by Chris Ritter
Revised and expanded legislation has now been posted to the Jurisdictional Solution website. These proposed changes to The Book of Discipline are offered as a framework for achieving amicable unity in the United Methodist Church. The plan intends a comprehensive settlement of our most divisive issues so that our entire denomination can refocus on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The body of the legislation is included below or found here and is comprised of three constitutional amendment and three non-constitutional updates to the BOD. These would be considered at our 2016 General Conference. The Jurisdictional Solution is the most developed of any major proposal for the future of the UMC. An implementation timeline will follow in a later post.
The following constitutional changes require a 2/3 General Conference majority vote and ratification by 2/3 majority vote of the aggregate members of the annual conferences.
Amendment #1: Allow Jurisdictions Based on Something Other Than Geography.
Division Two, Section One, Article II (¶ 9)
“There shall be jurisdictional conferences for the Church in the United States of America, with such powers, duties, and privileges as are hereinafter set forth, provided that in The United Methodist Church there shall be no jurisdictional or central conference based on any ground other than geographical and regional division race or ethnicity.”
Rationale: The original language was enacted to drive a nail in the coffin of the racial segregation that was behind the creation of the Central Jurisdiction of The Methodist Church. The amendment removes the general language which prohibited non-geographic jurisdictions and inserts more specific language that continues the constitutional assurance that jurisdictions will not be used as a tool for racial segregation.
Amendment #2: Allow Jurisdictions to Adapt the Book of Discipline in the Same Way as Central Conferences.
Division Two, Section IV. Jurisdictional Conferences, Article V (¶ 27)
¶ 27. Article V.—The jurisdictional conferences shall have the following powers and duties and such others as may be conferred by the General Conference:
- To make rules and regulations for the administration of the work of the Church within the jurisdiction, including such changes and adaptations of the General Discipline as the jurisdiction chooses, subject to such powers that have been or shall be vested in the General Conference.
- To appoint a judicial court to determine legal questions arising on the rules, regulations, and such revised, adapted, or new sections of the jurisdictional conference Discipline enacted by the jurisdictional conference.
- 76. To appoint a committee on appeals …
Rationale: Language identical to that in ¶31 (central conference powers and duties) is inserted which grants the jurisdictions the same power to adapt the Book of Discipline as is currently granted to the central conferences outside the U.S. The limits of these adaptations are made explicit in ¶101. (See non-constitutional change #1 below.)
Amendment #3: Redefine Our System of Jurisdictions.
Division Two, Section VII, Article 1 (¶37)
“The United Methodist Church shall have two primary jurisdictional conferences made up as follows:
Northeastern—Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, the Virgin Islands, West Virginia. Southeastern—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia. North Central—Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin. South Central—Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas. Western—Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming and the territory of the United States in the Pacific region.
that each cover the entire area of The United States of America and its territories. Given divergent convictions among United Methodists in the United States of America, the two jurisdictions shall be formed based on two broad approaches to the application of scripture to ministry.
- The Progressive Jurisdiction shall be formed for those annual conferences whose majority supports a flexible interpretation of the doctrinal standards and a progressive understanding of marriage and human sexuality.
- The Traditional Jurisdiction shall be formed for those annual conferences whose majority supports a relatively strict interpretation of the doctrinal standards and a traditional understanding of marriage and human sexuality.
- Each jurisdiction is hereby empowered to select a new name (if desired) at its first conference, which shall automatically replace the names used in this paragraph. Enabling legislation passed by General Conference to implement this amendment shall become effective and begin to be implemented when the Council of Bishops shall certify the amendment’s ratification.
- The jurisdictional realignments needed to implement this paragraph shall not be subject to the consent of the annual conferences required in the provisions of ¶¶16.12 and 39. Notwithstanding other constitutional provisions, each jurisdiction shall be responsible for funding its own programs and episcopal expenses.
