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Petitions from the Mississippi Annual Conference


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An anti-abortion advocate protests on the steps of the Supreme Court. Four petitions to the 2008 General Conference from the Mississippi Conference relate to abortion issues. UMNS photo by Melissa Lauber

Written: 4/16/2008

By the Advocate
When delegates gather for the 2008 General Conference, they will have more than 1,500 petitions to consider.
 

Most petitions sent by agencies, annual conferences, local churches and individuals propose changes in the Book of Discipline, which is the church's book of law, and also in the Book of Resolutions, which outlines the church's positions on social justice issues. 

These petitions are assigned by subject matter or disciplinary paragraph to one of 13 legislative committees. Committee members consider each petition and then recommend approval as submitted, approval as amended, or they recommend defeating the petition. 

When a petition not involving money or a change in the denomination's Constitution receives 10 or fewer negative votes, it is placed on a time-saving consent calendar and is voted on as a bloc along with other non-controversial proposals. 

Since so many petitions relate to social justice issues, these 414 petitions are assigned to two Church and Society legislative committees. The Legislative Committee on Ministry and Higher Education will consider 229 petitions, the highest number of petitions assigned to any single legislative committee. 

Among the petitions up for consideration are nine relating to the Mississippi Conference. Six of those were endorsed by the 2007 Annual Conference. Two petitions were submitted by Eric Harding of New Albany and another comes from Texas 

Five of the nine petitions concern abortion or related matters. Harding's petitions relate to abortion and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. One deals with tenure for bishops and one, from Texas, praises a Mississippi pastor for his work. 

Those interested in following the progress of petitions may visit www.gc2008.umc.org and click on the link for "Legislative Tracking." 

Following are the petitions in their full text.

 

Petitions endorsed by the Mississippi Annual Conference 

Bold = Addition
Strikethrough = Deletion 

Title: Abortion
Petition Number: 81480 (Book of Discipline)
Text: Amend �161.J as follows:

Abortion � The beginning... In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize that abortion may be justified to protect the physical life of the mother tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures should remain available. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection. We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life. We commit... 

Rationale
The vague phrase "tragic conflicts of life" has been, and is, used by official agencies of The United Methodist Church to approve judicial decisions, and legislative actions, that promote abortion rights. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists identified no circumstances necessitating partial birth abortion to save the mother's life.

Legislative Committee: Church and Society 2

 

Title: Deletion
Petition Number: 80179 (Book of Resolutions)
Text: Delete current resolution 114 � Support for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Rationale
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is dedicated to defending and expanding abortion rights � that is, legal rights to all abortions, whatever the circumstances, without exception � in American law. RCRC works for abortion rights in any and all circumstances, while The United Methodist Church teaches that moral discernment in matters of abortion is essential.
 

Legislative Committee: Church and Society 2

 

Title: Local pastors vote
Petition Number: 81477 (Book of Discipline)
Text: Amend ��35, 316.6, 602.1c, and 602.1d as follows:

�35. Article IV -  The ordained ministerial delegates to the General Conference and to the jurisdictional or central conferences shall be elected
by and from the ordained ministerial members in full connection with the annual conference or provisional annual conference by the clergy members of the annual or provisional annual conference as defined by the General Conference.
 

�316.6 The membership of local pastors under full-time and part-time appointment is in the annual conference where they shall have the right to vote on all matters except constitutional amendments, election of delegates to general, jurisdictional, or central conferences, and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy.  Local pastors under full-time appointment who have completed the Course of Study, or have earned a Master of Divinity degree at a university listed by the University Senate, shall have the right to vote on the election of clergy delegates to general, jurisdictional, or central conferences. 

�602.1c.  Associate and affiliate clergy members shall have the right to vote in the annual conference on all matters except constitutional amendments, elections of clergy delegates to the general and jurisdictional or central conferences, and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy. 

