Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Change is afoot as UMC looks toward more global future at GC2016, GC2020

The past several weeks have been significant ones for The United Methodist Church in its efforts to move toward a more global footing as a denomination that does not privilege American Methodism as the standard for the denomination.  The church has seen developments in several areas related to this broader shift with implications for the General Conferences in both 2016 and 2020.  Here's a rundown:

First, as previously report on this blog, the General Board of Church and Society wrapped up its series of seven consultations on the development of a global Social Principles with two consultations in Washington, DC.  These consultations will lead to a proposal to GC2016 to authorize a series of public hearings in the next quadrennium, which could ultimately lead to approval at GC2020 of a reorganization of Social Principles into globally-applicable and locally-specific lists.  The Social Principles constitute Part V of the Book of Discipline, the denomination-wide set of guidelines for United Methodists.

On a parallel track to the development of global Social Principles is the effort to develop a global Book of Discipline.  This project would involve separating the Book of Discipline into portions which are binding on all United Methodists and portions which may be altered according to context.  The problem of defining that context intersects with questions about the current structure of the UMC in which the church outside the US is divided into Central Conferences and the church within the US is divided into Jurisdictions.  Presumably, a plan for a global Book of Discipline could change that structure.  At its recent meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters discussed possible alterations to Part VI of the Discipline, the section on "Organization and Administration" of the church.  The plan here is to seek input on proposed changes at GC2016 but not ask for a vote until GC2020.  This was also an issue of discussion for the Council of Bishops at their recent meeting in Dallas, TX, and will again appear on their agenda when they next meet in Berlin, Germany, in May.

Speaking of bishops, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters has also recommended the creation of five next bishoprics in Africa.  The committee is preparing legislation for GC2016 that would authorize a study during the next quadrennium to develop proposals for GC2020 that would authorize changes to the number and boundaries of episcopal areas in Africa.  Such a proposal would obviously benefit ministry in Africa, but it would also continue to change the composition of the Council of Bishops to more reflect the global nature of the church and could also become connected to any proposals to change the Central Conferences structure as it currently exists.

Finally, also in Maputo, Mozambique, the Connectional Table held their third and final panel on human sexuality, focusing on views from outside the United States.  This panel was followed by a proposal from the Connectional Table to amend church law that prohibits clergy from officiating at same-sex weddings and prohibits the ordination of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and otherwise queer clergy.  Instead, clergy would be able to determine for themselves whom to marry, and conferences would be able to decide whom to ordain.  While the debate on human sexuality has been most heated in the United States, this development is globally relevant because of the difference in views on sexuality between the United States and Africa and because many American United Methodists have linked the issue of human sexuality with the debate about a possible restructuring of the Central Conferences and Jurisdictions.  Blogger Jeremy Smith has compiled a list of proposals related to human sexuality and church structure that give a sense of the various ways in which the two issues are being connected.  Whereas the above three issues involve action at both GC2016 and GC2020, most proposals on this front are directed at GC2016 alone.

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