UMC Monday updates: United Methodist conference faces key decisions on LGBTQ+ rights, budget (2024)

UMC Monday updates: United Methodist conference faces key decisions on LGBTQ+ rights, budget (1)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly got off to an earlier-than-expected start when it swiftly approved key measures to refashion the denomination’s global structure.

But it’s just the start of a series of high-profile decisions facing the UMC General Conference at its two-week worldwide gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 700-plus delegates from around the world are expected to vote on other proposals seeking to remove anti-LGBTQ+ restrictions and a drastically reduced proposed budget.

The largely Nashville-based UMC is emerging from a splintering that led to a quarter of all U.S. churches to leave the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination following disagreements over church policy and theology — including dealing with LGBTQ+ rights.

The UMC General Conference hasn’t gathered for a regular session in eight years largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The body typically meets every four years. The decisions it makes this week are expected to shape the denomination’s long-term future.

Follow along for live updates.

United Methodists offer prayer amid Charlotte shooting

North Carolina Bishop Rev. Connie Shelton sought to offer comfort in the immediate aftermath of a shooting in Charlotte about 20 minutes from the convention center where the UMC General Conference is gathering.

“We are mindful of the violence in the world, desperation, pain and how desperation then inflicts plain on others,” Shelton said. “Oh God in the midst of the chaos right now, we ask that your spirit will bring clarity and order in the midst of pain.”

The thousands throughout the convention hall fell silent during Shelton’s prayer, which UMC leaders called for despite the availability of little information about the event. Since then, The Charlotte Observer reported the shooting of multiple law enforcement officers during an investigation by the U.S. Marshals Task Force.

Shelton’s prayer also acknowledged gun violence, an issue the denomination reaffirmed its commitment to combating in a resolution the delegates reapproved earlier Monday.

The resolution calls on United Methodist congregations “to assist those affected by gun violence through prayer, pastoral care, creating space, and encouraging survivors to share their stories, financial assistance, and through identifying other resources in their communities.”

Two additional bishops added to Africa, not five

In contrast to the necessary and expected reductions in the number of U.S.-based bishops in the United Methodist Church, the general conference increased the total number of African bishops from 13 to 15.

The additions fell short of earlier proposals to add five new bishops (for a total of 18) in response to rapidly increasing membership throughout the African continent. But a committee that oversaw a comprehensive plan for church leadership in Africa recommended an amended petition due to budget concerns.

The denomination's fund that pays bishops’ salaries, called the episcopal fund, is at risk of running a deficit if the current bishops’ staffing level maintains its course, said the UMC General Council on Finance and Administration. The administrative agency recommends 17 fewer bishops to help balance the fund and the overall budget, which is reeling from the recent wave of church disaffiliations out of the UMC.

“If the finances are provided, we can have a completely different conversation around this,” said German Bishop Rev. Harald Rückert, representing the committee that dealt with the petition regarding the number of African bishops during a lengthy floor debate on Monday.

Core to the dispute was the ratio of funding from churches in the African continent versus that of the U.S. United Methodist congregations outside the U.S. have more members but typically contribute less funding to the denomination’s budget than the U.S.-based church.

The UMC administrative agency’s report on the episcopal fund accounts for a salary for U.S. bishops of $180,900. Meanwhile, those salaries for bishops in Africa and the Philippines are set at $88,888.

United Methodists re-up resolutions, add apology to Native Hawaiians

The UMC Book of Resolutions will now include an “Apology for Illegal Overthrow of Hawaiian Kingdom,” a declaration that specifically reckons with Methodists' involvement in that history.

The resolution calls out the Rev. Harcourt Peck, who pastored First Methodist Episcopal Church in Hawaii after serving with the U.S. military forces that dethroned Hawaiian Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893, according to the resolution.

The UMC General Conference issued "a formal public apology to Native Hawaiians for the church’s complicity in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893,” said the resolution. The declaration also called on the bishop of the UMC California-Pacific Annual Conference to appoint a task force to study meaningfully implementing that apology.

General conference delegates passed dozens of other existing resolutions Monday morning as part of a requirement to re-approve resolutions every eight years. Since the UMC General Conference hasn’t gathered for a regular session in eight years, most resolutions required reapproval this year.

Agency reports set stage for decisions on LGBTQ+ rights, budget

United Methodist general agencies presented highly anticipated reports early in the general conference, chief among which were the UMC Revised Social Principles.

A declaration of United Methodists’ values, the proposed 43-page revised social principles is “the first wholesale revision of our social principles since 1972,” said Randall Miller, vice president of the UMC General Board of Church and Society, in an April 24 presentation to delegates. “(It’s) an opportunity to begin with a fresh page.”

The UMC General Board of Church and Society is one of 13 United Methodist general agencies that oversee the denomination’s various global ministries. Starting in 2012, the agency oversaw an overhaul of the social principles to address a host of concerns, perhaps most notably LGBTQ+ rights.

The proposed revised social principles no longer include a key passage saying hom*osexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The UMC General Conference in 1972 added that phrasing in an important justification for future anti-LGBTQ+ restrictions in the UMC Book of Discipline, a compendium of the denomination’s policies and practices.

Those who want the UMC to become more LGBTQ+ inclusive are supporting both the proposed revised social principles and a series of changes to the UMC Book of Discipline.

The UMC’s finance agency also presented a proposed budget, another high-profile business item at the Charlotte gathering. The current budget proposal is set at $353 million, a $251 million drop from the last approved budget in 2016 or a 42% decrease.

The figure is slightly higher than the most recent proposal due to an additional $7 million carve-out for a potential UMC General Conference special session in 2026.

Visa issues impact turnout

United Methodist Church General Conference rules allow for as many as 862 delegates, but the turnout is lower due to visa issues for those traveling from outside the U.S.

Last week, upwards of 750 delegates were present to vote. Before the conference began, United Methodist officials reported 73% of total delegates from outside the U.S. were confirmed to attend.

Traditionalist advocates were especially frustrated at the truncated turnout, particularly among countries in which delegates typically support more conservative legislative proposals. Specifically, many delegates from African countries have aligned with conservative advocacy groups to pass or protect restrictive policies for LGBTQ+ people in the church.

These turnout issues plus the recent exodus of conservative U.S. churches might put traditionalists at a disadvantage, though it’s unclear how it will affect votes on proposals to remove anti-LGBTQ+ restrictions. But a decisive majority of delegates approved proposals last week to recreate the denomination’s system of regional oversight, a legislative proposal known as “regionalization,” which traditionalists opposed.

Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. Reach him at or on social media @liamsadams.

UMC Monday updates: United Methodist conference faces key decisions on LGBTQ+ rights, budget (2024)
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