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Frequently Asked Questions Following the Special Session of the General Conference and Bishop Palmer’s Presentation of March 2, 2019

On Saturday, March 2 more than 2,300 people heard (via simulcast) Bishop Palmer’s Post General Conference presentation with an additional 1,500 people watching the recording online. We received more than 300 questions and comments---everything from final legislation to whether Duke would make it to the final four. We have provided answers to many of the most frequently asked questions. It would not be appropriate for Bishop Palmer to respond to hypothetical situations or questions relating to specifically named persons. We encourage you to visit this page periodically as more answers are provided.

What is General Conference?

864 delegates (half lay; half clergy) met February 23rd-26th in St. Louis, MO to discuss the report of the Commission on a Way Forward at a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The General Conference is the highest legislative body in the church and the only group who can decide church law and speak officially for the church.

What did the General Conference decide?

The decision of the General Conference was to offer a majority support for the Traditional Plan. The vote was 53% for and 47% against. It needed a simple majority to pass. They also passed legislation related to protecting our pension plans and working with churches who may want to disaffiliate from the denomination.

What is the Traditional Plan?

The Traditional Plan keeps the current language around homosexuality and increases accountability by streamlining the processes to enforce penalties for violations of The Book of Discipline related to marriage and ordination of homosexual persons.

What does this mean for same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ persons?

The current language of the Discipline remains the same. Churches are not permitted to host same-sex weddings, pastors are not permitted to perform same-sex weddings, and self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not permitted to be clergy.

What do we believe about the LGBTQ community?

The LGBTQ community and their allies are in all our churches and in our cities. We continue to teach and believe that all persons are welcomed in the church. Our Discipline mandates that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth” and “all persons need the ministry of Jesus.” We will continue to share God’s love with all people. LGBTQ persons are welcome in our churches and we are blessed by their faith and gifts. There are no restrictions in the Discipline around the baptism, membership, and servant leadership of LGBTQ persons.

What does this mean for our United Methodist Church?

Nothing changes in our missional practices. Churches will continue to welcome all people because as our Discipline mandates “all persons are individuals of sacred worth.” We remain an open table that welcomes all. Churches are open to people of all nations, ethnic groups, ages and sexual orientations. We hope to find better ways to embrace our diversity and put divisiveness behind us so that we may focus our energies toward ministry. We should remember that loving family members can disagree, even on important issues like these. We are a diverse and global church, and because of that, we have cultural, generational and geographical differences. We seek to honor God and offer abundant grace to all.

What can traditionalists who agree with the results of General Conference do?

The faith of our traditionalists is a gift to God and to our churches. Too often, their stances have been misunderstood as driven by hatred, as opposed to being of deeply held faith. Delegates for General Conference 2020 will be elected in June at annual conference. You can ask your annual conference clergy and lay delegates to support delegate candidates who will work to maintain the action of the 2019 General Conference.

What can we do if we disagree with the results of General Conference?

You can be creative and intentional in how you reach out to the LGBTQ community who are hurting and wondering if there is a place for them in our churches. There are many ways to welcome our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and still live within the Discipline. Delegates for General Conference 2020 will be elected in June at annual conference. You can ask your clergy and lay delegates to annual conference to support delegate candidates who will work to make changes to our Book of Discipline.

Can you give more detail about what passed at General Conference?

  1.  Wespath petitions passed. Exiting churches must pay their fair share of pension liability. Exiting clergy retain their pension but it is converted to limit further liability to the conference.
     
  2. Current language around sexuality and restrictions on same-sex weddings and ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals is retained.
     
  3. The Traditional Plan passed except for the main petition. This means there will be no required certification by annual conferences and bishops that they will follow the Discipline and no method for annual conferences to leave the denomination.
     
  4. Eight parts of the Traditional Plan passed and have previously been ruled constitutional by the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council will consider their constitutionality again in April but are not likely to reverse their decision. This means that the definition of self-avowed practicing homosexual now includes those who are in a same-sex marriage. Bishops cannot commission or ordain lesbian or gay pastors or consecrate them as bishops. Boards of ordained ministry must do a full examination of clergy candidates including whether they are a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Pastors who perform weddings and are convicted by trial will have minimum penalties of suspension (1st offense) and surrender of credentials (2nd offense). Bishops can only dismiss complaints for reasons of law or fact. Just Resolutions must acknowledge all harm done and be agreed to by the person bringing the complaint. The church can appeal a decision for egregious errors of law.
     
  5. One part of the Traditional Plan passed but it may or may not be constitutional and awaits the decision of the Judicial Council. It would require all members of the board of ordained ministry to certify they will follow the Discipline.
     
  6. An amended exit plan for churches passed but it may or may not be constitutional. It would allow for local churches to exit with their property and assets if 2/3 of the members vote to do so and they care for pension liabilities and one year of apportionments.
     