- Other historically Methodist denominations in the United States may join The United Methodist Church as an additional jurisdiction upon majority vote of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Rationale: This amendment creates two non-geographic U. S. jurisdictions to replace the current system of five jurisdictions based on geography. Language is added that creates the possibility of other historically Methodist denominations joining The United Methodist Church as their own jurisdiction. While this feature is not essential to enacting the jurisdictional solution, including it here highlights that re-envisioning our jurisdictional system may open doors to greater unity within the larger Methodist family of denominations. Care would need to be exercised so that the addition of the historically black AME, AMEZ, or CME denominations does not result in a situation similar to the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction that existed from 1939-1968.
Former versions of this legislation named the two new jurisdictions “American” and “National”, following the pattern of the two leagues of major league baseball. “Progressive” and “Traditional” are substituted for the sake of clarity. Each jurisdictional conference may choose its own name once it convenes. The authors of this plan acknowledge the limitations of all labels and beg the indulgence of United Methodists in this matter.
The claim will undoubtedly be made that we need a third, “Centrist Jurisdiction” for those conferences who are undecided or wish a more nuanced approach. The authors of this legislation strongly feel, however, that this third jurisdiction would be doomed to the same paralysis currently experienced by our denomination. Centrists are empowered by the legislation as printed because both the Progressive and Traditional Jurisdictions will need to vie for their approval. In the final analysis, we are either going to allow same-sex weddings in our churches and the ordination of practicing homosexuals or not. It seems to the authors that it is time to decide.
Each jurisdiction is required to meet its own episcopal expenses. While this constitutional change will affect other Disciplinary provisions for the funding of bishops, it is included to avoid future conflicts over a jurisdiction paying the salary of a bishop whose position or lifestyle they might find objectionable. This provision does not preclude the salaries of central conference bishops being subsidized by the general church. This is a measure to help ensure the harmonious relationship of the two jurisdictions.
Language is included that exempts this specific jurisdictional realignment from other constitutional provisions requiring the vote of any annual conference when the boundaries of the jurisdiction to which they are affiliated are changed by action of General Conference.
Change #1: Give Jurisdictions the Same Flexibility as Central Conferences and Extend this Flexibility to include the Body of the Social Principles.
Part II, GLOBAL BOOK OF DISCIPLINE
¶101 The Book of Discipline reflects our Wesleyan way of serving Christ through doctrine and disciplined Christian life. We are a worldwide denomination united by doctrine, discipline and mission through our connectional covenant. The Book of Discipline expresses that unity. Each central conference and jurisdictional conference may make changes and adaptations to the Book of Discipline to more fruitfully accomplish our mission in various contexts. However, some portions of the Book of Discipline are not subject to adaptation. The following parts and paragraphs are not subject to change or adaptation except by action of the General Conference. The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters has primary responsibility for proposing to General Conference revisions to this paragraph.
Parts I, III-V
- Constitution ¶¶ 1-61
- Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task ¶¶ 101-104
- The Ministry of All Christians ¶¶ 120 – 142
- Social Principles Preface, and Preamble and ¶¶160 – 166
Rationale: These changes give the same freedom to adapt some parts of the Book of Discipline to their ministry context as is made available to the central conferences. Eliminating the restriction placed upon adapting the main body Social Principles allows each jurisdiction to adjust them according to their context. The Preface and Preamble to the Social Principles, being very general in nature, are not to be subject to adaptation. The Discipline remains the normative standard for United Methodism that can be amended only at General Conference, which remains the sole voice of the general church even though jurisdictions and central conferences may adapt much of it to their missional circumstances.
Change #2: Import Language into Guidelines for Jurisdictions as Found Elsewhere for Central Conferences.
