Methodist Church

After days of debates, petitions and prayers United Methodists declare: ‘WE ARE ONE’

2004 UNITED METHODIST GENERAL CONFERENCE

PITTSBURGH – After 10 days of debates and demonstrations, petitions and prayers, delegates to the 2004 United Methodist General Conference firmly committed themselves to the unity of the church.

The nearly 1,000 delegates joined hands and sang the hymn, “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”, then overwhelm-ingly agreed that “As United Methodists, we remain in covenant with one another, even in the midst of disagree-ment, and affirm our commitment to work together for the common mission of making disciples throughout the world.”

During the April 27-May 7 conference, the delegates processed petitions through 11 legislative committees; en-gaged in daily worship and prayer; and crafted — through floor vote and debate — the final legisla-

tion that will be printed in the 2004 Book of Discipline, the church’s book of law and social principles, and the 2004 Book of Resolutions, which focuses on global con-cerns and social justice issues.

In what probably was the largest sin-gle addition of membership since the Meth-odist and Evangelical United Brethren churches merged in 1968, the denomina-tion officially took the 1 million-member Protestant Methodist Church of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) into full membership. The Rev Benjamin Boni, leader of the for-merly autonomous West African church, called the vote “a moment of great joy”.

Here are some highlights of the 2004 General Conference at the David L. Law-rence Convention Center in Pittsburgh:

Unity issues

The floating of a proposal to dissolve the United Methodist Church into two separate denomi-nations sparked hallway discus-sions and considerable media at-tention. Although the proposal never came to the conference floor, two conservative church leaders, the Rev William Hinson and the Rev James Heidinger, talked openly about an “amicable” di-vorce over “irreconcilable differ-ences”.

But other conservatives, as well as a number of bishops and representatives of liberal groups, told reporters they rejected the idea of a split. The Rev John Schol of Eastern Pennsylvania, who brought the unity resolution to the floor on May 7, said he felt the measure was needed to block “a movement to drive a wedge in our denomination”. Differences that exist within the church body include disagreement over the denomination’s official position that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching”.

Sexuality issues Delegates solidly reaffirmed the denomination’s positions on homosexuality, and their action was backed by Judicial Council decisions announced during the conference.

Paragraph 161.G of the church’s Social Principles continues to state that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching”, although a clause was added that United Methodists “will seek to live in Christian community”. An attempt to add another sentence to the paragraph recognising that Christians disagree on the homosexuality issue was defeated.

Prohibitions against the ordination of self-avowed practising homosexuals were upheld, and attempts to adjust language in Paragraph 162.H, which deals with equal rights regardless of sexual orientation, were defeated by 2-1 margins.

Annual Conference treasurers and councils on finance also now have the au-thority to ensure that church money is not being used to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. Exceptions to the rule are for ministries addressing HIV/Aids or edu-cational events where the church’s official position on homosexuality is evident.

Paragraph 2702 in the Book of Disci-pline was amended to clarify language and give bishops, pastors and diaconal minis-ters a list of chargeable offences that could result in a church trial. Those offences in-clude not being celibate in singleness or being unfaithful in a heterosexual marriage; being a self-avowed practising homosexual; conducting ceremonies that celebrate ho-mosexual unions or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Social/international issues

In a resolution regarding stem-cell research, the church opposed the creation of embryos “with the intention of destroying them for research purposes”. The resolution also condemns the production of more embryos than needed for re-productive purposes, but supports “those persons who wish to enhance medical research by donating their early embryos remaining after in-vitro fertiliza-tion procedures have ended”.

In related action, delegates voted 467-421 to create a task force to carry out research on issues surrounding artificial in-semination and other reproductive methods.

Budget issues

After a three-hour debate, delegates adopted a four-year US$612.5-million (S$1.04-billion) budget for worldwide ministries, representing a 12.2-per cent increase over the 2001-04 budget. That total will be apportioned to each of the 63 US Annual Conferences.

Organisational structure

Delegates re-crafted the “Living into the Future” proposal presented by the General Council on Ministries. Their action sets up a 47-member “Connectional Table” to help guide the work of the denomination’s general agencies.

A long-standing mission organisation, United Methodist Women, was recognised in honour of its 135th anniversary.

Evangelism/membership plans

Delegates voted to continue all of the denomination’s current plans for reaching different groups inside and outside the church. Those programmes include the Native American Comprehen-sive Plan, Korean-American National Plan, Asian-American Language Minis-try Study, National Plan for Hispanic/ Latino Ministry and Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.


Worship

Daily worship was a mainstay of General Conference. The April 27 open-ing worship featured drummers from diverse cultures; singing in Korean, Swahili, Spanish and French; and an African dance that reminded the audience of the words of Psalm 150:6, “Let every-thing that breathes praise the Lord!”

The 2008 General Conference will be held in Fort Worth, Texas. — United Methodist News Service.

Linda Boom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.


‘NO’ TO HOMOSEXUAL PRACTICE

‘Delegates solidly reaffirmed the denomination’s positions on homosexuality, and their action was backed by Judicial Council decisions announced during the conference. Paragraph 161.G of the church’s Social Principles continues to state that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching” … Prohibitions against the ordination of self-avowed practising homosexuals were upheld, and attempts to adjust language in Paragraph 162.H, which deals with equal rights regardless of sexual orientation, were defeated by 2-1 margins.’

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