General Conference 2000 - May 2 - 12

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Running Summary Archive


Friday morning 

The 30 persons arrested Thursday and escorted off the platform at the United Methodist General Conference were released Friday morning after paying fines and court costs totaling $160. The group pleaded no contest to the charges of interrupting the meeting.

The Judicial Council has ruled that the church’s constitution does not support creation of a lay assistant category of ministry under appointment of a bishop.

The United Methodist Church will not increase its number of annual conferences in the United States by creating a specialized missionary area in the west. By a vote of 615 to 312 the delegates rejected a proposed Evangelical Missionary Conference in the Western Jurisdiction.

Members of boards of ordained ministry must participate in intensive training to help develop multicultural sensitivity for more effective recruitment and support of pastors.


Thursday afternoon

The arrest of 30 people this afternoon - including two United Methodist bishops - on charges of disrupting a lawful meeting is believed to be the first time anyone has ever been removed by police from a General Conference plenary hall.

The action came at the end of a tension-filled day in which the church’s positions on homosexuality were reaffirmed by roughly margins of 2 to 1. A veteran observer called it the most emotional day he had ever seen at a General Conference.

Bishop Dan G. Solomon, Baton Rouge, La., who presided over the morning and afternoon sessions, said an agreement had been reached with protesters whereby they could stand quietly in the arena or kneel in prayer. By mid-afternoon, this agreement was coming unraveled and the arrests followed. Bishops taken into custody on charges of disrupting a lawful meeting were C. Joseph Sprague, Chicago, and Susan M. Morrison, Albany, N.Y.

During the more routine moments, the General Conference delegates acted on a variety of matters. For example, they:

  • Called for an end to the conflicts in the Philippines, Sierra Leone and the Congo.

  • Affirmed the church’s relationship with the National Council of Churches.

  • Adopted a third “special Sunday without offering” for the church year, "Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday," which will be observed on the second Sunday in November.

Meanwhile, the United Methodist Judicial Council met today and elected officers. The Rev. John G. Corry, Nashville, Tenn., was elected president of the church’s supreme court when the group organized for the 2001-2004 quadrennium. The Rev. C. Rex Bevins of Lincoln, Neb., was elected vice president, and Sally Curtis AsKew of Bogart, Ga., was re-elected secretary. The nine-member Judicial Council now includes its first member elected from outside the United States, Rodolfo C. Beltran from the Philippines.


Thursday morning happenings

The top legislative body of the United Methodist Church has retained its current stance that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and retained its prohibition on the ordination or appointment of pastors who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals. The vote on the “incompatible” statement was 628 yes and 337 no. The vote barring homosexuals as clergy was 650 to 317.

Several attempts to amend the statements failed. At one point, a number of delegates and others supporting a change in policy stood in the aisles of the Cleveland Convention Center in protest of the actions. Homosexuality has been an issue in the church for 30 years.

The morning’s session opened with worship. The Agape Children’s Handbell Choir from the Agape Methodist Church in Parnu, Estonia provided music. Later, Bishop Joel N. Martinez of the Nebraska Area preached the sermon.

United Methodists must cross boundaries, live in bigger boxes and experience their own unique gifts without being blinded to those of others, Martinez said. “We are not whole without the gifts of others,” he said.


Wednesday afternoon happenings

General Conference delegates declined to reconsider an action of earlier in the week concerning election of a member of the Judicial Council. The council ruled that an election had been held when a vacancy did not exist. The decision means that the Rev. John Corry keeps his seat for another four years.

A number of General Conference and Judicial Council actions today related specifically to annual conferences:

  • Annual conferences were denied the right to meet every second year instead of annually.
  • Affirming the Book of Discipline as the law of the United Methodist Church, the Judicial Council ruled today that an annual conference may not negate, ignore or violate its provisions even when such disagreements are based upon conscientious objections.
  • After extended debate, General Conference changed the basic formula by which the number of delegates is determined in a particular annual conference. The new plan puts greater emphasis on the number of lay members of the denomination, according to proponents, but still retains the traditional United Methodist rule that half the total number of delegates are to be clergy and half lay.

In a news conference today, three bishops expressed hope and optimism for the denomination. “I think we are focused on a point where our church is in disagreement, but there are many more issues where we are in agreement than in disagreement,” said Bishop Woodie White, who leads the Indiana Area.

