General Conference 2008: Restructuring the World Church Sent to 'Study'; General Conference Cool on Divestment Issues

April 29, 2008

By Bruce Pettit

California-Nevada News Service


FORT WORTH, April 29, 2008 - Although there are proposed United Methodist constitutional amendments still to come before this General Conference on the worldwide nature of the church, delegates here signaled Monday night that they are cool to making the United States a single regional conference, or several regional conferences. (It now has five jurisdictions.)


Delegates voted here for a study of the whole issue, and to revisit it in 2012. However, a petition that came from the Conferences Committee last week, that would have limited the scope of what the task force could study, was amended to give freer range for exploring possibilities. The Committee on Conferences would have allowed regions some latitude in implementation of standards, but would have the standards themselves set at General Conference sessions such as the one here. The committee view would have made it more difficult for regions to have different social principles and ordination standards. A specific amendment to allow cultural adjustment of social principles lost. But by a vote of 486 to 310, delegates here voted not to make guidelines for the study "binding" by striking that precise word – suggesting now that the study might still look at cultural differences.


Felicisimo Cao, California-Nevada clergy delegate, injected himself into that plenary debate by offering one of several amendments for more latitude. He told the plenary session here that "U.S. interests dominate" the worldwide church. He moved an amendment that the study group carefully "assess parity and equity." It passed, 322 votes to 314 (51 to 49 percent).


Another amendment, by the Rev. Gayle Felton of North Carolina, to simply "consider" the Conferences Committee's more restrictive positions, passed 420 to 379 (53 to 47 percent). The significantly amended petition for the study group eventually passed 521 to 274 (66 to 34 percent).


Meanwhile, five petitions for divestment of United Methodist funds from investment in companies that do business in war materiel with Israel have faltered in committee here. Methodist Federation for Social Action's petition called for phased divestment. Before targeting a company for divestment, the UM Board of Pensions "should write to that company, explain our concerns as United Methodists, and request a change in the company's relationship to the Israeli occupation," said the petition of MFSA president Kathryn Johnson. The Committee on Financial Administration debated the petition for an hour last week before recommending its rejection by the full General Conference when the petition comes up in plenary later this week.


The Institute of Religion and Democracy hailed the faltering of the divestment petitions. "Portraying Israel as the Western oppressor and the Palestinians as Third World victims is not helpful in advocating justice and peace for all," the IRD said in a press release.


Rev. Johnson said MFSA was disheartened at the committee action.