�602.1d.  Full-time and part-time local pastors under appointment to a pastoral charge shall have the right to vote in the annual conference on all matters except constitutional amendments, election of clergy delegates to the general and jurisdictional or central conferences, and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy.  Only local pastors under full-time appointment who have completed the Course of Study, or have earned a Master of Divinity degree at a university listed by the University Senate, shall have the right to vote on the election of clergy delegates to general, jurisdictional, or central conferences. 

Rationale

Associate members and full-time Local Pastors represent an increasing percentage of competent, dedicated, and vital clergy in our annual conferences. These pastors perform nearly the same ministerial responsibilitie


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United Methodist Bishops William Morris visits with Hope Morgan Ward of the Mississippi Area. A petition to the 2008 General Conference from the Mississippi Conference addresses tenure of bishops. UMNS photo by Linda Green
s as elders in full connection. It is appropriate they have a voice in electing the delegates which will decide on church law.

Legislative Committee: Conferences

 

Title: Retain language
Petition Number: 81478 (Book of Discipline)
Text: Retain current �316.
Rationale
Small membership churches comprise a majority of churches in our conference. Most of these are served by local pastors. As there is consideration being given to restrict the ministries of these pastors with respect to administering the sacraments we feel compelled to affirm their current pastoral responsibilities.

Legislative Committee: Ministry and Higher Education

 

Title: Retain language
Petition Number: 81479 (Book of Discipline)
Text: Retain current �340.
Rationale
 Small membership churches comprise a majority of churches in our conference. Most of these are served by local pastors. As there is consideration being given to restrict the ministries of these pastors with respect to administering the sacraments we feel compelled to affirm their current pastoral responsibilities.
Legislative Committee: Ministry and Higher Education

 

Title: Tenure for bishops
Petition Number: 81090 (Book of Discipline)
Text: Amend �403 by adding at the end of the paragraph the following sentence: 
Bishops shall be elected for two four-year terms, after which they shall return to a clergy appointment at either the district or the local church level; or, if eligible to do so, may retire.

Rationale
This revision is reflective of our heritage in that term limits for bishops were exercised in the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Furthermore, this is to ensure that a greater number of the many capable pastors in our denomination will be afforded the opportunity to serve in the office of bishop.
Legislative Committee: Superintendency

 

Other petitions relating to the Mississippi Annual Conference 

Title: Abortion
Petition Number: 81454 (Book of Resolutions)
Text: Add new resolution:

WHEREAS, the Church has consistently witnessed and ministered, through the ages, to protect the unborn human life and the mother from abortion;
 

WHEREAS scripture reflects a strong sanctity of life perspective which indicates that the unborn child is created and seen by God (Psalm 139:13-16), considered worthy to be called by name (Isaiah 49:1, 5),  set apart for specific tasks (Jeremiah 1:4-5) and affirmed as a person (Isaiah 44:2,24; Luke 1:41-45; Psalm 95:6-7, 100:3, 119:73); 

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court's 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, overturned state abortion laws and established abortion rights throughout the United States; 

WHEREAS, from 1973 until 2002, over 42 million abortions have been performed in American society ("Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States," Guttmacher Institute, Facts in Brief, June 2006,  www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.pdf )

"The partial delivery of a living fetus for the purpose of killing it outside the womb is ethically offensive to most Americans and physicians. Our panel could not find any identified circumstance in which the procedure was the only safe and effective abortion method." (AMA President Daniel Johnson Jr., M.D., in New York Times, May 26, 1997.)

"A select panel convened by ACOG could identify no circumstances under which this procedure... would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman." (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Statement of Policy, January 12, 1997.) 

