Briefing previews 2016 General Conference debates

In a gathering that repeatedly stressed church unity despite passionately held differences, United Methodists received a preview of some issues the 2016 General Conference will debate when the denomination's top lawmaking body meets this spring.

The Rev. Steven Lewis, Gresham United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, urged delegates to remember who they are as they debate issues and resolutions at General Conference 2016

"Few will read what we write, but millions will watch what we do," Lewis said during his sermon at opening worship during the pre-General Conference briefing.

More than 400 delegates, communicators and other United Methodists who will be part of the 2016 General Conference attended the Jan. 20-22 event at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. Most will return for the denomination's legislative assembly May 10-20.

Many United Methodists expect the most passionate and difficult debate at the 2016 General Conference to deal with how the denomination ministers with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.  At the briefing, participants got a preview of the emotional stakes in the debate as well as a chance to try out an alternative process for discussing legislation on tough issues.

This is a brief look at some of the issues explored:

  • Big changes proposed for bishops, clergy. Bishops would no longer be elected for life, doing away with guaranteed appointment under legislation being proposed.
  • Church budget. The General Council on Finance and Administration's board and the Connectional Table are proposing a budget of $611.4 million for general church funds in 2017-2020. That's about a 1.4 percent increase. The finance agency's board also is proposing that for the first time United Methodist churches in Africa, Asia and Europe would have a set formula to support the denomination's global ministries.
  • A U.S. central conference? One of the frequent complaints about General Conference is that delegates spend much of the 10-day global meeting on issues that strictly focus on the U.S. Participants heard about two plans to address this concern by creating a central conference or similar body to encompass the entire United States.
  • Restructuring proposals. Proposals regarding the denomination's structure and connection will come before the General Conference. One of those proposals is "Plan UMC Revised." The Rev. Clayton Oliphint explained that this plan removes provisions ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council after the 2012 General Conference adopted "Plan UMC," a compromise proposal. Many involved in the restructuring work were frustrated by the top court's last-minute ruling, he said.
  • Social issues. The 2016 General Conference will consider amendments to more than 70 social justice petitions ranging from climate change to human trafficking.
  • Looking ahead to 2020. A draft of a new general, or global, Book of Discipline will be presented to 2016 General Conference for affirmation to be finalized by the 2020 General Conference. The 2016 General Conference will be asked to continue and fund conversations for four more years. A proposal for a digitized, customizable United Methodist Hymnal.

Heather Hahn, Kathy Gilbert, Linda Bloom, Vicki Brown and Joey Butler, United Methodist News Service

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