TRUST. Having attended three prior General Conferences, I have been wondering why this conference seemed to exhibit such a high lack of trust—as evidenced from the very beginning when we had difficulty adopting our rules, to the very end when we had a parliamentary challenge to the presiding Bishop. Delegates seemed to distrust our Bishops, our General agencies, our process, our committees, and one another.
Why? Part of it may be that we’re reflecting our U.S. society’s move toward greater polarization over political and social issues. It may also be due to the fact that the Boomer generation is the dominate demographic group at General Conference and that we Boomers tend to be much more interested ourselves and what we want rather than the institution and the whole body, which the prior generations valued.
Yet, I think this lack of trust may be due to something even more significant. Unlike the previous General Conferences I’ve attended, the growing church in Africa was very present—many African delegates had legislative committee offices, they were there in greater numbers, and they were voicing their opinions as never before. As a result, I sense that our equilibrium was disrupted; the status quo had been disrupted and, thus, we didn’t know who we were and how we would work together. I think this may be a good thing in the long run. Yet, in the short term it’s frustrating and disappointing. Perhaps God needs to break us in order to put us back together in a way that will lead us forward into the future…
GLOBAL CHURCH. Although the United Methodist Church in the United States continues to shrink in number, the denomination continues to grow significantly, especially in Africa. Indiana is one of the largest U.S. delegations with 18 voting delegates; however North Kantaga Conference (one of several in Congo) had 52 delegates! Nearly 40% of the delegates came from outside the U.S., a third more than four years ago. A Bishop I spoke with from Europe feels the church isn’t becoming more global but more African. He said the church in Europe and the Philippines is feeling more marginalized as a result.
POSITIVE SIGNS. There were a number of encouraging news reports at the conference. Our church planting overseas as well as in the U.S. has increased significantly. And the number of persons dying from malaria has been cut in half over the past decade due in part to our Nothing but Nets effort. We commissioned more missionaries, deaconesses and home missioners.
ACTIONS. Below is a list of some of the actions the General Conference took. For the local church, not much has changed. May we all continue to strive to do God’s will and to make a real Kingdom difference. There are people in desperate need of the Good News of Jesus Christ. May God use us and our churches to share it with them! — Ed Fenstermacher
Actions Taken by the 2012 General Conference
A. Financial & Pensions:
1. Passed a $603 million dollar budget, a 6% decrease from the prior quadrennial budget, the first decrease ever.
2. Approved $7 million to recruit and train young clergy and $5 million to fund a new Central Conference Theological Education Fund for the quadrennium.
3. Approved a modified clergy pension fund that has a defined benefit and defined contribution.
B. Social Principles & Resolutions:
4. Added a statement to the preamble of the Social Principles that states the following: “We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the gospel. We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.” (Lisa Schubert moved the italicized phrase from Romans 8.)
5. Voted down an addition to the Book of Discipline that would have acknowledged that United Methodists do not agree on issues regarding sexuality. Other petitions on the subject never made it to the floor because a demonstration ended the session at which they were to be heard.
6. Voted not to divest in the three targeted corporations that provide equipment for the establishment of Israeli settlements, but there was a resolution supporting the Palestinians.
7. Changed “Lay Speaking” to “Lay Servant Ministries,” and added a special course in Lay Speaking.
8. Did away with guaranteed appointment via the consent calendar. There was a motion to reconsider it, and although debated, it failed by a 60% negative vote.
9. Term limits for Bishops failed to receive the necessary 66% favorable vote required for constitutional issues, although barely a majority voted in favor.
10. Creating a set-aside Bishop position failed to receive the necessary 66% favorable vote required for constitutional issues, although a majority voted in favor.
D. Church Planting & the Global Church:
11. Heard a Path One report that 612 new churches have been planted and it is anticipated that we will exceed our quadrennial goal of 650 sometime this fall, half are ethnic minority churches.
12. Created a new Burundi conference and a new Congo Episcopal Area; Sweden left to join two other denominations to create a new Swedish denomination.
13. Clarified which parts of the Book of Discipline can be adapted for Central Conference’s contexts; clarification of what parts of Section V will be recommended at 2016 conference.
14. Established a Pacific Islander Ministry Plan, which joins the other national plans which were continued.
E. Church Structure & Petitioning Process:
15. Approved by a 60% affirmative vote for a new General Conference structure; however, it was ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council the last day of the conference. In its place, a structure was approved that streamlines and decreases the size of all the major General Church agencies except Church and Society, and it separated the UMW from the General Board of Global Ministries.
16. Requires individuals submitting petitions to the next General Conference to first get them approved by their church council.
17. Requires at least a 60% affirmative vote of General Conference delegates in order to adopt resolutions in the future.
18. Celebrated the 200th year of the first quadrennial General Conference, the 100th year of the Girl Scouts, 40th year of COSROW, 20th year of Shalom Zones, 20th anniversary of Africa University, which has 1,700 students from 27 different African nations.
19. Heard that our campaign to eradicate malaria in this decade has already resulted in a drop in the number dying from malaria; instead of one person dying every 30 seconds, as it was four years ago, it is now every 60 seconds. Much of this is the result of our Nothing but Nets campaign, which has resulted in the distribution of 1 million mosquito nets by UMs and millions more through other organizations.
20. Participated in an act of repentance toward healing relationships with indigenous peoples, recognizing and repenting of actions taken against Native peoples of all nations.
21. Elected a new class of Judicial Council and University Senate members.
22. Commissioned 23 new missionaries and 17 deaconesses and home missioners.