Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top Ten Myths about UMC Constitutional Amendments

(While most U.S. annual conferences have already met by now, I felt the need to address several key myths about the proposed Constitutional Amendments that I have seen promoted, whether unintentionally or otherwise. I offer this both in the hopes of its being helpful to someone out there and for the sake of relieving some personal frustration from seeing each of the following myths asserted by various leaders without the record being set straight.)

MYTH #1: In a
"factsheet," Breaking the Silence, the sexually liberal group that originated Amendment One approvingly quotes retired Bishop S. Clifton Ives as describing the Constitutional Amendments as matters that "the General Conference approved after careful study and debate...." while accusing others of "hav[ing] resorted to distortions of the truth."
FACT: To the extent that Breaking the Silence can be trusted in their implication that Ives was including Amendment 1 in his frame of reference, Ives needlessly does tremendous damage to his own credibility, and by extension, that of MFSA, of which he is co-president. The same needless sacrifice of credibility applies to the Reconciling Ministries Network through their promotion of the "fact" sheet on their website. Anyone can go to the General Conference transcripts and read for themselves the extremely rushed debate--with just two minimal-length floor speeches allowed for each side and no clear acknowledgment of homosexuality as the driving issue for the amendment--by viewing pp. 2705-2706. If that qualifies as "careful study and debate" than "Row, row, row your boat" easily rivals any concerto by Mozart.
As for the many amendments dealing with the global restructuring plan, at one point during the GC debate on these, the simultaneous French translation completely cut out, thus abruptly dropping numerous African delegates (who would be most affected by the plan) out of the conversation.

Amendment #1 (Inclusive/Open Membership issue)

MYTH # 2: Amendment One proponents such as MFSA and the Reconciling Ministries Network have in various ways argued that this would not limit the ability of congregations/pastors to require membership classes for prospective members, exercise wise risk management with sexual offenders, and/or withhold membership from individuals seeking membership solely for cheaper wedding fees.
FACT: Discussion must be based on what Amendment One actually says, not what its proponents might like for it to say if they had a chance to re-word it. Elsewhere, an article/speech published online by the Reconciling Ministry Network asserted that Amendment One "would have the affect of repealing [Judicial Council] Decision 1032," which affirmed the historic right of Methodist pastors to discern the readiness of persons for membership. In other words, the argument of the "Reconciling" activists (at least among themselves) has been that this Amendment would prevent a UMC pastor from withholding immediate, on-demand membership from anyone who at least mouthed an affirmation of Christian faith, if the pastor's objection was based on the prospective member's failure to meet any other criterion (namely, abstinence from sex outside of a man-woman marriage). Yet the language of Amendment would equally strike down the imposition of any membership criteria (other than verbal affirmation of a Christian faith of some sort).
Everyone knows that Amendment One would not be promoted with the current zeal of its advocates, and never would have been written in the first place, if most people did not understand that it was designed to defrock any UMC pastor in any congregation who would dare to withhold or delay congregational membership (and hence leadership eligibility) for individuals not abstaining from extramarital sex. Yet Amendment One advocates have yet to produce a reason grounded in the actual logic and language of Amendment One for why the same mechanism throwing out membership barriers in these cases would not equally throw out the barriers for those failing to take membership classes (or failing to meet any other reasonable expectation beyond a one-time verbal affirmation of faith). As for "safe sanctuaries" policies, the fact is that that Amendment One would make it a chargeable offense for a UMC minister to prevent a known sex offender (who couldn't be barred from membership in any local UM congregation anyway) from joining any "organizational unit" of a congregation, including children's or youth ministry.

MYTH #3: Amendment One would not affect ordination standards.
FACT: As others have pointed out (highlighting an oversight in my earlier post on Amendment #1), Amendment One would change the final sentence of Paragraph 4 to "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." This sloppily broad wording could quite easily lend itself to interpretations such as that no UMC lay member, including those not abiding by current sexual ethics standards for clergy, could be denied membership in the "organizational unit" of an annual conference's body of ordained clergy (not to mention the countless less-intended chaotic consequences of this final sentence). Remember, anything in the Constitution automatically trumps the rest of the Discipline. I have yet to see any Amendment One proponent demonstrate that there are any effective, commonsense limits within the text of the Amendment/Paragraph itself for the proposed openness in ALL organizational units of the UMC.

"Worldwide Nature of the UMC" aka "Global Restructuring" Amendments

MYTH #4: This plan would keep such matters as theology and Social Principles within the jurisdiction of the general church rather than that of each regional conference.
FACT: No such limit exists in the texts of the Amendments themselves. While the General Conference also passed a companion resolution with a list of guiding principles for the proposed new global structure, and these included keeping doctrine and Social Principles within the domain of the international General Conference, the General Conference record shows that the decision was made to strike the provision that such guidelines be "binding."

MYTH #5: This would make the UMC more global.
We are already a very global denomination. By segregating American UMs in their own domain away from their overseas brethren, this would make us less, not more, global.

MYTH #6: This plan empowers the non-U.S. United Methodists.
The primary practical effect would be to systematically exclude non-U.S. United Methodists from large realms of denominational decision-making within which they are currently involved. Meanwhile, I have not seen anyone articulate how the plan would give the non-U.S. members more "power" beyond what they already have.

MYTH #7: This plan is needed to correct inequities currently suffered by the non-U.S. portions of the denomination.
FACT: It does nothing to address such inequities as the severe under-representation of non-Americans (especially Africans) in the UMC Council of Bishops and on its general boards and agencies.

MYTH #8: This plan helps move us away from colonialism.
This plan is prominently driven by a handful of white, Western bishops and amounts to largely deciding "what's best for those Africans" by dramatically increasing the relative decision-making power of the U.S. portion of the church at the expense of the allegedly benefitted Africans.

