General Conference 2008: The Legislative Process
Sources of Legislation
Primary sources of legislation are petitions and proposals from church agencies and organizations. Petitions must be submitted 210 days before the opening of the conference. Any organization, ordained minister or lay member of the church may petition the General Conference. Approximately 1,600 pieces of legislation are expected at the 2012 assembly.
As in the U.S. Congress, the bulk of General Conference business is conducted in legislative committees. Each committee receives petitions and proposals, debates them, and determines whether to approve, amend, combine or reject them for recommendation to the full body of General Conference.
All proposed legislation — from individuals, organizations, churchwide agencies and annual conferences — is printed in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate.
The committees review, sort and refine legislative proposals. No action is final until taken by the General Conference in plenary session. Progress reports from each committee will appear in the next day's issue of the Daily Christian Advocate.
There are 13 Legislative Committees, each having assigned topics:
- Church and Society 1: This committee will receive all petitions and resolutions relating to the work and concerns of the Board of Church and Society and the Social Principles, with the exception of paragraphs in The Book of Discipline dealing with the nurturing community and the social community.
- Church and Society 2: All petitions and resolutions relating to the nurturing community and the social community sections of the Social Principles will be referred to this committee.
- Conferences: This committee shall receive all petitions and resolutions relating to the composition and activities of the General, jurisdictional, annual, provisional, missionary and district conferences.
- Discipleship: All petitions and resolutions relating to the work and concerns of the Board of Discipleship shall be referred to this committee.
- Faith and Order: All petitions relating to "Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task," "The Ministry of All Christians" and the meaning of ordination and conference membership will be referred to this committee.
- Financial Administration: This committee shall receive all petitions and resolutions relating to the work and concerns of the Council on Finance and Administration, the Board of Pension and Health Benefits, and the United Methodist Publishing House. The budget and recommendations prepared by the General Council on Finance and Administration shall be submitted to this committee for study and review. Thereafter, when the General Council on Finance and Administration presents its report to the General Conference for action, the committee shall present its recommendations and may propose amendments.
- General Administration: Petitions and resolutions relating to the work and concerns of the Connectional Table shall be referred to this committee. The report of the Connectional Table shall be submitted to this committee for study and review. After the Connectional Table presents its report to the General Conference for action, the committee shall present its recommendations and may propose amendments.
- Global Ministries: All petitions and resolutions relating to the work and concerns of the Board of Global Ministries shall be referred to this committee.
- Independent Commissions: This committee shall receive all petitions and resolutions relating to commissions and ecumenical concerns. The commissions include Archives and History, Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Communications, Religion and Race, the Status and Role of Women, and United Methodist Men. Ecumenical concerns relate to the denomination's membership in or relationship with the World Methodist Council, the National Council of Churches, other councils and consultations of churches, and the American Bible Society.
- Judicial Administration: All petitions and resolutions relating to judiciary concerns and investigations, trials and appeals are handled by this committee.
- Local Church: This committee will receive all petitions and resolutions relating to the organization of the local church and its membership, programs, boards, councils, commissions and committees. The committee will also consider petitions relating to local church property.
- Ministry and Higher Education: All petitions and resolutions relating to the work and concerns of ordained ministries, higher education, seminaries, and the Division of Chaplaincy and Related Ministries of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry shall be referred to this committee.
- Superintendency: Petitions and resolutions relating to the work and concerns of superintendents shall be referred to this committee.
In addition, a Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters will handle legislative proposals affecting central conferences.
Recommendations by a legislative committee emerging the first week of the conference are just that — recommendations. No action is final until the entire General Conference approves it. Most final actions are taken during the second week of the conference. Only the General Conference speaks officially for the denomination.
If legislation involving funding is approved by a plenary session, that action is referred to the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) and the Connectional Table (or their executive committees or expenditure review groups) for their advice and review. The groups will bring the legislation back to the assembly with specific recommendations about sources and amounts. When GCFA and the Connectional Table present their report, the Financial Administration Legislative Committee will present its own recommendations and may propose amendments to these recommendations. Only after the conference takes action on this funding proposal does the legislation take effect.
If a proposed change in the Constitution is approved by two-thirds of the General Conference delegates, that action must be ratified by a two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of annual conference members voting at their yearly gatherings. A proposal to alter one of the Articles of Religion or the Confession of Faith requires a three-fourths majority of annual conference members. No changes may take place until approval is announced by the Council of Bishops. Most legislation becomes effective Jan. 1, 2009, unless the legislation specifically includes another date.
Following legislation through the General Conference maze can be a challenge. Issues come before the delegates most often in the form of petitions sent by individuals, groups, annual (regional) conferences and governing boards of general agencies. You can find these in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate and online.
Petitions from individuals, local churches, annual conferences and general agencies are given numbers and assigned to one of 13 legislative committees. Each delegate serves on a committee, and delegates spend most of the first four days in committee meetings. Each legislative committee deals with petitions related to series of paragraphs from The Book of Discipline. Petitions related to The Book of Resolutions are sorted by subject. A legislative committee can recommend to adopt, reject or refer a petition to a General Conference plenary session. That recommendation is called a "calendar item"; the item is assigned a number and printed in the Daily Christian Advocate.
Below is a short summary of the legislative process:
- Petitions are sent by agencies, conferences, churches, and individuals.
- The petitions secretary assigns petition numbers. The numbers indicate the legislative committee, the chronological order, and the source. Each petition is assigned to a legislative committee.
- Petitions are printed in the Advance Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA).
- Reference committee reviews assignments by petitions secretary. They combine petitions and make new assignments to legislative committees as deemed necessary.
- Legislative committees review petitions and make recommendations to plenary session.
- Reports are sent to DCA. Copy is returned to committee officers for approval. Copy is sent to the General Conference secretary for a calendar number prior to being printed in the DCA.
- Plenary session acts upon calendar item.
- The action is printed in the Book of Discipline or the Book of Resolutions. The DCA becomes the official journal of the General Conference.
To learn more about the detail of the legislative process, download a pdf of the Plan of Organization for General Conference.
The Commission on General Conference is suggesting that, in the future, individuals should be allowed to submit their petitions only through local church charge conferences or other denominational organizations. A similar request was defeated by the 2004 gathering. The UnitedMethodistChurch is the only denomination allowing individuals to petition their legislative assembly.