Open Petition Offered to Empower Congregations in Clergy Selection at GC2000
This is an open letter to all United Methodist Church (UMC) members. Last July, I wrote an open letter to all brethren in UMC. One part of the letter dealt with a general description of a petition to General Conference (GC) 2000 that I think is vital to the evangelical future in our church. I now want to get specific about how the petition needs to be crafted, and to review why it is necessary.
First of all, we have until the postmark date of December 3, 1999 to get the petition in the mail. Anything not mailed by then will not be accepted . The signature sheet for each petition should include name of signer, and name of signer's church, town, and state. It would be advisable to include signer's phone number.
Petitions go to one of about 10 different legislative committees when they reach GC. One of the tests the legislative committee submits the petition to is whether or not the proposed change impacts on the UMC Constitution. It is possible that a petition is subjected to a Constitutionallity challenge while in committee. If this is the case, the petition is passed directly to the Judicial Council, who are in residence during this process, and are available at all times, for a ruling. If the petition receives a concurrence of the legislative committee, it is submitted to a vote by the GC.
I think the attached petition is vital to our church in that it breaks a Bishops' power to unappoint clergy or District Superintendents (DSs) unless they are submitted to and convicted of a chargeable offense in paragraph 2624 of the Book of Discipline (BOD), for capricious and arbitrary reasons. In the case of clergy, this change to the BOD would make it so that a Bishop could not remove a minister, if the minister and the congregation want the minister to stay, unless the supervisiing Bishop files formal charges against the minister which result in a conviction by trial. In the case of a DS, it would make it so that a Bishop could not remove a DS, if the DS and the Committee on District Superintendency within the District want the DS to stay, unless the supervising Bishop files formal charges against the DS which result in a conviction by trial.
The way the system is currently structured, there is the threat of Episcopal removal from the church he/she serves if a supervising Bishop doesn't like something the minister says. This is very intimidating. Many of our pastors feel they cannot speak out and tell their congregations what is truly going on in our UMC hierarchy, and preach the gospel. This is one of the basic reasons we are in the shape we're in today. Our pastors and DSs have been unable to freely speak out as to things they see are wrong.
By making the above minor change to the power of the Episcopacy, it will go a long way toward freeing up pastors and DSs to say what they actually believe, and preach it in the pulpits. The main reason the liberals keep coming back time after time is because, with our ministers and DSs muzzled, they perceive they have a good chance at ultimately winning their way. There are indications that some of our Bishops are overtly or covertly sympathetic to liberal causes. Because of their power, it is unreasonable to expect pastors and DSs to stick their necks out for chopping, and going against what liberal ideas their Bishop may have. Freeing up our ministers and DSs could render a major blow against the liberals being able to get their way.
The following are reasons I don't believe the proposed petition will be invalidated by a Constitutional challenge. Paragraph 17, which is Article III of the Restrictive Rules in the Constitution, states that "the GC shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with episcopacy or destroy the plan of our itenerant general superintendency. For sake of analysis, I want to break this test into two parts, apply each to the proposed petition, and then draw conclusions.
The first part of the restrictive rule says "the GC shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with episcopacy". The major performance areas of the Episcopacy are administrative, managerial, supervisory, doctrinal, and pastoral. The proposed amendment impinges slightly on only one of these areas, that of the managerial. In no way does this attempt to do away with the episcopacy as a whole.
The second part of the restrictive rule says "the GC shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to destroy the plan of our itenerant general superintendency. Again, the proposed petition steers clear of this rule in that it changes the ground rules as to when and under what conditions a pastor comes up on the availability list. Also, in regards to DSs, it only restricts a Bishop from removing a DS, prior to his term end, unless the DS or the Committee on District Superintendency concur. This proposed amendment impacts only on a small part of the plan of itenerant general superintendency.
Could I be wrong? Certainly. If the petitions are subjected to a Constitutional challenge, it is possible that the petitions would be ruled out of order. I don't think the petitions should be challenged on a Constitutional basis, nor do I think they should be ruled out if subjected to a JC process on this basis. Be aware, though, that it could happen. Just as there are no guarantees in life, there are none here. The big thing, though, is that I believe that the mere possibility of success should make the minimal effort worth it.
Where to from here? Get the petitions out to as many people, churches, and areas as possible, and get all the signatures you can. Once you think you have all the signers you think it will be possible to get, mail the petitions to:
Remember to get these petitions in the mail no later than Dec 3, 1999. For procedural questions call 615 749 6488.
UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
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