  "I have very serious reservations about this procedure... You really can't defend it. I'm not going to tell somebody else that they should not do this procedure. But I'm not going to do it... I would dispute any statement that this is the safest procedure to use." (Abortionist Warren Hern in American Medical News, November 20, 1995, p. 3); 

WHEREAS the viability for the premature infant has long since passed the 28 week gestational age definition that existed when Roe v Wade was decided, and now has reached 21 weeks and six days gestation with the birth of Amillia Taylor on 10/24/06.  Her neonatologist William Smalling MD stated, "It may be that we need to reconsider our standard for viability in light of Amillia's case.  Over the years, the technology that we have available to save these premature babies has improved dramatically. Today, we can save babies that would have never survived 10 years ago." ("Amillia, the Tiny Miracle Baby, Goes Home," Times Online, Feb 20, 2007); 

WHEREAS medical advances in neonatal medicine have proven that the development of the perception of pain begins at the 6th  week of life, and by the 20th  week "all the essential components of anatomy, physiology, and neurobiology exist to transmit painful sensations from the skin to the spinal cord and to the brain"  (Testimony for the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, November 1, 2005, Jean A. Wright MD MBA); 

WHEREAS, a particular sentence in Paragraph 161J of The Book of Discipline (2004) � specifically, "In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures." �  can be interpreted so as to identify United Methodist social teaching on abortion with the "pro-choice" legal position of Roe v. Wade; 

WHEREAS, the aforementioned sentence from Paragraph 161J has allowed official agencies of The United Methodist Church to promote the legality of abortion not just in certain tragic circumstances, but in all circumstances; and 

WHEREAS, Paragraph 161J expresses moral disapproval of most abortions that are performed, while the aforementioned sentence from Paragraph 161J has been, and is, used by official agencies of The United Methodist Church to approve all judicial decisions, and legislative actions, that promote abortion rights; 

  WHEREAS, the 2007 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, using the entire rationale stated above, overwhelming passed a resolution to petition the 2008 General Conference to replace the vague phrase, "tragic consequences of life with life," in Paragraph 161J of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (2004) and state "that abortion may be justified to protect the physical life of the mother."    

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, using the entire rationale above, prayerfully consider how the phrase, "tragic consequences of life with life," in Paragraph 161J of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (2004) may be interpreted as to  justify abortion in any crisis situation, even when the mother's life is not in danger.  

WHEREAS, during oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court regarding Gonzales v. Carhart which is a case testing the constitutionality of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, Chief Justice Roberts asked Ms Smith, attorney for abortionist Dr. Carhart, "We have no evidence either in the record before the Court or Congress as to how often that situation [serious underlying medical conditions... that makes the impact and the risks that are reduced by the intact D&C particularly important] arises?"   Ms Smith replied, "No, we don't, Your Honor."  (Gonzales v. Carhart, Oral Arguments, United States Supreme Court, November 8, 2006, brackets earlier quote from Ms Smith); 

WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States, on April 18, 2007, upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003; 

WHEREAS, prominent medical organizations and medical experts who disagree about abortion in general, all agree that the partial-birth procedure is never medicallynecessary.  

Submitted by: Eric Harding of New Albany

Legislative Committee: Church and Society 2 

Title: Don Wildmon
Petition Number: 81551 (Book of Resolutions)
Text: Add new resolution:

WHEREAS within the past three decades there has been as ever growing disregard for those ethical standards (accepted by all branches of the Christian Church for centuries) regarding sexual activity only within marriage; and
 

WHEREAS the Rev. Donald Wildmon, a member of the Mississippi Annual Conference and President of the American Family Association, has been effective in supporting the long held Christian ethical position in regard to marriage and sexual matters; and 

WHEREAS Rev. Wildmon has been especially effective in the last decade in causing the removal of television programs which promote promiscuous sex and/or violence, 

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED BY THE 2008 GENERAL CONFERENCE THAT: "That we commend Rev. Donald Wildmon for his efforts in the reduction of the promotion of promiscuous sex, especially outside of marriage on television and to reduce violence in television." 

