Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Constitutional Changes

At the 2008 General Conference, about which I blogged quite a bit (hit the archives from April 2008 for my commentary), there were a number of changes to the Constitution of the UMC (found in our Book of Discipline) debated and adopted. Just like changing the Constitution of the United States, one entity can't make the changes on its own. The changes must be ratified by a majority (I can't remember if it's a simple majority or two-thirds) of Annual Conferences and the Council of Bishops.

Most of these changes have to do with altering terminology to put the Conferences outside of the US on par with the US Conferences, eliminating "jurisdictional" and "central" conferences, and making them all into "regional conferences". These are basically clusters of Annual Conferences in a given region, in which bishops are elected and itinerate. These seem to be a good idea because it gets rid of the notion that the conferences outside the US are somehow of lesser importance. We are a global church and this seems like the right move.

The Constitutional change I'm not so sure about, however, is the first one listed in the PDF linked above. The amendment would alter the language in paragraph 4, which concerns the inclusiveness in the church. The language of "without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition" has been removed and replaced with simply "all persons".

I am of two minds on this one. On the one hand this could be a good thing, since a number of rather intolerant individuals have used the aforementioned paragraph's lack of the phrase "sexual orientation" as an excuse to deny membership to persons of differing sexual orientation. I believe sexual orientation to be covered by "status", but that has never been tested in a case before the Judicial Council, to my knowledge. So the new phrase, "all persons", could make it harder for those who want to pick and choose who they want to let in to do so.

However, some other language in the new paragraph could possibly be used to exclude people based on a pastor or a congregation's particular beliefs. The sentence in question is "all persons, upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith and relationship in Jesus Christ, shall be eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection."

What does it mean for a person to "take vows declaring the Christian faith and relationship in Jesus Christ"? For me it would be sufficient for a person to answer "yes" to the questions put forth in the liturgy of welcoming in our Book of Worship. But other pastors might say that if one does not repent of certain sins (as defined by the pastor, of course), that they are not truly able to "take vows declaring the Christian faith", and thus exclude them from membership in the church. This is exactly what happened in the case in Virginia where the pastor wouldn't admit a person because they were gay, because the pastor claimed they hadn't repented of their sin.

Hence my confusion. What should we make of this proposed change to our Constitution? Will greater inclusiveness be achieved, or will this new language end up being another weapon in the hands of those who do not want our church to be inclusive?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the changes are meant to be more inclusive. The stuff about vows is meant - so I understand - to counter the case in which the pastor kept a gay man from becoming a member.

It is 2/3 of all votes at all the annual conferences. You tally each individual vote and total them. If more than 2/3 are "yes," then it passes.