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May 8, 2000 GC-035

United Methodist delegates reject oath against homosexuality

CLEVELAND (UMNS) -- Delegates attending the 2000 General Conference rejected a proposal on May 8 that would have required all pastors to sign a statement professing that homosexuality is not God's will.

By a vote of 705-210, delegates to the denomination's top legislative meeting declined to add to the church's lawbook a stipulation that before pastors could be assigned to any church they had to sign a statement: "I do not believe that homosexuality is God's perfect will for any person. I will not practice it. I will not promote it. I will not allow its promotion to be encouraged under my authority."

They also declined to add language to the Book of Discipline that would have made the performance of a same-sex union a chargeable offense even in states where such a ceremony is legal. The denomination already has the official position that same-sex unions shall not be conducted by United Methodist ministers and shall not be held in United Methodist churches. Violating that rule could lead to charges against a minister, according to the denomination’s Judicial Council.

General Conference, the top lawmaking body of the United Methodist Church, is meeting through May 12 in Cleveland. The 992 delegates will adopt legislation revising the denomination’s Book of Discipline, which contains the church’s rules, policies and other items. The assembly meets every four years.

In May 8 action, the General Conference approved a new resolution on clergy sexual ethics. This resolution, submitted by the churchwide Commission on the Status and Role of Women, replaces a 1996 resolution with one that includes definitions, biblical foundations, reference to the church constitution and a plan of action.

A proposal that generated controversy on the conference floor would have made the church finance agency responsible for enforcing a neutral position on abortion among all the church’s many bodies. The delegates rejected the proposal, siding with those who reported that such a change would be an impossible burden to the agency and would codify a position that is not in fact a policy adopted by the church.

Several resolutions on social issues, including one opposed to cloning of humans, were passed without debate. This group included resolutions favoring sustainable agriculture, food safety regulations, preservation of old-growth forests, faithful care of the dying.

More than 92 percent of the delegates rejected a measure that would have deleted church policy that prohibits annual (regional) conferences or congregations from reducing their apportionments. Apportionments are the amounts of money allocated to each annual conference to support churchwide mission and ministry.

The delegates approved a petition to boycott USA Today to protest the lack of progress in the 5-year-old labor dispute involving the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. USA Today is the flagship newspaper of Gannett Co., which owns the Detroit News and has a controlling interest in the joint operating agreement between the two Detroit newspapers. Some 2,500 workers at the Detroit papers went on strike on July 13, 1995, and many were later replaced by management.

The General Conference also authorized a study of communion in the United Methodist Church. The effort will be aimed at developing a meaningful understanding of the service of Holy Communion.

Several items related to the National Youth Ministry Organization were passed without debate on May 6 and 8, including one that changes the group’s name to United Methodist Youth Organization.

Delegates also voted for the first time on May 8 in an effort to elect five people to eight-year terms on the Judicial Council, the church’s supreme court. Earlier in the General Conference, delegates had nominated 20 laypeople for three slots and 15 clergy members for two spots on the Judicial Council, but no candidate from either field was elected. Balloting will continue throughout the General Conference. A sixth member of the court will be elected to fill out the four remaining years of a clergy term.

Elections will also be held this week to elect members to the University Senate, a peer review organization of United Methodist-related schools.

Carolyn Marshall of Veedersburg, Ind., was re-elected by acclamation as secretary of the General Conference for the next four years.

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-- Linda Green and Joretta Purdue

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