Wednesday Morning, May 10 update--More than 180 people, including United Methodist Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, Chicago, were arrested Wednesday for engaging in civil disobedience as a way of protesting United Methodist policies regarding homosexuality.  A police official said they were charged with aggravated disorderly conduct. The arrests followed a rally and march around the Cleveland Convention Center. Groups of 13 to 25 people took turns blocking the convention center driveway and were led away by police.  Booking on the charges was underway in mid afternoon. 

Christians “must transcend the concern for the survival of the church and start to focus (their) concern upon the kingdom of God and its centrality to church and society” the Archbishop of  Canterbury, the Most Rev.George Carey, told the United Methodist  General Conference Wednesday morning.  “Let us start doing our evangelism together,” he said.  “Let us minister to young people together.  Let us share social concern together.  Let us do our thinking and theological exploration together....This unity that we seek is not simply for the sake of unity but in the service of the Gospel.”

Two persons were honored Wednesday by the Council of Bishops for their leadership in ecumenical activities, especially the World Council of Churches---Janice Love, Columbia, S.C., and the Rev. Kathryn Bannister, pastor of Rush County Parish, Lacrosse, Kans., and a president of the World Council of Churches.

Support for missions projects through the designated gift program known as the Advance exceeded $44 million last year, the General Conference was told Tuesday night.  The program is now in its 53rd year.

United Methodists were urged Tuesday night to join with administrators of church related colleges and universities in supporting programs intended to reduce drinking and drugs on campuses.

A resolution approved Tuesday called on the U.S. Congress to remove the exemption in federal law that allows parents to withhold medical care to their children based on religious beliefs.  The petition says that many children have died or suffered permanent injury because parents believe that the law allows denying medical care for religious reasons.

Wednesday morning the conference encouraged congregations and parents to monitor more carefully what their children watch and listen to on television, the internet, television and motion pictures.  Individuals were asked to express their opposition to such material by buying brands other than those advertised.


Noon, May 9 – General Conference acts on handguns, “Chief Wahoo”

Delegates to General Conference called for a “total ban” on ownership by the general public of handguns, assault weapons, automatic weapon conversion kits and weapons that cannot be detected by traditionally used metal detection devices. The assembly, which sets United Methodist policy, wants a ban in the United States and all other countries where the church has a presence. The vote was 724-205 after about 30 minutes of debate.

The conference also approved engaging the ownership of the Cleveland Indians baseball team in dialogue regarding the use of a caricature of an American Indian known as “Chief Wahoo” as an identifying logo of the team. The caricature frequently is regarded as demeaning by Native Americans.

Citing the rapid development of research dealing with human cloning and the mixing of human stem cells with animals or human embryos, the General Conference today asked the United Methodist Board of Church and Society to form a bio-ethics task force to advise the church on relevant ethical issues.

Three of the church’s special programs were endorsed for reference to the General Council on Finance and Administration — the Native American Forum, Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century and the Shared Mission Focus on Young People.

Delegates also approved two new efforts, a $3.2 million Korean-American ministries initiative and a $1.8 million Asian American Language Ministry Study.

Late Monday, delegates elected six members to the Judicial Council, the church’s “supreme court.” The Rev. Larry Pickens, Chicago, and the Rev. Keith Boyette, Fredericksburg, Va., were elected to eight-year terms, and the Rev. Jane Tews of Phoenix to a four-year term. Lay members elected for eight-year terms were Rodolfo Beltran, an attorney from the Philippines; Mary Daffin, an attorney from Houston; and James Holsinger, chancellor of the Chandler Medical Center at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Holdover members are Tom Matheny, Hammond, La., now critically ill and in his sixth term as president; Sally Curtis AsKew, Bogart, Ga., council secretary; and the Rev. C. Rex Bevins, Lincoln, Neb. Beltran is the first council member elected from outside the United States. In debate Tuesday, the General Conference turned down a number of proposals seeking to broaden representation on the council, but did set a limit on terms that can be served.

This morning, delegates elected several people to the University Senate, a peer review organization for United Methodist-related schools. The new members are: Trudie Kibbe (Preciphs) Reed, president of Philander Smith College, Little Rock, Ark.; Donald Maldonado Jr., president of Iliff School of Theology, Denver; the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Ky.; and Charlene R. Black, vice president for academic affairs and dean at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro.

Today’s sessions began with worship. Bishop Richard C. Looney of the South Georgia Area preached.

If the church is careless with God’s resources, it not only robs God and its neighbors, but also “corrupts its very soul,” Looney said. “We have no right to squander God’s gifts. We have no right to abuse God’s gifts.”


9 a.m., May 8 – Delegates act on items related to homosexuality, other issues

Delegates attending the 2000 General Conference rejected a proposal today 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."

