The most important structural change that needs to happen in the UMC is related to the interrelatedness of our global connections.
The Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church (a ridiculously long and cumbersome name, by the way!) was commissioned by General Conference 2008 to do exactly that – study the worldwide nature of the United Methodist Church.
Although the CSWN emerged with a plan of their own as well as specific recommendations, these items will not be brought to debate for the whole church until 2016. The only thing that this year’s GC accomplished toward these goals was adoption of a covenant statement and accompanying litany, and agreement to study what should be contained in a Global Book of Discipline.
Reading through the committee’s report, it appears that CSWN did what the framers of Call to Action didn’t. They listened to the church outside of the USA!
On pages 3-7 of their report, they list plainly “what they heard” from these churches. The list is a litany of disturbing realities, most of which center on the dominance of the US churches.
Regarding structure, CSWN recommends that the entire denomination consist of Central Conferences, of which one should be the United States, comprising the five already-existing jurisdictions. These Central Conferences would be “decision-making bodies for initiatives, programs, and matters related to their particular missional contexts.” Agencies would be reconfigured on the basis of whether they are global or regional.
There would be then two volumes of the Book of Discipline, one which is Global, consisting of the Constitution, Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task, The Ministry of All Christians, Social Principles, and other paragraphs concerning membership, local church organization, ordination, superintendency, conferences, and other general provisions. The other volume would be “adaptable by the Central Conferences in accordance with their missional and cultural contexts.”
My only objection to the plan would be the inclusion of the Social Principles in the Global Book of Discipline. It would be better to allow each Central Conference to determine what topics needed to be addressed in a culturally and contextually appropriate manner. This would also permit the flexibility needed to hold the connection together despite differences on matters of homosexuality and full inclusion of LGBT people.
This is the way forward! The US church must step back and down.
The plan obviously doesn’t address the pink elephant – the divide between rich and poor churches. But we need to have the conversation about that.