Friday wrap-up: Budget approved; no fossil fuels, illegal settlements divestment


May 20, 2016
The Rev. Jerry Kulah of the Liberia Conference speaks to delegates on Friday. Photo by Maile Bradford, UMNS.

By: Joey Butler (for UMNS) and Christa Meland

General Conference delegates on Friday approved a general church budget of $604 million for 2017-2020, a slight increase over the $603.1 million approved at the 2012 General Conference. It is also an increase over the $599 million budget proposed to the 2016 General Conference delegates, which would have been The United Methodist Church’s lowest in 16 years. Delegates voted to add $5 million to double the denomination’s financial backing of the Central Conference Theological Education Fund, which supports United Methodist schools, pastors and pastors-in-training in Africa, Asia and Europe.
 
Minnesota Delegate Faye Christensen said she feels good about the budget as adopted, but she’s concerned about the fact that the U.S. pays significantly more in apportionments than central conferences do. “We can’t sustain this much longer,” she said. “Our churches are declining in size. Their churches are exploding in size. They really have to start paying more.”
 
Delegate Sara Swenson said she was glad the budget passed but was surprised that delegates voted to add $5 million to double the church’s support for the Central Conference Theological Education Fund, which supports United Methodist schools, pastors, and pastors-in-training in Africa, Asia and Europe.
 
“We already designated a large amount of money to Africa University earlier this week and no one seemed to address that,” she said.
 
Votes of note
 
Rejection of fossil fuels divestment: After prolonged, impassioned debate, delegates chose not to add a fossil fuels investment screen for the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits. The question came down to divestment vs. engagement as the better way to use church investments in influencing energy companies to address climate change. Ultimately, delegates voted 630-101 against amending church law to call for screening out investments in fossil fuels companies.
 
“I was disappointed that we didn’t choose to divest,” said Swenson. “Climate change already has begun to have massive effects, and I think if we were more aware of those effects, we would have divested.”
 
Swenson said that United Methodists have done so much good work to eradicate malaria, and yet it’s spreading into new areas because of climate change and mosquitos breeding in new areas.
 
“So our investment in fossil fuels in undercutting the good work we’re doing in other areas,” she said.
 
Rev. Jeff Ozanne, a reserve delegate who was on the plenary floor during the vote, said even if the conference body wasn’t ready to divest, it could have adopted a resolution indicating concern for the climate. Instead, a piece of legislation that essentially did that was tabled. “We could have found a middle ground and taken some stance on fossil fuels,” Ozanne said.
 
Rev. Paula Colton echoed Ozanne.
 
“We believe as Christians that God has called us to be in stewardship for the earth,” she said. “That’s part of our role as leaders in the denomination—to stand up for the earth that can’t speak for itself.”
 
Rejection of divesting from illegal settlements: An amendment offered during debate on socially responsible investing that sought to divest from illegal settlements on occupied lands failed 559-167. Earlier in the General Conference, the Financial Administration Legislative Committee failed to support any petition calling for divestment from companies doing business in Israel. Delegates also adopted an amended petition on behalf of a Palestinian village, Wadi Foquin, where United Methodists support an Advance project and community development site. The petition calls on General Conference to send letters to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other State Department officials, U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and the Israeli Civil Authority to express “our concerns over the confiscation of land and destruction of life in the village.”
 
Southeast Asia provisional central conference: Delegates approved the creation of a Southeast Asia provisional central conference that includes Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Those three countries previously comprised a “mission,” and this new designation affirms their maturity and makes them a regular part of the United Methodist connection. The Minnesota Conference has direct ties to Southeast Asia. Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough was also bishop of the Southeast Asia Mission from 2010 to 2015, and the Minnesota Conference currently has a partnership with United Methodist missionaries in Vietnam in order to help foster an abundant life for Vietnamese children.
 
Retirement for central conference bishops: Delegates approved requiring that bishops in the central conferences who have reached mandatory retirement age must step down three months after General Conference. The change is effective immediately. Before, central conference bishops had up to a year following General Conference to retire.

Inclusiveness in the church: By a vote of 509-242, delegates just exceeded the two-thirds threshold needed to support amending the article on “Inclusiveness in the Church in the denomination’s constitution. The amendment adds “gender” and “age” to the list of qualities that will not be discriminated against in the life, worship and governance of the church. The amendment is structured to preserve United Methodist groups based on gender or age, such as church youth groups. Now, the constitutional amendment heads to annual conferences, where it needs two-thirds of the total vote of members to be ratified.
 
Mandatory vote on all proposed legislation: A petition calling for a mandatory vote on all proposed legislation sent to the next General Conference was approved by a vote of 406 to 361. All petitions submitted to General Conference “shall receive the vote of a legislative committee” and all petitions approved by legislative committees “shall receive a vote by the plenary session at that year’s General Conference.” Considering how many petitions weren’t voted on before this General Conference ended, one wonders if GC2020 will need to last a month.
 
Other news

A large group of LGBTQ people circled the floor of the 2016 General Conference on May 20, singing, “I am not forgotten, you are not forgotten; God knows your name.” Participants said the respectful demonstration was the final chance for LGBTQ people to surround and support each other before everyone leaves General Conference and returns to their local churches. “Queer people got no justice from this General Conference…This was an attempt to let them know we are still here,” said Jayson Dobney, an advocate for LBGTQ people in The United Methodist Church.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
 




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