Submitted by: Howard Lydick of Richardson, Texas

Legislative Committee: Church and Society 2

 

Title: United Methodism and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Petition Number: 81453 (Book of Resolutions)
Text: Add new resolution:
  WHEREAS, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) is dedicated to defending and expanding abortion rights � that is, legal rights to all abortions, whatever the circumstances, without exception � in American law;
 

WHEREAS, "RCRC was founded in 1973 to safeguard the newly won constitutional right to abortion," according to The Reverend Carlton W. Veazey, RCRC president and CEO (www.rcrc.org/);   

WHEREAS, RCRC's founding mission remains intact: "The primary struggle for reproductive choice has shifted to the state level, with new legislation limiting access to reproductive health care traveling from state to state until enough momentum develops to bring it to the national arena. In such a climate, we need healthy state [RCRC] organizations so that we can stop each new threat as it arises" (www.rcrc <http://www.rcrc>.org/getinvolved/affiliate.cfm, 12/10/06); 

  WHEREAS, RCRC works for abortion rights in any and all circumstances, while The United Methodist Church teaches that moral discernment, on matters related to abortion, is essential; for the church "[believes] in the sanctity of unborn human life," "cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control," and "unconditionally reject[s] [abortion] as a means of gender selection" (The Book of Discipline [2004], Paragraph 161J);

WHEREAS, the UMC should continue promotion of HIV/AIDS education, sexuality education, quality health and child care, and clergy counseling training programs as mentioned in �114, but should do so apart from the RCRC.  For example, "the 'respectable' end of the porn business has made a point of hiring lobbyists, participating in charity, and campaigning for condoms against AIDS," but this does not mean the UMC should support the Pornography Industry in order to advance AIDS prevention. ("Pornography, Main Street to Wall Street," Holman W. Jenkins, Policy Review, Hoover Institution); 

 WHEREAS, other "mainline" denominations with similar positions on abortion to that of the United Methodist Church have either never chosen to be members of RCRC (e.g., the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Disciples of Christ), or have severed past ties with RCRC (American Baptist Churches USA and the Northern Province of the Moravian Church); 

WHEREAS, the RCRC's stance on the non-abortion issue of homosexuality is contrary to the Social Principles as exposed in Rev. Karen Booth's  "UM Judicial Council Brief on the Pro-Homosexuality Advocacy of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice;"

One part of the RCRC-produced article, "The Really Good News: What the Bible Says About Sex", argues at length that "[i]t is, at best, inaccurate to use scripture to condemn committed, consensual same-gender sexual relationships." The article also asserts: "In contrast to its position on same gender sex, the Bible clearly condemns adultery."  This amounts to saying that the Bible has no clear position on "same gender sex." The title of this document attaches qualitative value to such assertions, suggesting that biblical teaching not truly being opposed to "same gender sex" would amount to "Really Good News."    

By contrast, the United Methodist Social Principles clearly declare that "the practice of homosexuality" is "incompatible with Christian teaching" (�161G).  Furthermore, the Social Principles declare that "sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond" (�161G) and that marriage is to be understood as a covenant "between a man and a woman" (�161C).  UM  Judicial Council Brief on the Pro-Homosexuality Advocacy of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice 

WHEREAS, RCRC consistently lobbies government for the preservation of partial-birth abortion rights, while The United Methodist Church "oppose[s] the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call[s] for the end of this practice" with rare exceptions (Paragraph 161J); 

WHEREAS, United Methodists hold various political positions on abortion, and therefore agencies of The United Methodist Church should not be permitted to join a particular political lobby on abortion, such as RCRC;   

WHEREAS, Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, of the Florida Area, has declared: "At the 2004 General Conference, the church endorsed our [United Methodist] agencies' continued participation in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice without much of a debate about how participation in this coalition compromises our public witness against abortion" ("Do No Harm!," a sermon); and 

WHEREAS, The 2007 Mississippi Annual Conference overwhelmingly approved  a resolution, using the entire rationale stated above,  to delete "114. Support for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice" from The Book Of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (2004).     

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church goes on the record as declaring that the mission and goals of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice are incompatible with United Methodist teachings.
Submitted by:
Eric Harding of New Albany

Legislative Committee: Church and Society 2