The United Methodist Legislative Committee Proposes Change in Methods of Leadership

May 12, 2003 03:00 PM EDT

The 10-member United Methodist Church lawmaking committee proposed that bishops, rather than elected laity or clergy, lead the assembly’s legislative committees, May 3. During the “Plan of Organization and Rules of General Conference meeting in Chicago, the committee recommended 2 bishops as chairpersons for each of the 11 legislative committees in the UMC General Conference. If approved by the opening plenary of the 2004 General Conference, the change will be in effect immediately.

The current UMC rules stipulate that once legislative committees are organized at General Conference, committee members themselves elect one of their own as chairperson. The elected delegates are not allowed to participate in discussions and debates. Also, under the current law, United Methodist bishops only preside and serve as parliamentarians during full plenary sessions at General Conference. They have no voice or vote in setting church law.

Supporters of the proposal contend that the current practice problematic because of the possibility of uneven and uninvolved leadership. Proponents of the change say assigning bishops as chairpersons would foster more consistent leadership and give all delegates a chance to participate in debate. The recommendation by the rules committee would not allow bishops to make reports to the full body at General Conferences, as is the current practices of legislative committee chairpersons. Rather, a delegate – possibly a recorder elected by each committee – would make those reports. Under the new rule, bishops would chair the 11 legislative committees at the 2004 General Conference.

The recommended change surfaced last year, when an ad hoc committee of the Commission on the General Conference was seeking ways to improve the denomination’s lawmaking process. The commission oversees planning and logistics for General Conference, which includes about 1,000 delegates from United Methodist annual (regional) conferences in Europe, Africa, the United States and the Philippines.

The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss said she hopes naming bishops as chairpersons will allow more equal participation among the delegates during legislative committee proceedings. She also sees it as a way to take some of the negative political nature out of what should be "holy conferencing" by the church, lessening divisiveness by eliminating the highly partisan election of chairs.

General Conference delegates can change anything in the denomination’s Book of Discipline except the church’s Constitution. The 2004 assembly, meeting April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh, will have 11 legislative committees: church and society; conferences; discipleship; faith and order; financial administration; general administration; global ministries; higher education and ministry; independent commissions; judicial administration; and local church.

Each legislative committee deals with petitions related to a series of paragraphs from the Book of Discipline. Petitions related to the Book of Resolutions are sorted by subject matter. A legislative committee can recommend to the full delegation concurrence or non-concurrence with the language as submitted, or the committee may change the language and then recommend concurrence. Legislative committees can also submit majority and minority recommendations to the General Conference.

The Rev. Jerome K. Del Pino, top executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, will chair the 2004 quadrennial General Conference.

By Pauline J.