General Conference Issues
Abortion has been an issue at every General Conference since 1972. The 1992
Conference rejected by 37 votes a motion to terminate United Methodist
participation in the
Religious Coalition on Abortion Rights (now the Religious Coalition for
Reproductive Choice). In
1992 that group rented space in the United Methodist Building in Washington
but has since moved
to other space in the city. The Judicial Council ruled (Oct. 30, 1992) that
support of the
organization by United Methodist agencies is consistent with the church's
stance on abortion. The
Board of Church and Society and the Women's Division of the Board of Global
charter members of the coalition that includes about 35 religious and
Neither of the groups has given direct financial support to the coalition for
a number of years.
"Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve
church's Social Principles say. "But we are equally bound to respect the
sacredness of the life and
well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an
pregnancy. In continuity with the past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic
conflicts of life with
life that may justify abortion, and in such cases support the legal option of
abortion under proper
medical procedures. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth
control, and we
unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection. We call all
Christians to a searching and
prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may warrant abortion. We
call for the church to
provide nurturing ministries to those persons who terminate a pregnancy. We
church to provide nurturing ministries to those who give birth. Governmental
laws and regulations
do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience.
decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and
prayerful consideration by
the parties involved, with medical, pastoral and other appropriate counsel."
A "Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality" is leading
efforts to eliminate any
approval of abortion, including support of the Religious Coalition for
Reproductive Choice. Ruth
Brown of Dothan, Ala., Lifewatch Director, considers the church's position on
The Good News caucus says "abortion is testing our church as deeply as slavery
Methodism in the early 19th century."
Homosexuality has been an issue at every General Conference since 1972. (A
on the history of this issue is available at the News/Assignment Desk.) The
church's Book of
Petitions to the 1996 General Conference represent a wide range of views. Some
petitions call for
deleting the phrase "incompatible with Christian teaching." The General Board
of Church and
Society and nine annual conferences are asking that the "negative" language be
- condemns the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian
- affirms that God's grace is available to all;
- commits the church to being in ministry for and with all people;
- supports basic human rights and civil liberties for homosexual persons;
- condemns violence against gays and lesbians;
- prohibits the candidacy, ordination or appointment of self-avowed
practicing homosexuals as
- prohibits the use of churchwide funds from being used by any group to
promote the acceptance
The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is proposing to amend the
self-avowed homosexuals from being United Methodist clergy. Its proposal would
to any person "proven with clear and convincing evidence to be a practicing
The Commission on the General Conference confirmed a 1992 agreement to hold
in Denver in spite of the fact that Colorado voters passed a state
forbidding the granting of human rights protection to homosexuals. The
amendment was later
overturned by a Colorado court and is now before the Supreme Court. The
subsequently agreed to host a 90-minute celebration of human rights for all
people, scheduled for
Thursday, April 18.
For the first time, an openly gay woman has been elected a delegate to the
She is Jeanne Barnett, lay leader of the California-Nevada Annual Conference,
co-spokersperson of "Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay and
The Rev. Jeanne Audrey Powers, associate general secretary with the churchwide
Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, announced publicly last summer
that she is a lesbian.
Leading efforts to liberalize church policy on homosexuality are Affirmation
Federation for Social Action.
The definition of ministry and the role of professional church workers have
been issues since
Methodist founder John Wesley acknowledged the "priesthood of all believers."
Methodist General Conference since 1944 has sought to redefine and restructure
the ministry. The
1984 conference authorized the current study, which was continued by the 1988
session at the
request of the previous study committee. The 1992 Conference referred the
study to the Council of
Bishops. Proposals from the council include:
In a departure from past scheduling, the full report of the Council of
Bishop's Study of Ministry will
be presented in a plenary session prior to being considered in a legislative
committee. Time of that
presentation is Wednesday, April 17 after the Laity Address.
- a foundation document affirming the ministry of all Christians;
- creation of a local church "Lay Ministry Steward;"
- a permanent order of deacon;
- while all elders will be first ordained deacon, the order has an
integrity of its own;
- no more people may enter the candidacy program for diaconal ministry
after Jan. 1, 1997;
- present diaconal ministers may become deacons, if they wish and if they
requirements, or may continue as diaconal ministers;
- local pastors will be continued.
Consultation on Church Union
General Conference members will be asked to approve a covenant with eight
in the Consultation on Church Union. Members of the covenant would:
At least 26 conferences have backed the COCU proposal. Two conferences and the
caucus want to delay action or oppose the covenant.
- gather at least annually to celebrate the Lord's Supper;
- ordain ministers together;
- engage in mission together;
- form local covenanting forums.
