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UMNS/KATHLEEN BARRY

Delegates Jean-Marie Nkonge (left) from South Congo Conference and Henoc Mwenze from the South-West Katanga Conference discuss proposed legislation during General Conference.

UMNS/PAUL JEFFREY

Faced with glitches in the electronic voting system, delegates sometimes used colored cards to vote business matters during General Conference in Portland, Ore.

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Four constitutional changes need ratification

General Conference 2016 approved proposed amendments to the constitution of The United Methodist Church. Now it is up to the members of the annual conferences around the world to determine if they will be ratified and become church law.

The proposed amendments address:

  • Inclusiveness of gender and age;
  • Election of General Conference and jurisdictional or central conference delegates;
  • Election of central conference bishops; and
  • Accountability of bishops.

Two-thirds of the General Conference members voting must first approve most amendments to the church's constitution. Approved amendments then go to the annual conferences where two-thirds of the aggregate or total number of individual members casting ballots must vote affirmatively to ratify them. Amendments to the first and second Restrictive Rules require a three-fourths majority in both the General Conference and the annual conferences.

Bishops and annual conference secretaries will receive voting materials in November, says the Rev. L. Fitzgerald Reist III. He is outgoing secretary of the General Conference. The Council of Bishops will announce the results in late 2017 or early 2018.

Inclusiveness of gender, age

The proposed amendment of Article IV (Division 1) adds gender and age to the list of criteria for which a member may not be denied access "to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church" and changes "status" to marital status. The others are race, color, national origin, ability and economic condition.

In its rationale for proposing the amendment, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women said, "Adding ‘gender' (meaning male and female) to the Constitution affirms and protects the UMC's commitment to gender equity throughout our worldwide connection." Amending the Constitution would still allow gender-specific groups such as United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men and ministries to serve specific age groups.

Nominating delegates

Annual conferences must receive open nominations from the floor when electing delegates to General Conference and jurisdictional or central conferences if Paragraph 34—Article III is amended. The proposed amendment also stipulates that a simple majority of the ballots cast will elect a delegate.

Current language about the voting says only, "Delegates shall be elected in a fair and open process by the annual conferences: (Para.13.2). Paul Clinton Law of Congo, who proposed the amendment, says that wording "is unduly vague in some cultures without a democratic tradition."

Electing central conference bishops

Amending Paragraph 46 will clarify that the central conferences are to elect bishops at a regular, not an extra session of the central conference "except where an unexpected vacancy must be filled." Adoption of the amendment proposed by Lonnie D. Brooks, Anchorage, Alaska, makes the type of conference session at which bishops are elected the same across the jurisdictional conferences in the United States and the central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe. The conferences are to take place within the year succeeding the session of the General Conference. Jurisdictional conferences will meet July 13-16. The central conferences are scheduled between August and early May 2017.

Accountability of bishops

General Conference will be able to allow the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work, if the proposed amendment to Paragraph 50 is adopted. The council would be able to provide oversight of individual members in their roles as general superintendents of the church and as presidents and residents in episcopal areas.

Submitted by the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, the amendment provides a legislative solution to a Judicial Council ruling that it is presently unconstitutional for the council to hold individual bishops accountable

Compiled from information from United Methodist News Service and InfoServ, the information service of The United Methodist Church. Both are ministries of United Methodist Communications.