From ‘to’ to ‘with’: General Conference’s smaller legislation
The big pieces of legislation that will come before the General Conference of the The United Methodist Church, May 10-20, 2016, will get the lion’s share of the attention. Much discussion will be generated around things like human sexuality, organizational changes to church structure, abortion, the ordination process, and more. Some far simpler petitions, which will receive little press, are also important to the legislative work of the delegates.
Because General Conference is the only legislative body that can make changes to The Book of Discipline and set policy for The United Methodist Church, even seemingly small details need approval. Sometimes that means an editorial change to a single word.
Cleaning up an oversight
No person can be in two places at the same time, right? It appears, according to the 2012 Book of Discipline, the nation of Zambia can.
Our current Discipline includes Zambia in the member nations lists of two Central Conferences: Africa Central Conference and Congo Central Conference (¶ 540.3). Petition 60133 seeks to correct that by removing Zambia from the list of members of the Africa Central Conference.
The rationale presented by the General Council on Finance and Administration in petition 60133 will correct this “inadvertent inclusion,” by including Zambia only in list of members of the Congo Central Conference.
Changing a preposition
A small word can sometimes make a big difference.
Two petitions seek to alter a preposition in the guidelines given to provisional deacons and elders as they prepare for examination to be ordained and received into full connection to their annual conferences. The 2012 Book of Discipline recommends that each group of candidates consider the following:
Provide evidence of your willingness to relate yourself in ministry to all persons without regard to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, social status, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic condition, or disability (2012 Book of Discipline ¶ 330.5c4 and ¶ 335.8c4).
Petitions 60717 and 60718 seek to change the word to in the phrase “in ministry to,” to with, in each of the paragraphs pertaining to deacon and elder candidates. This may sound like a small change, but it is significant.
This one-word alteration would change the implied posture we ask our candidates and clergy to take as they do ministry. Being in ministry with someone implies a side-by-side partnership, while offering ministry to another connotes an imbalance of power between the pastor and a member of any of the marginalized groups listed.
At times, words fall in and out of usage, change meanings, or become lesser used. To keep the Discipline current, we sometimes have to update our terminology.
For example, Paragraph 1109.1 of the 2012 Discipline uses the term nurseries in a list of education institutions. The General Board of Discipleship (now known as DIscipleship Ministries) submitted a petition to change it to preschools. Their included rationale says the “change aligns the language in this paragraph with accepted language in public and private institutions of learning.”
Affirming all families
While some word changes seem simple enough, others may say a little more.
In the 2012 Discipline, the Social Principles read in part, “We affirm the importance of loving parents for all children. We also understand the family as encompassing a wider range of options than that of the two-generational unit of parents and children (the nuclear family)” (¶ 161.A)
Petition 60661 suggests changing “loving parents for all children” to “loving adults for all children,” and removing also in the next sentence. The person bringing this petition to General Conference seeks to affirm the families of all children, including children raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others.
The difference between shall and may
Sometimes a small change can make a big difference.
Several pieces of legislation, for example, seek to substitute the word may for shall. The change would make something that is currently mandatory, voluntary in the future.
Petition 60691 proposes one such change pertaining to annual conference boards of church and society. ¶ 629 would read, “The annual conference may organize a board of church and society,” where it currently says “shall organize.” If General Conference approves this change, annual conferences will no longer be compelled to have a board of church and society, which means it would be likely that some will and some will not.
Small, noncontroversial changes may never see open debate on the floor of General Conference. All petitions are initially presented in small groups of General Conference delegates called legislative committees. When a petition receives no more than 10 votes against in legislative committee, and the petition has no financial implications nor is it a constitutional amendment, it may be placed on the consent calendar. The consent calendar is then presented to the entire General Conference for approval. For more details on the consent calendar process, see Rule 33 in the Daily Christian Advocate Advance Edition (p 88).
Track all the 2016 legislation.