Denominational leaders unanimously approved a move toward forming a church decision-making body that deals exclusively with U.S. matters.
The Connectional Table in its November meeting voted to go-ahead for one of its subcommittees to detail a process leaders hope will lead to such a structure. The 64-member church leadership body acts as sort of a denominational church council coordinating ministry and money.
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Much of the group's discussion focused on how much time General Conference — the denomination's multinational top lawmaking body — spends on decisions that only affect the church in the United States.
To get to that point, the Connectional Table is looking at a two-step process.
The first step would either be adding a General Conference legislative committee to deal with U.S.-only legislation or creating a General Conference standing committee that can meet between legislative sessions. The Connectional Table is looking to propose one of these possibilities in time for the 2020 General Conference.
Creating a new legislative committee would be up to the Commission on General Conference, which plans the big meeting. That commission decides the number of legislative committees and typically, what legislation is assigned to those committees.
Creating a new standing committee would be up to the majority of General Conference delegates. Such a standing committee already exists for matters that affect central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
Either way, any committee decision would need the approval of the General Conference's full multinational plenary before it could go forward.
Connectional Table members see the committee approach as only an interim step towards creating a U.S. central conference where delegates from across the U.S. could make decisions without going to the full General Conference.
Creating a U.S. central conference requires amending the denomination's constitution. To be ratified, amendments must receive at least a two-thirds vote at General Conference and at least two-thirds of the total votes at annual conferences.
For decades, United Methodists have talked about creating a church structure to deal with solely U.S. concerns. Still, such proposals always have faced stiff opposition.
As recently as 2016, petitions to create a U.S. central conference and other proposed new regional structures didn't make it out of committee at General Conference. Earlier, constitutional amendments to create uniform regional conferences around the globe gained approval at the 2008 General Conference, only to go down to defeat before annual conference voters.
In proposing a new structure, Connectional Table members mainly are thinking of less fraught disputes.
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter for UMNS.
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