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May 8, 2000 GC-038

Daily wrap-up: Bishop addresses Vieques; delegates tackle petitions

CLEVELAND (UMNS) – U.S. marshals mistreated people who were arrested for protesting the Navy’s practice-bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, according to a Methodist bishop who was among the detainees.

The protestors were subjected to "violence and physical force" from the marshals, said Bishop Juan Vera Mendez of Puerto Rico. The marshals were at first "respectful and courteous," but assumed "a very intimidating attitude" when the protesters were transferred to U.S. naval facilities on the island, he said.

Vera spoke at a May 8 news conference during the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland. The assembly, which meets every four years, is the top lawmaking body of the United Methodist Church.

Only one bathroom was available for the nearly 300 detainees, and they waited 12 hours for food and water, the bishop said. No female marshals were present, and women and girls arrested — including Roman Catholic nuns — were patted down by male officers.

MARCHA, the Hispanic United Methodist caucus, the United Methodist Council of Bishops and other groups have sought an audience with President Clinton. Despite the protests and appeals to the White House, CNN reported that the dropping of "dummy bombs" had resumed on Vieques.

The news conference came as the church’s 2000 General Conference moved into its final week with hundreds of legislative items awaiting action. The conference is scheduled to end May 12.

Reports on ongoing ministries and a variety of legislative proposals marked the morning, along with first ballots for election of members to the United Methodist Judicial Council. No one was elected on the first two ballots.

In another election, Carolyn M. Marshall of Veedersburg, Ind., was named to her fourth term as conference secretary.

Turning to legislative proposals, delegates rejected a petition related to abortion. Opponents said the proposal would make a police force out of the church’s central finance agency in monitoring statements by church agencies, clergy and lay members on either side of the issue. The delegates also rejected a petition intended to eliminate from the Book of Discipline the so-called "guaranteed appointment" for clergy.

The conference declined to mandate that no clergy person will be appointed unless he or she affirms that homosexuality is not God’s will.

Delegates approved updating a statement on sexual ethics within ministerial relations. The statement declares that "sexual misconduct within a ministerial relationship can be defined as a betrayal of sacred trust, a violation of the ministerial role, and the exploitation of those who are vulnerable in that relationship."

On another issue, monitoring was ordered at every level of the United Methodist Church as part of the effort to eliminate racism.

Delegates heard reports on three initiatives of the church: the Shared Mission Focus on Young People, Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century and the Communities of Shalom. The number of Shalom communities, which carry out urban ministries, has grown to more than 300 in the United States and Africa, delegates learned.

In a sermon during the morning worship hour, Bishop Daniel Arichea Jr., of Baguio City, Philippines, said inclusiveness and diversity make the church’s message more effective.

"Because God accepts us, we should accept one another," Arichea said. "There is room for diversity as long as we hold on to the center of our faith -- Jesus Christ."

The church, he cautioned, must never let differences stand in the way of its message and ministry.

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-- Robert Lear

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