General Conference will be asked to authorize a commission to draw up a plan
of union with the
the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Zion, and Christian
Methodist Episcopal Church. Bishops of the four denominations are suggesting
that all four general
conferences be held at the same site in the year 2004. Proposed budget for the
Union" is $100,000 to be divided among the four denominations.
The General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns is
proposing a new
statement on Christian-Jewish relations that recognizes that Christians are
called to witness to
the gospel of Jesus Christ but also that God works through Judaism and the
Structure and Connectional Issues
The General Council on Ministries is calling for the creation of a four-year
group to test a new
interactive model of church organization at the conference and local church
levels and to make a
final proposal for the 2000 General Conference. The interactive model includes
and Mission Ministries; Leadership Ministries; and Administrative and Fiscal
Ministries. A council
is proposed which would include representatives from each of the three
ministry units. GCOM is
calling for the number of churchwide agencies to remain the same but is
proposing that the number
of governing members be reduced from 950 to 630 during the 1997-2000
Korean Missionary Conference
The Korean American caucus will call for the creation of three missionary
conferences. That move
is opposed by Korean clergywomen and the Board of Global Ministries National
Board of Global Ministries Relocation
The 1992 General Conference voted 485-470 to move the Board of Global
Ministries offices out of
New York. A site-selection task force considered 23 cities and narrowed the
list to five
metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Washington.
The task force is proposing the construction of a five-story, 117,000
square-foot building on l6.2
acres in Reston, Va., outside Washington. Cost of the move has been set at
$41.8 million. Add
interest and the total could be $72 million.
By moving to Reston, the task force estimates the board will save about
$850,000 annually in
operating costs. Target date for completion of the move is January, 1998. The
move is opposed by
12 annual conferences, the Native-American caucus and the Methodist Federation
The General Council on Finance and Administration will ask the delegates to
hold the 1996 line on
all general church apportionments for 1997 and 1998 and increase 2 percent in
1999 and 2000.
The total amount for the propram agencies within World Service is $45,193,000
for 1997 and 1998
-- $183.5 million for the quadrennium. In the proposed 1997-2000 budget, the
Fund of the present quadrennium would be included in the World Service budget.
does not include cost of moving the Board of Global Ministries out of New
York. That move, if
supported, would increase general church apportionments 4 percent in 1997 over
the 1996 amount.
The General Board of Discipleship is proposing a new statement on baptism
which calls for two
categories of members: baptized and professing. At confirmation, those who
have been baptized
will be moved to the professing list. Apportionments would be based on
professing members as is
the current practice. Rebaptism for any reason is rejected, but periodic
reaffirmation of one's
baptismal vows is affirmed.
Spanish Language Hymnal
General Conference delegates will be asked to adopt a new Spanish language
hymnal as one of
the official United Methodist hymnals. Mil Voces Para Celebrar: Himnario
Metodista, the first
Spanish hymnal created for Hispanics by a churchwide body, will include 400
hymns which reflect
a balance in traditional music and liturgy, the Wesleyan heritage, and
contemporary expressions of
indigenous music of various groups in the United States, the Caribbean and
Latin America. In
addition to services of Communion and the Baptismal Covenant, Mil Voces will
and funeral rites, a healing service, a service for the faith community, and a
The project was launched in 1991 by the United Methodist Publishing House and
the Board of
Disciplelship. Editor of the hymnal is Raquel Martinez, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Strengthening the Black Church
The General Council on Ministries is calling for the creation of a 19-member
implement an action plan for "Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st
Century." Key feature of
the plan is to develop congregation-to-congregation "learning teams." The
teams will create
resource centers where congregational representatives can be led by clergy and
are involved in vital ministries. The goal is to reach 400 to 600
congregations. Proposed budget for
the quadrennium is $1.8 million.
Focus on Young People
Noting that the participation of young people in the United Methodist Church
has declined at the
same time their spiritual, social and emotional needs have increased, the
General Council on
Ministries is proposing a "Focus on Young People: Walking Together in the Way
that Leads to
Life." The plan calls for a forum where the struggles of young people can be
addressed and where accomplishments can be celebrated. A quadrennial budget of
proposed by GCOM was not included in the GCFA financial projections.
The plan for the first-ever United Methodist-related university in Africa was
approved by the 1988
General Conference, with a four-year, $20 million funding plan (half through
through voluntary giving). The 1992 General Conference approved an additional
$20 million for the
following quadrennium. A proposal for the same amount for the 1997-2000
quadrennium will come
before the 1996 assembly. The university, located in Mutare, Zimbabwe, opened
in March 1992
with 75 students. The choir from Africa University will sing at the conference
and one of the first
graduates will address the delegates.