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

In an effort to elect five people to eight-year terms on the Judicial Council, delegates first cast votes this morning. A slate of 20 laypeople for three slots and 15 clergy members for two spots were nominated previously, but no candidate from either field was elected on first ballot. The lay candidate with the most votes was 113 short of attaining election, and the clergyman with the most votes was 139 short. Balloting will continue throughout the final week of the General Conference.

The delegates turned down a petition related to abortion that opponents said would make a police force out of the church’s central finance agency in monitoring statements by church agencies, clergy and laity on either side of the issue.

Also defeated was a petition intended to eliminate from the Book of Discipline the so-called “guaranteed appointment” for clergy.

Carolyn Marshall of Veedersburg, Ind., was re-elected secretary of the General Conference.

Reports also were heard on three churchwide initiatives: the Shared Mission Focus on Young People, Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century and Communities of Shalom.

8:15 a.m., May 8 – Bishop Arichea preaches on inclusiveness

Inclusiveness and diversity make the church’s message more effective, a Filipino bishop told delegates attending the United Methodist General Conference Monday. “Because God accepts us, we should accept one another,” said Bishop Daniel Arichea Jr., Baguio City, Philippines. Paraphrasing a popular slogan that said to leave the driving to Greyhound, the bishop said it is up to Christians to love people “and leave the judging to God.”


8:15 a.m., May 6 – Calendar items, Korean-American ministries highlight agenda

Delegates opened Saturday’s business agenda with a prayer in which they remembered the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and “thousands of other places in the world where our children are being slaughtered.”

In business, the delegates processed the first of their “calendar items.” By the end of the conference May 12, the 992 delegates will have voted on more than 2,000 legislative proposals as calendar items. These range all the way from major policy decisions to minor changes in organizational titles or programs. Proposals that carry the least potential for controversy are grouped in what is known as a “Consent Calendar.” Those items have received a unanimous vote in the legislative committee, either positive or negative, and they go to the plenary with a unanimous recommendation for approval or rejection.

Stories of the many and varied missions activities of the church were described in a report from the General Council on Ministries. Programs cited ranged from a church in Columbus, Ohio, serving breakfast between 1 and 3 a.m. to Ohio State University students, to the removal of land mines in Mozambique.

Delegates also heard a report on the growth of ministry among Koreans living in the United States. The denomination has 500 Korean-American pastors and 360 Korean-American congregations. Ministry to Korean immigrants began in 1903 in Hawaii.

2 p.m., May 5 - New Council of Bishops president discusses key issues

Bishop William B. Oden, the new president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, predicted that the widespread discussions on homosexuality could draw the church closer together and will not be harmful. Oden, installed for a one-year term as president earlier today, discussed homosexuality and other issues during a press conference. He said the major issues facing United Methodism are the global nature of the church, racism, poverty and theological education.

Earlier in the day, General Conference voted 861 to 67 in support of removing the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina capitol. The vote was in response to a resolution brought by the South Carolina delegation. The state’s delegation, annual conference and Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey support the removal.

In the spirit of Thursday night’s service of repentance for racism, the General Conference adopted by a near-unanimous vote a resolution extending greetings to Pope John Paul II and recognizing “the profound statements of sorrow and regret that you have made in this year of Jubilee regarding certain past practices of the Roman Catholic Church, Catholics and other Christians,” including United Methodists. “We in turn ask forgiveness for our deeds of commission and omission.”

Taking the first of what is expected to be many looks at the work of the Connectional Process Team (CPT), General Conference delegates referred the entire report to the standing legislative committee on General and Judicial Administration. After extensive debate and parliamentary motions, more than 63 percent of the delegates voted to refer the entire report to the legislative committee.

In accord with tradition, United Methodists of Northeast Ohio have supplied an estimated 250,000 cookies for the pleasure of delegates, bishops, staff, press and visitors within arm’s length of the goodies. Any left each day are given to emergency feeding services in the Cleveland area.


8:15 a.m., May 5 - Delegates hear nominations; bishops pass gavel

Highlights of the morning included a sermon by Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Arkansas during the opening worship service and a report from United Methodist- related Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Choirs from Bethune- Cookman College, Daytona Beach, FL, and Africa University sang.

Also during the morning, the gavel symbolizing the presidency of the United Methodist Council of Bishops was passed from Bishop Robert C. Morgan of Louisville, Ky., to Bishop William B. Oden of Dallas. Bishop Elias G. Galvan of Seattle was named president-elect to take office a year from now.

