The UMC in the United States may become a regional conference if the 2008 General Conference approves a current draft proposal. The proposed legislation requests a task force on the church’s global nature and the Connectional Table to continue study of the church’s nature and report to the 2012 conference on the church’s characteristics and how the United States could become a regional conference while retaining its current jurisdictional structure. Bishop Patrick Streiff (Central and Southern Europe Area) said the proposal to make the United States a regional conference “gives possibility to separate U.S. business from the church worldwide” at General Conference. “Part of the church outside the U.S. is 30 percent, and it is just not possible to continue General Conference as we have.”
The report, presented to the Council of Bishops on May 3 by Bishops Ann B. Sherer (Nebraska Area) and Scott Jones (Kansas Area), says the U.S. influence in churchwide governance, as evident in the Book of Resolutions, is damaging to the church inside and outside the United States. “It disempowers central conferences from being fully actualized within the body and allows the church in the United States to escape responsibility from dealing with its internal issues.” The proposal to General Conference is to study what the church will look like in the future and to enable it to live more fully into its worldwide nature and reality, according to Jones. The proposal does not change the number, purpose, and function of jurisdictional conferences; the way bishops are elected or assigned; the purpose or mission of any churchwide agency; the size or power of General Conference; the way the Social Principles are decided upon or amended; or the apportionment formulas and allocations, Jones said.
The four changes “strike out of places in the constitution language that says that central conferences are only for areas of the church outside the United States,” he said. The structure envisioned is that every annual conference will belong to a central conference and that “any central conference, if it so chooses, can divide itself into jurisdictions,” opening the possibility of the United States becoming a central conference in 2012. In the proposed legislation, reference to central conferences in the constitution would be changed to regional conferences.
Several bishops said the word central is not grammatically correct, carries a negative connotation historically, and is meaningless. — Linda Green (UMNS)