General Conference Delegates to Consider More than 1,500 Petitions

April 18, 2008

(UMNS) Nearly 1,000 delegates to the United Methodist General Conference have waded through 1,564 pieces of proposed legislation to be considered during the April 23-May 2 meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.


On Feb.15, United Methodist Publishing House mailed 1,540 copies of the Advance Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate to delegates, first alternates, bishops and others. Portuguese and French editions later were sent to delegates in Africa.


Delegates received a 157-page Handbook for Delegates, which includes the proposed plan of organization and rules of order for the assembly and a listing of delegates and committee assignments. They also received the hefty two-volume Advance DCA, which includes reports from churchwide agencies and proposed legislation. The page count is 1,560, up from 1,411 in 2004 when the last assembly was held.


Most petitions sent by agencies, annual conferences, local churches and individuals propose changes in the Book of Discipline, which is the church's book of law, and also in the Book of Resolutions, which outlines the church's positions on social-justice issues.


These petitions are assigned by subject matter or disciplinary paragraph to one of 14 legislative committees. Committee members consider each petition and then recommend approval as submitted, approval as amended, or they recommend defeating the petition.


When a petition not involving money or a change in the denomination's Constitution receives 10 or fewer negative votes, it is placed on a time-saving consent calendar and is voted on as a bloc along with other non-controversial proposals.


Since so many petitions relate to social justice issues, these 414 petitions are assigned to two Church and Society legislative committees. The Legislative Committee on Ministry and Higher Education will consider 229 petitions, the highest number of petitions assigned to any single legislative committee.


The petition process

The Rev. Gary Graves, a pastor in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, serves as petitions secretary and is responsible for sorting and filing all petitions. While there are nearly 1,600 different pieces of proposed legislation, many submissions were identical.


Graves is especially grateful for petitioners who have transitioned to e-mail submissions, which decreased the number of boxes of "snail mail" to his office from 47 in 2003 to two boxes (plus a bit) in 2007. For the last assembly, Graves shipped 18 boxes of petitions to the site of General Conference. This year, he will ship four boxes to Fort Worth and the rest of the petitions will be handled electronically.


Graves praised petitioners for limiting the rationales behind their legislation to 50 words – the word count permitted to be printed in the Advance DCA. If the explanation for the proposed changes exceeds that total, the rationale is sent to the chair of the legislative committee considering the petition.


Here is a roundup highlighting some of the petitions to be considered this spring:


From California-Nevada Annual Conference

The California-Nevada Annual Conference has submitted or co-submitted 27 petitions, including one calling for divestment from companies identified as profiting from sales of products or services that cause harm to Palestinians and Israelis; one that would delete item 341.6 in The Book of Discipline, which states that ceremonies in celebration of homosexual unions shall not be conducted by UM ministers nor take place in United Methodist churches; and one calling for a resolution of prayer and support for those caught up in war. Cal-Nevada also has submitted a petition calling for a complete version of The Book of Discipline to be available online as an additional resource to complement the published version.



The most far-reaching petition comes from a six-member task force that proposes to make the church's five U.S. jurisdictions into a regional body, similar to the church's central conferences that exist outside of the United States. That action requires a change in the Constitution and must be approved by two-thirds of the General Conference delegates and two-thirds of the aggregate total of annual conference delegates.



The issue that seems to grab most of the headlines also received the highest number of petitions.


Petitions from 616 groups or individuals ask General Conference to make no change in the existing statements on homosexuality within the church's Social Principles. That statement declares homosexuals to be "individuals of sacred worth," but declares the practice of homosexuality to be "incompatible with Christian teaching."


The United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church's social action agency, is asking the assembly to delete the incompatibility clause and replace it with: "While Christians of good faith differ on what Christian teaching reveals regarding gender and homosexuality, we affirm God's grace is available to all." The California-Nevada Annual Conference joins with California-Pacific, Oregon-Idaho, and three other conferences in offering a similar petition.


Another 326 petitioners are asking delegates to make no change in the present statement supporting laws that define marriage as the "union of one man and one woman." However, petitions wanting to delete that clause are from the Board of Church and Society along with the California-Nevada, California-Pacific, Oregon-Idaho, Kansas East, Northern Illinois, Minnesota, New England, and New York conferences.



The United Methodist Church now recognizes the "sanctity of unborn human life" but also respects the "life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy." Seventy-six petitions want to replace the words "an unacceptable" with "a life threatening."


Another 322 petitions want to make it clear that abortion is only acceptable if the "physical death of the mother" would result from the "continuation of a pregnancy."


A total of 370 petitions, including the North Carolina and Northwest Texas conferences, call for churchwide agencies to withdraw their membership from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. They argue that the church opposes partial birth abortion while the coalition supports the practice. Eighty petitions, including one from the Mississippi conference, ask for a resolution supporting the coalition to be deleted from the Book of Resolutions. A total of 375 petitions support parental notification if an abortion is being considered.


Health care

The Board of Church and Society wants the church to call for legislation which will "entitle all persons within the borders of the United States to the provision of health care services, the cost of such services to be equally shared by American taxpayers.' Public funds would be generated by individual premiums and a payroll tax.


New hymnal

The Board of Discipleship and the United Methodist Publishing House are asking delegates to authorize the creation of a 27-member Hymnal Revision Committee to "prepare and present to the 2012 General Conference a single-volume hymn and worship book."


The discipleship agency also wants the assembly to create a nine-member committee to study the possibility of publishing "an official United Methodist hymnal for North American Christians of African descent in the Wesleyan heritage." That Nashville, Tennessee-based agency also wants to continue the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century initiative – a program started in 1996 and renewed by the following two General Conferences.



The General Council on Finance and Administration will propose a denominational budget of nearly $642 million for the 2009-2012 period, up 4.8 percent. That four-year total includes $333 million for World Service, a 4.96 percent increase for ministries of churchwide agencies.


The agencies have been asked to develop their budgets around four areas of focus: 1) leadership development; 2) church growth; 3) ministry with the poor; and 4) global health.


GCFA recommends no increase for funds supporting ministerial education, black colleges, Africa University, or interdenominational ministries. The proposed budget for the operation of bishops' offices would increase 13 percent to more than $94 million. The administrative cost of operating GCFA, General Conference, Judicial Council and the Commission on Archives and History would total nearly $37 million, up almost 9 percent from the 2005-2008 period.


A full listing of all petitions is available on the General Conference website at