Delegates made nominations from the floor for Judicial Council and University Senate positions. They also rejected a motion to suspend the rules and allow legislative committee work on membership issues to continue. Discussion about membership issues has been affected by a Judicial Council ruling that the General Conference cannot act upon petitions seeking to amend or re-adopt any paragraphs of the 1996 Book of Discipline that have been declared unconstitutional. Some of those paragraphs deal specifically with baptism and membership.


8:30 p.m., May 4 - United Methodists repent for racism

In a three-hour service that included the symbolic wearing of sackcloth and ashes, United Methodists May 4 confessed to the sin of racism within the denomination. The act of repentance, together with a call for reconciliation, is an attempt to recapture the spirit of Methodism lost when some African Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries felt compelled to leave the church’s predecessor bodies and form their own congregations and denominations.

In a business session before the repentance service, delegates narrowly approved a resolution to ask the United Methodist Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the covenant relationship among the annual conferences, the General Conference and the Book of Discipline. The request for a ruling also asks whether there are circumstances in which an annual conference has the right to negate or ignore the Book of Discipline when the annual conference conscientiously disagrees with a particular disciplinary paragraph.

The Judicial Council, the church’s supreme court, also has ruled this week that the General Conference cannot act upon petitions seeking to amend or re-adopt any paragraphs of the 1996 Book of Discipline that have been declared unconstitutional.

4 p.m., May 4 – Bishops speak out on Vieques

A number of journalists covering the United Methodist General Conference, along with some delegates and other interested parties, attended a news conference on the issue of the arrest early Thursday of peaceful demonstrators who were protesting the U.S. Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range. Bishop Juan Vera Mendez of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico was one of those arrested. 

The United Methodist Council of Bishops, the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries and the Board of Church and Society have spoken out against bombing on Vieques. However, only the General Conference can speak for the entire church.

Earlier in the day, the church received praise from the founder of Habitat for Humanity, Millard Fuller. Fuller told the 992 General Conference delegates that the United Methodist Church had the highest level of involvement in Habitat of any denomination.

A special offering for the children of Africa received $16,568.3

8:15 a.m., May 4 – Delegates celebrate heritage, remember Cardinal O’Connor

Delegates to the United Methodist General Conference expressed sympathy in the death of Cardinal John O’Connor to family, associates and church.

Two decades of service by two predecessor bodies of the United Methodist Church were celebrated in a special ceremony. Both the former United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association count their beginnings from 1800. The two united in 1946 to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and in l968 joined with the Methodist Church in forming the United Methodist Church.

It was called to the conference’s attention that several delegates from Africa had been assigned to legislative committees where language interpretation was not available. After a long discussion on procedure, the conference called for all steps possible to be taken to correct any inequities in interpretation in the 10 legislative committees. Failing that, the delegates would be given the privilege of being reassigned to committees where interpretation was available.

9 a.m., May 3-- Morning highlights include Laity Address, CPT report

Delegates to the United Methodist General Conference heard a call for closer partnership in ministry between clergy and lay members on May 3 in Cleveland, as the assembly moved into the first full day of its 10-day quadrennial session.

Tradition creates separate tasks for clergy and lay members instead of bringing them together as partners in making disciples, said Jim Nibbelink of Milford, Ohio, in the Laity Address to the 992 delegates. Nibbelink, an executive with Procter & Gamble, is lay leader of the West Ohio Annual Conference.

“The time has long passed, if it was truly ever here, when one leader could chart the course, make decisions, call the tune and carry the load,” Nibbelink said. “Dictates from the pulpit or pew must pass away, and a renewed, cooperative spirit must be encouraged to take root.”


Delegates were invited Wednesday morning by a churchwide study panel to take “baby steps” toward a “transformational direction” for the United Methodist Church.

The usual procedures of the General Conference were set aside to allow the panel, known as the Connectional Process Team (CPT), to make its report and recommendations. The CPT was created by the 1996 General Conference and is led by Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher of Springfield, Ill., chairwoman.

Delegates then met in smaller groups to discuss the material. Written summaries of those discussions will come before the delegates Thursday night. Appropriate legislative committees then will discuss the proposals further and bring recommendations to a conference plenary session next week.

In the team’s report, sent to delegates in advance of the conference, five “transformational directions” and strategies for implementation were identified.

Recommendations call for creating “covenant councils” at all levels of the church. The current General Council on Ministries would be replaced with a Covenant Council that would continue to direct the “transformational direction.” 

