By Rev. Dr. Tom Pace

The Texas Annual Conference delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conferences has been hard at work preparing for the upcoming gathering of United Methodists from around the world. We have been meeting monthly, seeking to learn as much as we can about the proposed legislation coming before General Conference. On Monday, April 22, we head off to Charlotte, North Carolina, for ten days of worship, conversation, holy conferencing, and more hard work with our sister and brother delegates across the United Methodist Connection.

Our delegation consists of seventeen General Conference delegates: nine clergy and eight laity. A late resignation has left us with one less lay delegate than clergy. Additionally, there are nine Jurisdictional Conference delegates, all clergy, who are working alongside the General Conference delegates to prepare for the upcoming conference. The Judicial Council did not allow us to elect replacement jurisdictional or reserve delegates following the resignations or disaffiliations of original lay delegates.

Since our election in 2019, as we have done our work, we have continued to hold fast to five values: 1) Prayer: we will surround our work with prayer, asking for God’s guidance for the church we love; 2) Respect: we will treat one another with love and respect; 3) Integrity: we will have integrity in our dealings with one another, the annual conference, our local churches, and the public in general; 4) Accountability: we will be accountable to one another and the annual conference; 5) Possibility: we will be forward thinking. I am proud to say that throughout the roller coaster of these past five years, we have worked together well by these values.

Thousands of petitions have been submitted to General Conference, and each of those petitions has been assigned to one of fourteen General Conference committees. Because our delegation is so large, we have at least one Texas Conference delegate on each of those fourteen committees. The delegates assigned to those committees have researched their committee’s legislative petitions and presented highlights and potential significant legislative outcomes to the delegation as a whole. During the first week of General Conference, those committees will do their work, and our delegation members serving on those committees will keep the entire delegation apprised of what is happening in each committee.

Additionally, our delegation recognizes that there are some significant proposals coming before General Conference that deserve additional conversation and learning. The most significant of these is the plan for regionalization that comes from the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, as well as the Connectional Table, a group that seeks to coordinate the work of the church across all its committees, boards, and agencies. This plan creates regional conferences across the world. Currently, there are “Central Conferences” in other parts of the world, which have the ability to modify parts of the Discipline for their specific contexts. This plan would transition those central conferences into regional conferences, and create a regional conference comprised of the jurisdictions and annual conferences in the United States. These regional conferences would all have the ability to modify parts of the Discipline for their own contexts.

There are three important things to remember about the proposal for regionalization. First, the primary purpose of this proposal is to focus General Conference on worldwide matters rather than matters specific to the United States. Well over half of the legislation that comes before General Conference has been focused on issues that are relevant only to the U.S, while an increasingly large share of the delegates are from other places in the world. This proposal has been in the works for many years, and its authors are not primarily U.S. delegates, but delegates from outside the U.S. Second, this proposal will require seven constitutional amendments. Those amendments will require a 2/3 majority vote at General Conference, and if that passes, every annual conference throughout the world will need to vote on each amendment. Those votes are aggregated, and a 2/3 majority of all those voting will be required for this regionalization plan to pass. While there does seem to be a groundswell of support for regionalization throughout the world, this is a very high bar for passage. Third, this regionalization plan does not allow individual regions to change the social principles or the statements about human sexuality in the Discipline. Those items will still require full General Conference approval. However, this regionalization proposal does allow a region to change what qualifies as a chargeable offense and allows both regional conferences and annual conferences to establish their own requirements and qualifications for clergy.

A second important piece of legislation is a proposal for revised social principles, brought to General Conference by the General Board of Church and Society. The Social Principles, which were first created in 1972, have been revised piece by piece at every general conference. This year, it is a more wholesale revision, also intended to reflect more on the global nature of the church, with less focus on specifically U.S. issues and more on those issues that are particularly significant for the church outside the U.S. It is really important to remember that these principles are not to be considered as church law, , but rather “a call to faithfulness and to social engagement, and intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit. Moreover, they challenge all members of The United Methodist Church to engage in deliberative reflection and encourage intentional dialogue between faith and practice.” The social principles contain statements about various issues, including increased investment in alternative energy sources; rejection of human slavery and exploitation of the vulnerable; encouragement to stand up to graft, bribery and corruption; call to corporate responsibility beyond profit for shareholders; recognition of a global migration crisis and a rejection of criminalization of migrants. Additionally, the revised social principles remove all language about homosexuality and gender identity, except a statement in the section titled “The Political Community” that “we are committed to supporting the equal rights, liberties and protections of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Regarding marriage, the proposed principles state “we affirm marriage as a sacred, lifelong covenant that brings two people of faith into union with one another and into deeper relationship with God and the religious community.” In keeping with the focus on issues that are challenges worldwide, the proposed social principles condemn both child marriage and polygamy.

Two important proposals will be before the Financial Administration Committee, in which Don House is our representative. The General Council on Finance and Administration is proposing a 40% budget reduction from the previous quadrennium’s budget, based on both disaffiliations across the U.S., and a decrease in payments of apportionments. While the various boards and agencies have all worked together to identify places to reduce spending, there will be some programmatic reductions as a result of the decreased revenue. Additionally, Wespath, the denominations pension program, is proposing a new clergy pension plan that moves back from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. While our delegation supports this move, we have raised some significant concerns regarding the limitations on how clergy can invest those funds and how they can receive them upon retirement.

Finally, there are a number of proposals before General Conference that extend paragraph 2553 of the Discipline, which identifies a process by which local churches can disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church for reasons of conscience associated with the denominational position on homosexuality. That paragraph had a time limit of December 31, 2023. The conference will need to debate whether to extend that time limit or continue to no longer allow disaffiliations under that paragraph.

Our delegation has been joining in prayer each week and we invite you to join with us in the days ahead. Please pray each day for our delegation, for the work of General Conference, for the conference to be a witness to the world that we can love one another well despite differences, for our beloved United Methodist Church to live into God’s preferred future for us, and above all for the Kingdom of God to emerge more visibly among us.


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