(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.
FACT: 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.
FACT: 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.
FACT: 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.
FACT: 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.
FACT: This in no way alters the current jurisdictional model for the election of U.S. bishops.