Constitutional Amendments

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

President Barrack Obama’s democratic allies in the Senate reversed course on Tuesday, May 19, 2009, and refused to finance the move to close Guantanamo Bay prison. They denied the request for $80 million because the administration lacked a satisfactory plan of what to do with the 240 detainees there.

We need to reverse the close vote of the 2008 General Conference and vote against many of the 32 proposed amendments because no legitimate plan has been set forth.

Delegates to the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Churches will be voting on the 32 proposed amendments of the Constitution. I have great concern about these amendments. I believe if they pass, it could drastically change ministry through the United Methodist Church in the future.

These 32 amendments were presented at General Conference late in the session. Time for debate was limited. The very nature of the amendments could be confusing to a lot of delegates. Most of these amendments barely passed by the two-thirds majority.

They now go to each Annual Conference and there will be a count of the aggregate vote of all delegates at the Annual Conferences. Each delegate’s vote is important. For the amendments to pass, a two-thirds majority is required.

My concern is that there are so many unanswered questions about what these amendments would do. 23 of them deal with the “worldwide nature of the church.” They would change the Constitution, without any concrete plan for how the new structure would look. A committee is designing that for the future in case these amendments pass. I do not want to vote for something if I do not know what I am actually voting for.

It seems much more prudent to defeat these amendments now, let the committee do its work as to what the new structure could look like, then reintroduce the amendments at the next General Conference, if the new structure looks viable for ministry.

To change the Constitution would require a two-thirds vote. If the amendments pass, the report of this committee with the new structure would only require 50% vote at the next General Conference in 2012. I think it is much better to wait and be sure we know what we are voting for.

To change the Constitution of the United Methodist Church is a big step. In my opinion, we need to be extremely convinced that it is the right path before voting to change the Constitution. For this reason I would encourage people to vote “no” on the amendments dealing with the worldwide nature of the church. These amendment numbers are III, IV, V, VII, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XVI, XVIII, XX, XXI, XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXII. (3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32)

All of the amendments can be confusing because they are not easy to follow by the numbers given them.

Amendment I (1) changes the understanding of who should be admitted to membership in a local United Methodist Church. At the present time, there is a structure which would help give accountability for receiving people. It is not intended to be legalistic, but rather to let the Pastor of the church have responsibility for discerning who is ready for membership.

The change in the Constitution would simple say that “all persons upon taking the vows declaring Christian faith and a relationship to Jesus Christ shall be eligible to become professing members of any local church.” This leaves to the person seeking membership all of the authority to determine if he/she is ready for membership.

I believe that all people should be welcome to worship and the church is inclusive in its ministry to all people. However, people who are engaged in behavior that is inconsistent with biblical teaching, such as a person living in an adulterous relationship with no intent to change, a person who is committing some crime with no intent to change, a person who is molesting children and declaring that he/she is doing this for their benefit, a person who acknowledges being in some criminal activity with no intent to change, etc. – the change in the Constitution could allow these people to demand membership in any local church. I believe the United Methodist Church needs some system of accountability for determining readiness for membership. For that reason I will vote “no” to this amendment.

Amendment II (2) deals with adoption of ethics and conflict of interest policies to insure accountability and judiciary integrity. I think this is a good thing, but our Conference treasurer Frank Dunnewind and his counterparts throughout the United Methodist Church have indicated that this could be better handled through legislative process rather than changing the Constitution. These people work in this area all of the time. They are skeptical of some of the undue restrictions it could put on small churches and small groups within churches who collect money. I will vote “no” on this issue based on their recommendation.

There is one Constitutional amendment that I strongly support – Amendment XIX (19). This proposed amendment would allow additional clergy members to participate in the election of clergy delegates to General, Jurisdictional or Central Conferences.

This amendment would broaden the base of clergy members who serve. It would include all Deacons, Elders, Associate Members, and Provisional Members who have completed all their educational requirements and Local Pastors who have completed course of study or an M.DIV. degree and have served a minimum of two consecutive years under appointment immediately preceding the election. The inclusion of our Local Pastors is very important! I believe it is a justice issue. Some of the most effective ministry in our Annual Conference is being done by Local Pastors, and this amendment will give them the opportunity to vote on clergy members who will represent them at General and Jurisdictional Conference. I will vote “yes” on this amendment.

At the present time I also plan to vote “yes” on amendments VIII, IX, XV, XVII, XIX, and XXII (8, 9, 15, 17, 19, & 22) because my present understanding is that they would not adversely affect United Methodist ministry in the future.

I write this on my website in response to the requests of many clergy persons who have asked me how I feel about these amendments. I gladly offer my perspective.

I am very excited about the future of the United Methodist Church. I want to be sure that our Constitution enables us to organize in a way that we can be the most effective in doing ministry. The thoughts above are purely my own opinion. There are a lot more arguments as to why I will vote this way, but these are some of the major reasons.

Since writing this article I have learned about a couple of things that have occurred. I understand that the recent meeting of the Council on Bishops issued a “CALL TO ACTION.” Part of this was the organization of a special committee to look at many issues in order to make United Methodist ministry more effective in the future. This Steering Committee will “lead the process of evaluating and recommending a holistic 21st century ‘method’ for being and doing church around the world in radically new ways, and in keeping with our commitment to the world-wide nature of the church.” Another objective of the Steering Committee is “to consult with a broad-based constituency, including persons with organizational expertise as well as lay and clergy leaders from around the world, to generate proposals to radically refashion and reorder the life of The United Methodist Church.”

It seems obvious to me that we are not clear about the plan to “radically refashion and reorder the life of The United Methodist Church.” I think making changes to the Constitution is extremely premature until we have an opportunity to hear both from the Steering Committee designed by the Bishops and from the task force studying the implementation of a plan in case the amendments pass. This further convinces me that we need to vote “no” on these amendments at this time.

I also saw an open letter to The United Methodist Church from the Staff of the Division of Ordained Ministry of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. This letter appears to be far more radical than I am as it states, “It is the opinion of the Staff of the Division of Ordained Ministry that all of these amendments are flawed and should not be ratified by the annual conferences at this time. In our judgment, further work through the Commission for the Study of Ministry established by General Conference is required before substantive changes in the Constitution or legislation on ministry are made.”

May we all spend time in prayer and fasting for United Methodists around the world as we make strategic decisions at the upcoming annual conferences.

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