Additions to Chapter Four: The Conferences, Section III, ¶525
Powers and Duties of Jurisdictional Conference – The jurisdictional conference shall have powers and duties as described in the Constitution. It shall have such other powers and duties as may be conferred by the General Conference. It shall act in all respects in harmony with the policy of The United Methodist Church with respect to elimination of discrimination based on race. A jurisdictional conference shall have the power to make such changes and adaptations to the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and the mission of the church in that jurisdiction require, especially concerning the organization and administration of the work on local church, district, annual conference, and jurisdictional levels, provided that no action shall be taken that is contrary to the Constitution and the General Rules of The United Methodist Church, and provided that the spirit of connectional relationship is kept with the general church. Subject to this restriction, a jurisdictional conference may delegate to a constituent annual conference the power to make one or other of the changes and adaptations referred to in this paragraph, upon the request of such annual conference.
Rationale: The intent of this addition is to extend the same liberties to the jurisdictional conferences as those that have already been conferred to the central conferences in ¶543.7. The language is nearly identical.
Change #3: Provide Implementing Legislation for New Jurisdictions
¶538. Forming the New Jurisdictions
The following process is enacted to implement the constitutional amendments to ¶¶ 9, 27, and 37 creating two new jurisdictions in the United States. The secretary of the General Conference shall work with the bishops to ensure that voting on the ratification of these constitutional amendments begins with the regularly scheduled annual conference sessions after September 1, 2016, and is completed by August 31, 2017.
- The two new jurisdictions shall replace the five former geographic jurisdictions. The Council of Bishops shall oversee the implementation of the new jurisdictions and serve as a clearing house of information for clergy and congregations desiring to affiliate with a jurisdiction different from the one chosen by their annual conference.
- In anticipation of the approval of the relevant constitutional amendments, the 2016 General Conference shall (subsequent to approving the amendments by the required two-thirds vote) elect a seven-person team for each of the new jurisdictions, consisting of three laypersons, three clergypersons, and one bishop. Nominations shall be taken from the floor of General Conference at least 24 hours prior to the election being held. Each nominee shall certify his/her commitment to the general principles contained in the description of each jurisdiction in amended ¶ 37 for the jurisdiction for which they are nominated.
- In the ten months following General Conference, each team shall write and approve a vision and mission description for its particular jurisdiction, including a one-page summary. These documents shall be the initial guide for decision-making by bishops, annual conferences, clergy, congregations, and church institutions about the jurisdiction with which they will affiliate. The descriptive documents shall be publicly released at the time when the Council of Bishops certifies that the relevant constitutional amendments have been ratified.
- Episcopal Affiliation—a) No more than 60 days following the certification of the constitutional amendments enabling two new U.S. jurisdictions, each active and retired United Methodist bishop serving The United States of America shall elect to relate to either the Progressive or Traditional Jurisdiction described in ¶ 37 and in the descriptive documents (¶ 538). These selections shall be canvassed by the Council of Bishops and made public at the conclusion of the 60 days. Bishops shall relate to both the new jurisdiction and their former geographical jurisdiction until the transition is completed. b) Following the 60 days, the College of Bishops for each jurisdiction may convene and begin ordering the work of their respective new jurisdictions.
- Annual Conference Affiliation—a) Within eight months of the certification of constitutional amendments, votes shall be held by secret ballot in each annual conference in the U.S. as to which jurisdiction that annual conference will hereafter belong. A simple majority vote shall suffice. The vote of each annual conference shall be canvassed by the Council of Bishops and be final. b) Each annual conference shall also elect a jurisdictional delegation to the organizing conference of their selected jurisdiction, consisting of the same number of delegates who were elected to the previous jurisdictional conference. If clergy are elected who later indicate their desire to affiliate with the other jurisdiction, these clergy become ineligible to serve. Lay members elected become ineligible to serve if the local church to which they belong votes to affiliate with the other jurisdiction. Annual conferences shall elect sufficient numbers of reserve delegates to ensure a full delegation. Legislation may be proposed by each annual conference for the organizational conference of their new jurisdiction.
