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May 12, 2000 GC-072

Delegates reject proposal for Evangelical Missionary Conference

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — The United Methodist Church will not create a specialized missionary conference for evangelicals in the west.

By a 615-312 vote, delegates attending the denomination’s General Conference rejected on May 12 a proposal to establish an Evangelical Missionary Conference in the Western Jurisdiction. The vote came on the last day of the legislative assembly, which began May 2.

Establishing a missionary conference is the first step toward becoming an annual conference. Because of particular mission opportunities, location or limited resources and membership, a missionary conference does not qualify to be either an annual conference or a provisional conference. A missionary conference is organized in the same way as an annual conference, which is the basic organizational body in the denomination and includes all United Methodist churches in a geographically defined area.

The United Methodist Church has 66 annual conferences in the United States and 52 in Europe, Africa and the Philippines.

The push for a new conference came from the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship, a conservative group whose members feel marginalized in the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference and want to split away. The fellowship petitioned the General Conference to create an Evangelical Missionary Conference in the West that would be supportive of the connectional mission of the United Methodist Church.

Tensions have been rising between Cal-Nevada Conference leaders and the fellowship. The evangelicals were particularly dissatisfied with a Feb. 11 announcement that an investigative committee would not place 67 clergy members in the Cal-Nevada Conference on trial in the church for performing a same-sex union service.

The conservative groups in the church were inflamed not only by the Cal-Nevada decision, but also by comments made by San Francisco Area Bishop Melvin G. Talbert regarding the authority of the annual conference. Talbert, who announced the investigative committee's decision, added that while the ruling may appear to have broken covenant with the Book of Discipline, there is "another more basic and fundamental covenant that has precedence over this one narrow focus of law." That is the covenant of the annual conference, into which clergy members are received, he said. The committee's decision reflected the Cal-Nevada Conference's "longstanding covenant commitments for inclusiveness and justice."

Opponents to the fellowship’s proposal spoke against dividing the church because of differences in theology. They also rejected a motion that would have requested the churchwide General Council on Ministries to engage in a four-year study about the need to create an evangelical conference.

The 992 delegates also voted against a move to instruct and bind the leadership -- both clergy and lay -- of the Cal-Nevada Conference to enter into a direct process of reconciliation, which would have been under the direction of the College of Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction.

David Owen, a representative from South Indiana, suggested that the conference bring those involved in the conflict into conversations and "work it out as a witness to the world."

In 1996, delegates voted against creating a similar proposal that would have created a missionary conference specifically for Koreans.

Delegates to the 2000 General Conference expressed hope that those who feel disenfranchised in the Western Jurisdiction would be reconciled with the Cal-Nevada Conference.

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--Linda Green

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