National Plan for Hispanic Ministry
The Committee on Hispanic Ministries is recommending that a National Plan for
be continued and strengthened in the 1997-2000 quadrennium and that a
quadrennial budget of
$3.1 million be approved. The 1992 General Conference authorized $2.7 million
for the present
quadrennium. Within the first 30 months the plan generated 51 new
congregations, 220 faith
communities, 35 revitalized churches and 389 trained lay missioners. A new
element in the
proposed plan includes $1 million in grants to help conferences pursue
opportunities. The plan calls for each conference to delegate responsibility
for implementing the
plan to an appropriate conference entity.
The Rev. Jose Palos of New York is staff person related to the plan; Bishop
Joel Martinez of
Lincoln, Nebraska, chairs a 29-member committee guiding the plan.
Native American Comprehensive Plan
The Board of Global Ministries and the Native American International Caucus
continuation of a Native American Comprehensive Plan during the 1997-2000
The 1992 General Conference approved the plan and a $1.2 million quadrennial
budget. Included in
the plan has been congregational development, leadership development, Native
spirituality and denominational presence.
Apology to Native Americans
The Rev. Alvin Deer, clergy delegate from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary
Conference, has sent
a petition to the Denver conference asking delegates to apologize formally for
an 1864 massacre
of Cheyennes camped on the banks of Sand Creek in Colorado. Leader of the
Methodist lay preacher John Chivington. The petition asks the delegates to
extend a "hand of
reconciliation and ask forgiveness for the death of over 200 mostly women and
children, who died
in this state where this great conference is being held." The conference is
asked to have a healing
service to which tribal leaders would be invited.
Topics for petitions from individuals, annual conferences and general agencies
cover a wide range
of concerns related to social justice: tobacco, gun control, diplomatic
relations with Cuba,
violence, public funds for non-public schools, racism, military spending, move
of the U.S.
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and reparations for African Americans. All
these petitions will
go first to appropriate legislative committees and then to the floor with the
recommendation of concurrence or non-concurrence.
The churchwide Board of Church and Society is taking more than 30 petitions to
Conference. A sample of topics:
- Elimination from social principles the phrase condemning the practice
of homosexuality as
"incompatible with Christian teaching";
- Add new section on "Right to Health Care" to denomination's Social
- New additions to the church's Book of Resolutions related to "God's
Vision of Abundant Living,"
"National Observance of Children's Sabbath," "Observance of Health Care
Immigrants in the United States," "World AIDS Day Observance," "Global
"Recognizing and Responding to the Many Faces of HIV/AIDS in the U.S.A.,"
Child Labor," "Tobacco Marketing by Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco," "Liberia,"
and "The U.S.
Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund."
- Resolutions to be revised include: "Drug and Alcohol Concerns,"
"Gambling," "Terrorism," and
"In Support of the United Nations."
Global Nature of the Church
Several groups, the Council of Bishops and the General Council on Ministries,
are struggling with
the issue of globalization. Bottom-line question addressed by these groups:
"Is the United
Methodist Church really a global church or is it a U.S. church with appendages
in other countries?"
United Methodists outside the United States are pushing for greater
involvement in denominational
life. Chairing the episcopal committee is Bishop Emerito Nacpil of the
Philippines. An update, if not
recommendations, is expected to come before the delegates.
Delegates will be asked by the Board of Higher Education and Ministry to
approve a resolution on
"Education: The Gift of Hope." The study paper reminds the church of its
Wesleyan commitment to
education and challenges the church to understand the educational scene and to
in local education. Every local congregation will be invited to study the
document and then to
develop a plan for concrete involvement in the educational activity of its
community, seeeking to
improve the system and to become involved with students, "to the end that John
for education will be manifest among United Methodists and bring with it a
gift of hope."
Another resolution from the Board of Higher Education affirms the longstanding
educational ministry of United Methodist-related precollegiate schools (9) and
members to become better acquainted with these schools and all 124 educational
ministries of the
National Urban Ministry
Delegates will be asked to approve a "Holy Boldness" plan as a way of
organizing and mobilizing
local congregations and organizations to work on urban ministry goals. Local
organizations will be asked to sign on as "covenanting sponsors." A goal of
3,000 has been set for
the next four years.
General Conference Index
General Conference Webmaster: Susan Brumbaugh
PETS Creator: John Brawn
General Conference Issues
1996 United Methodist General Conference