- Congregational Affiliation—a) Congregations will automatically continue to belong to the annual conference to which they previously belonged unless the congregation takes action to change affiliations. Congregations who dissent from the jurisdictional affiliation of their annual conference will have until December 31, 2018 to indicate, by majority secret ballot vote of a duly called special church conference, their decision to be placed in an annual conference of the other jurisdiction. These congregations shall remain part of their former annual conference until the conclusion of the organizing conference of the new jurisdiction. b) Churches wishing to change jurisdictional affiliation after the process described may do so under the provisions of ¶ 41 of the Constitution.
- Clergy Affiliation— a) Clergy shall have until December 31, 2018 to notify their bishop of their desire to serve in the other jurisdiction. Their bishop shall forward the names of these clergy to the college of bishops of the receiving jurisdiction. Conference membership will continue in the former conference until a transfer to another annual conference is complete. b) Subsequent to their original affiliation, clergy may elect to transfer from an annual conference in one jurisdiction to an annual conference in another jurisdiction under the provisions of ¶347.1. However, such transfer shall require the additional approval of the Board of Ordained Ministry and the clergy session of the receiving annual conference.
- Organizing Jurisdictional Conferences—a) The colleges of bishops of the respective jurisdictions shall call a special organizing jurisdictional conference for each of the new jurisdictions. The conferences shall take place during February 2019. b) At the organizing conference for each jurisdiction, the annual conference maps of each jurisdiction shall be redrawn so as to provide coverage for the entire United States of America. Where possible, coverage shall be attained by widening the boundaries of existing conferences. Provisional annual conferences and missionary conferences may be formed as needed. Bishops shall be assigned to their respective episcopal areas as elsewhere set forth. New bishops shall be elected as needed under the provisions of ¶ 404. For the purposes of this transition, bishops shall begin their new residential assignment on April 1, 2019. c) Each jurisdictional conference shall create a system for assisting clergy desiring to change annual conference affiliation in obtaining membership status in a new annual conference, in obtaining an appointment in the new annual conference, and/or in obtaining a transitional appointment. Clergy may continue to serve in a conference other than the one where their membership is held until a suitable appointment is found in their new annual conference. d) Following the remapping of annual conferences in each jurisdiction, each annual conference shall draw or adjust its districts to serve all the territory within its boundaries.
- Institutional Affiliation—Any church-related institution that is affiliated with, but not owned by, an annual or jurisdictional conference may choose to change their affiliation and relationship to the church following the organizing of the new jurisdictions and the redrawing of annual conference boundaries. The institution, by its own internal processes, may choose to continue affiliation with the successor annual or jurisdictional conference with which it was previously affiliated, change its affiliation to the annual or jurisdictional conference representing the other jurisdiction from the one in which it was previously affiliated, seek affiliation in both jurisdictions at the same time, or remove its church affiliation entirely. An institution’s request to affiliate with a different annual or jurisdictional conference is contingent upon approval by that conference.
- Congregational Property—The trust clause of each local congregation’s property shall be held and administered by the annual conference with which the local church chooses to affiliate (¶2501, 2503). All assets and liabilities previously incurred by a local congregation shall remain with that congregation, regardless of affiliation.
- Annual Conference Property — Assets and liabilities held by an annual conferences shall remain with that conference. Local churches and clergy transferring from an annual conference under the provisions of ¶538 are relinquished of any share of the assets or liabilities of that conference.
- Jurisdictional Property — Assets and liabilities held by former jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church shall be assumed by the jurisdiction chosen by majority vote of the aggregate number of members in the several annual conferences of that former jurisdiction.
- Arbitration — Disputes over the division of assets and liabilities shall be settled in binding arbitration by the Judicial Council. Each annual or jurisdictional conference shall present its case in written and oral form, and the Council shall make the final determination of an equitable division of assets and liabilities. The expenses of any special meetings or travel incurred by the Council for such purposes shall be borne by the conferences engaging in arbitration.
Rationale: These changes represent the process by which the Jurisdictional Solution would be implemented. Full implementation of this legislation would take approximately three years from its adoption at General Conference. A process of binding arbitration is included to preclude any possibility of property matters ending up in the civil courts.
