Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Position Papers on Constitutional Amendments

Sorry to bore those of you not interested, but I thought it best to post position papers I wrote concerning the proposed Constitutional Amendments we will be voting on at Annual Conference. As a "good ole' moderate Methodist," I offer my viewpoints for consideration.

For the amendments and a balanced summary of pros and cons, see the West Ohio Conference's notes on the Proposed Constitutional Amendments.

Here are my "position papers!

Position Paper Concerning Amendment I

This proposed amendment affirms the availability of the ministry of the church to all people. The present statement in the Discipline reads that all persons are of sacred worth and eligible to attend, participate, receive sacraments, and become members “without regard to race, color, national origin, status or economic condition.” The amendment removes this language listing specific categories and makes other minor adjustments so it becomes a more general statement that all people are of sacred worth and are eligible for these ministries.

I am in favor of ratifying this amendment because of the nature of Biblical hospitality. The statement as amended frames the value of open eligibility without the need to continue to be specific about various categories to be disregarded. The list is already incomplete and would inevitably need to be expanded. For example, “gender” is not on the list. At times, additions to the list might become controversial.

Much of the rhetoric I have heard and read against this amendment represents fear that it could be used to force pastors to receive members who might be unwilling to take seriously the vows of membership or promise to lead a Christian life. This amendment clearly does not mean that anyone can join our church regardless of whether they are willing to commit to the vows of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

I believe an important balance is created by ratifying this amendment, since General Conference legislation was also passed clarifying that it is the pastor’s responsibility to discern readiness for membership. This article as amended does not say that everyone has the right to be a member, regardless of how committed they are to Christ or the Church. What this does do is affirm that all people are eligible for membership.

Position Paper Concerning Amendment II

This amendment would create a new requirement that all official organizations, groups, committees, councils, boards, and agencies of The United Methodist Church shall adopt ethics and conflict of interest policies.

I am not in favor of ratifying this amendment for practical reasons, though I would be in favor of a reworded requirement in the future. I am very much in favor of ethical accountability as well as written policies and healthy boundaries. I simply do not believe in creating constitutional requirements that are unrealistic or impossible to carry out.

I believe that it would be helpful for every local church as a whole, and every organization beyond the local church, to have such policies. What concerns me about this amendment is that this requirement applies to the various groups within the local church (this was clarified in discussion on the floor of the General Conference). It would be much better to allow the local church’s leadership council to establish blanket policies that apply to every group within the church.

If this amendment is ratified, every “group” in local churches would be required to establish such policies. This means that every Sunday School class, Youth Group, Quilter’s Club, Literary Club, Prayer Shawl Ministry, Outdoor Adventure Fellowship, Ministry Team, Missions Group, and Men’s Breakfast would be required to go through a process of writing and establishing ethics and conflict of interest policies. This is both unrealistic and unenforceable and is a task best suited for the leadership council of the local church.

Position Paper Concerning Amendments III, IV, V, VII, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XVI, XVIII, XX, XXI, XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, and XXXII.

These amendments effect the world-wide structure of the church and the rationale is identical. They replace the language of “Central Conferences” with that of “Regional Conferences.” A few of the amendments also allow for the future creation of a Regional Conference for the U.S. which would create similar structures for all of our world-wide church. Each Annual Conference would belong to a Regional Conference (which would be able to organize sub-units called Jurisdictional Conferences).

I am not in favor of ratifying these amendments. However, before offering my rationale I want to note that there are some advantages to them. I would be in favor of replacing the archaic language of “Central Conferences” with language that makes us less U.S. dominated and acknowledges the increasingly global nature of our membership. In addition, if I were clear about what a new Regional Conference entailed and was in favor of it, I would say the advantage of these amendments is they would speed up the process of change. If ratified, the creation of a Regional Conference for the U.S. church could be done swiftly with a 51% vote at General Conference. Otherwise, implementing such a change would require a similar amendment process afterwards and an additional number of years.

I am not necessarily against the idea of a new Regional Conference for the U.S. Much of the rhetoric against these amendments is essentially against the very idea, condemning it as more bureaucracy, a layer of separation between the U.S. and worldwide church, or something resembling an Anglican Communion. Some of this rhetoric is rooted in the fear that if Regional Conferences attempt to interpret our Social Principles for their geographical area it could lead to division. Personally, I find this rhetoric more inflammatory than helpful, because we have no specific proposal before us. I am unable to judge whether it would be good or bad. The only thing we do know is that we don’t know what a new U.S. Regional Conference would be like.

This leads me to offer my rationale. I am not in favor of ratifying these amendments, simply because we have no clarity. In short, it is “putting the cart before the horse.” We are being asked to prepare a way to more easily and swiftly make changes when we don’t know what will be proposed. It would make more sense to agree on a well-thought-out plan and implement the necessary Constitutional changes afterward, rather than rewriting our constitution to pave the way “just in case” we agree on something later.

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