For the first time, a price tag of $500,000 in new money was put on the cost of a proposed Global Conference that would hold its first meeting in 2008. The Global Conference would replace the General Conference under the CPT proposal.


In a poignant moment, Anne Marshall, an executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, told of the church’s support for her and her family in the wake of her husband’s death in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City.  “It’s been a difficult journey,” she said, “but because of my church community I have not walked alone.

Delegates were scheduled to spend Wednesday afternoon and evening in legislative committee meetings.


9 p.m., May 2 – Bishops issue call to discipleship

One of the traditional opening events of the quadrennial General Conference received a new look this year, when Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil of the Philippines stepped to the podium in the evening to deliver the Episcopal Address on behalf of the church’s Council of Bishops.  Nacpil was the first bishop from outside the United States to present the address.

 “Your bishops believe that the making of people as disciples of the crucified and risen Lord, and forming them into a community of discipleship, is the most radically significant event that can happen to humanity and to the world,” Nacpil said.

The church must “continue working for a more righteous global social order, even if we suffer for it in the struggle,” the bishop said.

 “Slavery and apartheid have been outlawed, but racism and ethnic cleansing are still with us — and we must rid the world of these demons.  Colonialism and totalitarianism are no longer politically viable options for us, but we still use power to dominate, violate and oppress, instead of to liberate, to enable and to let be.”

On Wednesday, Jim Nibbelink of Cincinnati will deliver the Laity Address. Nibbelink is lay leader of the West Ohio Annual Conference and a member of Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church.

The tradition of the Laity Address began in l980. A competition has been held every four years since then for a layperson to make the speech.

1:30 p.m., May 2 -- General Conference opens with worship

In a colorful, festive ceremony with international accents, the United Methodist Church opened its first General Conference of the new millennium on May 2 in Cleveland.

Robes of blue, red, gold, black, white and purple added to the splendor of the opening procession, complete with liturgical dancers, banners and African drums. An estimated 3,000 people in the Cleveland Convention Center expressed their enthusiasm with prolonged applause.

The banners and dancers shared the procession with about 100 of the church’s bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines.  The opening ceremonies began with the singing of the traditional Wesley hymn “And Are We Yet Alive?”  The Scripture was read in four languages.

The opening service carried out the General Conference’s theme of “We who are many are one body.”

After the sermon by Bishop Robert C. Morgan, of the church’s Louisville (Ky.) Area, the bishops, 992 delegates and visitors received Holy Communion at 100 stations positioned around the vast convention center.

When the worship was over, the delegates took a brief break before beginning the business that will occupy them for the next 10 days. In another tradition of General Conference, the delegates found homemade cookies awaiting them outside the main arena.

After taking care of legislative formalities, delegates gathered in 10 legislative committees. For the remainder of the week, the committees will work their way through almost 2,000 petitions filed by more than 12,000 groups and individuals.  Subject matter of the petitions ranges from the routine to the highly controversial.

The Faith and Order Committee will have the most petitions to consider — 348. The committee actions will be brought to plenary sessions, which are expected to occupy most of next week.

Officers for the legislative committees were elected late Tuesday and then attended special training sessions.

General Conference, the lawmaking body of the United Methodist Church, meets every four years. Its current session will end on May 12.

7 p.m., May 1-- Bishops rock at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

“Rain” as a song title appears several hundred times in the computer log at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, but downpours April 30 on the shores of Lake Erie didn’t stop an estimated 1,500 United Methodists from a festive opening of their international legislative assembly.

 The reception for bishops and spouses always precedes the opening of General Conference, the top lawmaking body of the United Methodist Church. The conference is being held May 2-12 at the Cleveland Convention Center.

Highlighting the normally staid reception was a “bishops band” comprising five episcopal leaders and one professional musician. The combo set the corridors to rocking with 30 minutes of jazz, Dixieland and other fast-moving numbers that had the crowd calling for more.

 “When we heard the reception was to be held in the Rock and Roll museum, a little live music seemed appropriate,” said Bishop Peter D. Weaver of Philadelphia.

Weaver played trombone, accompanied by bishops Susan W. Hassinger, Boston, on flute;   John L. Hopkins, Minneapolis, bass guitar; Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Sun Prairie, Wis., keyboard; and Edward W. Paup, Portland, Ore., decked out in purple lei and dark shades, drums.

Dubbed the “Purple People Leaders,” the band was anchored on trumpet by Jim Wonnacott, a professional musician and United Methodist layman from Columbia Station, Ohio.

Other live groups from the Cleveland area included a praise band, a bell choir, a praise chorus and a violinist.
-- Robert Lear


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