It is sad that a legislative solution becomes a proposed answer to our relational, connectional, theological, and social divisions. While well written and a noble attempt, I fear that the kind of political process that will ensue will slow down the critical task of making disciples.
Thanks for taking time to read and comment. We are already experiencing the slow-down and distraction you mention. The worst-case scenario, I feel, would be to come out of General Conference 2016 in the same way we came out of GC 2012. IF we have a path forward, even if it involves multiple steps, we can move forward with the hope of resolution. I join you in prayer for our church and re-commit with you to the work of making disciples.
Either/or proposal. Not a both/and. A split in other words. I’m starting to think that a 2016 option could be that current language could be kept, explicitly aspirational, and that there is no penalty if BOOM W decides it will credential monogamous gays, or cabinet wants to appoint to receptive churches practicing, monogamous gays who meet all other criteria. We would not appoint them to churches who would not receive them. There may be other valid reasons to abolish Jurisdictiins, but this isn’t it.
Thanks for taking time to comment, David. Describe the process by which the current language would become explicitly aspirational, given the fact that the judicial council has ruled otherwise. Open itinerancy also dies under your plan and this would require legislation, as well.
How would the composition of the Judicial Council and of the General Boards and Agencies be affected by this plan?
Thanks for yout astute question. There might be some additional work needed in this area to address whether LGBTQ clergy and bishops elected by the more Progressive jurisdiction might serve. There is currently a lifestyle requirement for members of our general boards and agencies that might address this. It requires members to reflect our social principles and these would stay in place to govern the general church. Watch for future updates and I would value any thoughts you might have on this.
I don’t anticipate any change to the function or makeup of the Judicial Council.
Thanks, Chris, for your labor-intensive work here, also, obviously, a labor of love for the church. I have several questions, but still believe you have provided a workable solution. (1) You propose that the present Episcopal Fund would be adapted to the new reality, correct? (2) Local churches choosing to depart their present annual conference and desiring to unite with an annual conference in the other jurisdiction would be free to take their property with them, correct? (3) Supply and demand of bishops and clergy: first bishops. How would a possible oversupply of bishops for one jurisdiction be resolved—given the fact that our current bishops are elected for life? Let’s say the progressive jurisdiction requires 15 bishops, but 20 bishops desire to serve in the progressive jurisdiction? What then? Since you propose that each jurisdiction support its own College of Bishops, an oversupply could be financially and administratively unsustainable. An undersupply in the other jurisdiction could be handled simply by additional elections. Second, clergy: on the suface, it initially appeared as simple as allowing clergy to transfer to an annual conference of their choice, aligned with their convictions. However, your proposal allows for Boards of Ordained Ministry to regulate the flow of clergy by transfer, as they now do. This is a critical piece of the puzzle because not every clergy may be accepted or acceptable to another annual conference through its Board of Ordained Ministry; the result could be a clergy person forced to remain in an annual conference where he/she would not match the convictional stance. I could see marginally effective pastors who desire transfer becoming “stuck” in an annual conference, and completely out-of-sync in the place they are required to remain.
This, of course, cannot be solved by legislation, but the result is not as easy or simple as assuring current clergy they can choose an annual conference matching their convictional stance. Supply and demand enters into the equation and obviously the need for marginally effective pastors is low, or non-existant! (Perhaps annual conferences could work out a “swap” system of clergy with similar gifts and levels of effectiveness.)
I always value your input, Randy, as someone who loves the church and has been through several General Conferences.
1) Yes, the constitution change requires each jurisdiction fund the expenses of their own bishops. This would mandate the re-ordering of the Episcopal Fund. It would not, and does not intend to, preclude the American church from underwriting some of the expenses of our international bishops.
2) Local churches leaving their conference may take their property with them.