What impact did delegates from outside the U.S. have on this decision?

Every delegate votes their own conscience and undoubtedly delegates from inside and outside the U.S. voted to support or not support all the plans. Votes are not public. Forty percent of the delegates are from outside the U.S. and many of them are from places that hold a traditional view of marriage.

Can General Conference 2020 change all of this?

The decisions of one General Conference cannot bind the decisions of another General Conference.

What will we do if clergy or churches do not follow the Discipline and choose to perform or host same-sex weddings?

There are processes in the Discipline for this. It begins with someone bringing a complaint against someone else. It includes fair process, a pastoral response, the potential of a Just Resolution and if needed a trial with a jury of clergy peers. We are committed to following the Book of Discipline as a resource for oversight and supervision in support of the church’s mission.

What is the Judicial Council?    

The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or "court" of The United Methodist Church. Its nine members are elected by the General Conference. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality of acts or proposed acts of the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences. It acts on these either on appeal of lower rulings or through requests for declaratory decisions. It also rules on whether acts of other official bodies of the denomination conform to The Book of Discipline. This is done in accordance with procedures established in The Book of Discipline.

Is there a place I can review all the legislation?

Yes. Visit: umc.org/calms

What is The Discipline?

A fundamental book outlining the law, doctrine, administration, organizational work and procedures of The United Methodist Church. Each General Conference amends The Book of Discipline, and the actions of the General Conference are reflected in the quadrennial revision. Often referred to as The Discipline.

What is the WCA?

This acronym stands for the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

Are there chargeable offenses other than being gay or conducting same-sex marriages?

¶ 2702 in The Book of Discipline lists a number of chargeable offenses including (but not limited to): immorality, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage, crime, disobedience to the order and discipline of the UMC, crime; relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; racial or gender discrimination, child abuse, disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; fiscal malfeasance.

Can you define Young People?

Those persons who are out of high school and nineteen through thirty years of age. This definition of young adults is used in The United Methodist Church as the basis for program development and implementation and for meeting the requirements for determining representatives to various organizations.

Will the UMC abolish its “logo” Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Dorr? Is this not hypocritical?

That is a question for the marketing department at United Methodist Communications in Nashville.

What is the next step for the ethics investigation into bribery of some delegates?

According to the Daily Christian Advocate (dated 2/27/19), “a delegate raised a concern regarding an alleged violation of the Rules of Order of the General Conference and moved to refer it directly to the Committee on Ethics. It was referred by a one-fifth vote of the body. The Committee on Ethics brought in several people for conversation. At this time, the committee is unable to substantiate the allegation.”

Can you speak to how local church apportionments work?

Local church apportionments are the result of legislation approved at Annual Conference each June by the clergy and lay members of Annual Conference. Leading up to Annual Conference, the Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) works with conference staff to develop and recommend a budget to the Annual Conference. CFA also recommends to Annual Conference the formula for calculating apportionments. The current formula bases 1/3 of apportionments on church membership and 1/3 on local church operating expenses. A church’s share is based on its proportion of total operating and its proportion of total members of all churches in the West Ohio Conference. You can find out more from the Book of Reports prepared for each Annual Conference.

How can we find out what our “unfunded liability” is?

According to the most recent data from Wespath, West Ohio’s pension liability is about $100 million. A congregation’s share of this liability would be based on its share total conference apportionments. Total apportionments for 2019 are about $20 million (conference and district combined).

How are top leadership positions filled in the United Methodist Church?

Bishops are elected by the lay and clergy delegates to the jurisdictional and central conferences, which meet every four years following regular sessions of the General Conference. The next episcopal elections begin in 2020. Any active ordained United Methodist elder in good standing is eligible to be elected a bishop. An episcopal candidate must have at least four years of eligibility to serve as a bishop before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 68. Nominations or endorsements of individuals by annual conferences, delegations or other groups are common but not necessary for election. The conferences set the percentage of votes necessary to elect a bishop. The church recommends that a candidate receive at least 60 percent of the votes in order to be elected. Votes are taken in consecutive ballots until the threshold for election is reached and a candidate is elected. The process continues until the total number of bishops needed are elected.

Do bishops vote at General Conference?

No. Bishops attend the General Conference but cannot vote. Different bishops serve as presiding officers during the conference. Other bishops cannot speak unless permission is specifically granted by the delegates.

How does one become a delegate to General Conference?

The highest legislative body in The United Methodist Church. The voting membership consists of an equal number of clergy and lay delegates elected by the annual conferences. General Conference convenes every quadrennium (four years) to determine the denomination's future direction. It is the only body that can speak officially for the denomination. West Ohio Conference will elect delegates for the 2020 General Conference at the 2019 Annual Conference held at Lakeside.

 

 

*Many people contributed to the answering of these questions. Special thanks to Rev. Alex Shanks and United Methodist Communications.