opinion on security of appointment. As a Provisional Member of the Iowa Annual Conference I don’t have as yet that guarantee. But I do appreciate the restrictive rules.

    I grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention which experience a complete theology 180 in the course of twenty years in part because there is no restrictions on what can and cannot be change so that the organization could end up with beliefs or practices diametrically opposed to its founding core doctrine and/or polity.

    So I appreciate that some of the bedrock of the UMC is protected by a bar to get over. I think it would probably take a movement of the Holy Spirit to get 3/4 vote of the GC and all Annual Conference members on most issues. And I think that is a good thing.

    1. I hear that, Tim. I actually stopped myself from commenting on the doctrine piece. I notice that the Restrictive Rules about doctrine are not all that carefully observed.

      1. I don’t have enough experience to comment on that either John. 🙂 What I do know is I appreciate the more coherent organization.

        Given that a number of decisions made at GC were rules unconstitutional I do wonder if there is a way to pre-screen legislation to avoid passing legislation which then gets overturned.

  2. While I appreciate Rev. Bonney’s desire for doctrinal stability, I do not see what the restrictive rules have to do with that. (For exampled, during the last 30 years we have a book denying the resurrection of Christ that was written by a United Methodist bishop in good standing and recommended to our membership for faith formation. I don’t see that as doctrinal stability with what Wesley taught.) Where we do appear to have great stability, perhaps paralysis is a better word, is in a very complex prescribed organizational structure and process best suited to an American mainline church in the 1950s. I am very pessimistic about our ability to change that structure or focus within our largely disfunctional General Conference process. (To see what is important at General Conference, simply compare the number of paragraphs in the United Methodist Discipline that discuss making disciples for the transformation of the world with the number that prescribe in agonizing detail how church and annual conferences are to be organized and managed and those that prescribe the United Methodist side of controversial political issues.)
    We may need to have a financial, organizational collapse and rebuild from the ruins. However, the bright side of all this is that disciple making takes place in the local church! Good Spirit filled clergy leadership and engaged laity can overcome the impediments that our church bureaucracy places upon us, making disciples and building the Kingdom.

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