3) There is an existing mechanism for a bishop to serve across jurisdictional lines with permission of the College of Bishops of that jurisdiction. This would be a mechanism for addressing inequities in the number of bishops. If the College of Bishops found no one acceptable, I suppose that the jurisdiction which finds itself over-supplied would need to supply funding for them, perhaps by giving them prominent pastorates. I would guess that we would trade some moderate bishops around until retirements solved the problem.
You raise some great points about clergy transferring to new conferences. Those wanting security over ideology might elect to “stay put” and avoid the process to being placed in a new conference. The swaps you suggest would help clergy mismatched with their conference find a better home. The required Board of Ordained Ministry and clergy session approvals are mandated only after the initial “sort” was over.
I always value any thoughts you have for making improvements in the legislation.
Chris, I continue to pray and ponder the jurisdictional solution and continue to wonder how this will unfold. Somewhere in this conversation the image of a “duplex” house under one roof was presented. Initially, I liked it. Good image. Good metaphor. Then the thought, in a duplex, the arrangement gives the impression of “separate but equal,” an image that begs caution, since it was a rallying cry in the days of segregation. And really, the jurisdictional solution is a form of segregation, in a postive sense. But I can envision stiff challenges because it appears to be a form of “separate but equal.”
Then the question arises, just how equal? If, as I suspect, a traditional jurisdiction is larger, with greater resources in every respect–money, property, people–then, when designing representation on General Church agencies, are we going to end up with what we have now? That’s an arrangement that I have been uncomfortable with since it began. In 1972, when the present General Agencies were conceived (and born), each of the 5 jurisdictions were represented equally: 5 laymen, 5 lay women, 5 clergy—from each of the 5 jurisdictions, along with 10 bishops-at-large. Every jurisdiction was treated equally, regardless of church membership. But 2 or 3 quadrennia ago, we abandoned the equal representation (U. S. Senate model, if you will) and instead opted for a proportional representation model (U.S. House). At first it was understandable, until the question arises, are numbers of church members all we measure and all we represent?
When checking the payment of general church apportionments over the past several quadrennia, you will discover that the Southeastern Jurisdiction annual conferences, combined, pay the lowest percentage of general church apportionments. The North Central and Northeast are always on top! So, even tho’ we continue to lose members, we also continue to pay a disproportionately high percentage of total receipts while other jurisdictions with more church members pay less, proportionally speaking. So, is number of people the only factor in representation, or should financial commitment, and other factors, enter the equation?
I ask the same kind of question for the jurisdictional solution model you’re proposing. One very large jurisdiction may assert its control, and numerically speaking, may very well be entitled to it. But, in the same we currently allow central conference representation on general boards and agencies, even tho’ only U.S. churches pay for general church agencies, how will we address questions of “equal representation” at General Church tables under the Jurisdictional Solution? (It is no stretch of the imagination to envision a small, less-well-funded jurisdiction deciding in just one or two quadrennia that they’re leaving to form their own church since their minority status gives them little voice and little actual power.)
Your comments always go to the heart of the issue and this one is no exception. The shape of the general agencies is the biggest unknown. The plan envisions them being the only facet of the church that will continue operating by the Book of Discipline, as printed. Could a practicing homosexual bishop chair a board or agency? There is language in the BOD that spells out lifestyle requirements for staff and this could be extended to elected representatives, but will that satisfy all? I know little about the actual working of these groups, but one thing that seems clear is that what we have is broken and in need of reform. Most of the debate in 2012 seemed to be about that very thing. Some conservatives want their jurisdiction to be the larger, but some want a smaller, more tightly aligned jurisdiction to join. The larger will, by definition, be the most moderate as it will have attracted the most conferences from the middle. If we could get a new plan in place in 2016, our 2020 gathering would need to design a general church to best serve the new reality, I would think. By the way, I have read a draft plan for a single Progressive Jurisdiction to accompany our five existing jurisdictions, but it seems seriously flawed to me. We need to have a long lunch together sometime. I would love to sit with you and upload some of your experience with and knowledge of the general church.