By LINDA BLOOM
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 overwhelmingly agreed that "As United Methodists, we remain in covenant with one another, even in the midst of disagreement, 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; engaged in daily worship and prayer; and crafted -- through floor vote and debate -- the final legislation 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 concerns and social justice issues.
In what probably was the largest single addition of membership since the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches merged in 1968, the denomination 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 formerly 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. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh:
The floating of a proposal to dissolve the United Methodist
Church into two separate denominations sparked hallway discussions
and considerable media attention. 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" divorce over "irreconcilable
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".
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 authority 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 educational events where the church's official position on homosexuality is evident.
Paragraph 2702 in the Book of Discipline was amended to clarify language and give bishops, pastors and diaconal ministers a list of chargeable offences that could result in a church trial. Those offences include not being celibate in singleness or being unfaithful in a heterosexual marriage; being a self-avowed practising homosexual; conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.
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 reproductive purposes,
but supports "those persons who wish to enhance medical research
by donating their early embryos remaining after in-vitro fertilization
procedures have ended".
In related action, delegates voted 467-421 to create a task force to carry out research on issues surrounding artificial insemination and other reproductive methods.
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.
$1b budget for worldwide ministries
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.
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 Comprehensive Plan,
Korean-American National Plan, Asian-American Language Ministry
Study, National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry and Strengthening
the Black Church for the 21st Century.
Daily worship was a mainstay of General Conference. The April
27 opening 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 everything
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.