by Rev. Leigh Goodrich
The season for Annual Conferences in the United States is rapidly approaching. During late May and June, most people are settling into their summer routines: planting gardens, riding bikes, flying kites, enjoying picnics, or visiting the farmer’s market. However, in the world of United Methodists in the United States, it is time to gather for “holy conferencing.”
Holy Conferencing is an event that includes worship, prayer, fellowship, Robert’s Rules, and passing resolutions and amendments that reinforce or change the values and aspirations of our annual conference areas. Many times those values and aspirations are reflected in legislation presented to The United Methodist General Conference, our denomination’s largest legislative body.
This year, General Conference is presenting the annual conferences with a unique opportunity to change the course of our United Methodist history and take a significant step into the next millennium by passing an important amendment to The United Methodist Constitution. The amendment is called Paragraph 4, Article 4, and this is what it says…
In the United Methodist Church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.
The amended portion of the Constitution adds ability, gender, age and marital status (highlighted in red) to existing social categories that clergy in The United Methodist Church cannot use to discriminate against a potential member. Said another way, a pastor may not deny a person membership in the church because they have a disability, are female or male, married or single, young or old.
To many of us, this seems so simple. Of course we would never discriminate against anyone based on these attributes. We throw the doors of the church wide open for all who want to participate in the life, worship and governance of our local churches. However, if you have been watching the changes in our society recently, all of these groups have been under attack in some way.
The shift in our society is not something anyone predicted. People in our society have been observed mocking persons with disabilities, talking about physically attacking women, making assumptions about the lifestyles of single persons, or blatantly disregarding the contributions of the young or old. These are all examples of the ways people are pushed to the margins of our society. Yet there seems to be a blindness to this type of abuse; a blindness that easily finds its ways into other societal venues, including the church. Protecting people in The United Methodist Constitution is a game changer for our denomination because it guarantees the young and old, men and women, married and single persons, and those with disabilities entry into our churches, all of our churches, throughout the denomination. It shows the world the love we have for God’s creation. This amendment throws wide the doors of our churches and imagines God’s enormous embrace of creation.
This amendment is, indeed, a game changer for our local churches and our denomination. That is why we need your affirmative vote to pass this important legislation during your annual conference meeting. In a world in which the average person might be targeted for any of a broad range of attributes, The United Methodist Church must stand fearlessly on the side of acceptance and love. Please vote yes for Paragraph 4.
Leigh Goodrich is Senior Director Of Leadership and Education and the newest member of the GCSRW team. She is a second-career clergyperson from the New England Annual Conference and frequent blogger for GCSRW. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.