MYTH #9: This would increase efficiency.
It would add yet another major layer of cumbersome denominational bureacracy, requiring uncertain long-term financial commitments.

MYTH #10: This would help "save" the U.S. Western Jurisdiction by uniting them with the rest of the U.S. so that they could eventually have an theologically traditional bishop.
This in no way alters the current jurisdictional model for the election of U.S. bishops.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the research on this. #1 is disappoint but not very surprising. The liars are lying about others lying. What should we expect from wolves in sheep's clothing?

Creed Pogue said...

This is another example of where you take good points and distort them to fit your ideology and wonder why people get torqued at you.

For example, what severe under-representation is there on the Council of Bishops? There are 69 episcopal areas. The central conferences contain 30% of the lay membership (only 23% of the clergy, by the way). Thirty percent of 69 is 20. There are currently 19 episcopal areas in the central conferences and there will be 23 available in 2012. So, that case is really weak.

Those membership numbers, by the way, are very old. Some conferences don't have numbers newer than 2000. You remember (you may even have wrote some of the polemics yourself) the controversy over Cote d'Ivoire and the one million members they had. I am pleased with 677,355 but that is a far cry from one million. Not having current numbers may mean that things are understated, but it could also mean in some conferences that numbers have declined. You don't know and I don't know.

Also, I would think that we should all be concerned about the proliferation of annual conferences being created. There are now 70 annual conferences in the central conferences. We are supporting much of that structure with our apportionment as well as Advance and other second mile dollars.

Some hard questions need to be asked and answered about the relationships in the worldwide church.

John said...

I should have made clearer that my remarks were particularly in regard to African UMs. According to statistics provided to me in 2007 by the research office of the General Board of Global Ministries, African UMs accounted for 32.2% of the denomination's total of baptized membership (ie, baptized children) and professing membership of the UMC, and roughly 92% of these "overseas UMs" that we keep talking about. Yet their 12 bishops constitute only 17% of the active membership of the Council of Bishops. Based on 2005 membership statistics, while the U.S. Western Jurisiction (which consistently lags far behind the other jurisdictions in paying even its assigned fair share of apportionments) enjoys one bishop for every 73,320 members, African UMs only get one bishop for every 368,687 members - a ratio of 5:1. As you note many of these statistics are dated, so the imbalance has only increased (with growing African membership and declining US membership) since I first made these calculations.

There are important questions to ask and problems to address with regard to our denomination's global nature, but the burden of proof remains on the advocates of this mystery-shrouded proposed additional layer of bureacracy to articulate how exactly it would helpful.

Creed Pogue said...

Again, I don't disagree with you about the "worldwide" proposals.

As you know, the UMC uses professing members as the official membership total. In 2007, GCFA has the African conferences comprising 28% of the lay membership and 13% of the clergy. The African conferences get 17% of the bishops which is close to their combined percentage of 20.6%. It all depends on which numbers we should use. You can make an argument to use membership, clergy or charges/churches. I would think charges/churches or total clergy would be more meaningful than membership since a bishop's main job is making appointments, but we can respectfully agree to disagree about that.

I don't disagree that the Western Jurisdiction has too many bishops. In fact, I believe we should eliminate the Western Jurisdiction and have four jurisdictions in the US. But, that is a separate discussion. I also believe that Europe and Asia have too many bishops and some of those should go to Africa. I have probably managed to tick off a lot of people with all those statements but I try to operate based on truth and facts rather than using ideological blinders. :-)

Lewis Archer said...

"a bishop's main job is making appointments"

I am not sure this statement was well thought out. A Bishop's job is to lead the Annual Conference in reaching its area with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Appointments are a part of that mission.

John said...

In any case, the fact remains that currently African UMs are extremely under-represented on the Council of Bishops and in general boards and agencies. True, the reduction of US bishops scheduled for 2012 will free up funds for additional non-US bishops but we should keep in mind that 1) this move is entirely separate from the worldwide restructuring / "global segregation plan," 2) Just because logic and fairness would dictate that all of the extra bishops be given to Africa rather than divvied up with the Philippines and Europe does NOT mean that we can trust that this will be the case, and 3) even if Africa got three new bishops in 2012, this would help reduce the proportional imbalance (according to membership) but would stop far short of erasing it.

Archer's comment highlights the fact that bishops lead the entire annual conference of which clergy are but a part. All other things being equal, there's obviously much more responsibility involved in leading an Episcopal Area with, say 1,000 clergy and 500,000 laity than one with 1,000 clergy and 100,000 laity.

Interesting thought on eliminating the Western Jurisdiction, Creed. I recall a GC2008 petition (that didn't really go anywhere) to incorporate half of it into the North Central Jurisdiction and the other half into the South Central. But you're right that that should probably be saved for another post. And for the record, Creed, I do appreciate having people who disagree with me feeling free to join the comment discussion.

Creed Pogue said...

Mr. Archer:
I would hope that we could agree that the size (however measured) of the annual conference has an impact on fulfilling all the responsibilities of the episcopacy.

I'm happy that you and I can agree that the worldwide structure and the number of bishops are two separate (but related) discussions.

I think the main problem with the various proposals over the years is their inability to figure out what "problem" they are trying to solve. The truth is that we are fundamentally a church founded in the United States which has grown missions around the world. Some of those missions have grown so much that they can decide their own direction. The difficulty is that they don't have their own funding. But, if they want to be autonomous or connected to the US should be independent of the financing question.

Unfortunately, I have the strong suspicion that our overseas brothers and sisters manage to misallocate money almost as well as we do here. Having over seventy annual conferences is not a sign of a lean operation.