A survey of the delegates to the United Methodist Churchs upcoming quadrennial General Conference revealed that homosexuality, church growth and finances were the top three issues in mind. More than half of the 1000 delegates responded to the survey, which was conducted by the denominations Office of Research and Planning last October and released this week.
Homosexuality has been a top issue at the general conferences for several decades. However, with the controversial acquittal of a lesbian pastor last month, the debates will likely be much more heated than in the past. Following the acquittal, several renewal pastors and leaders have expressed indignant disdain and vowed to make sure the issue will be emphasized at the upcoming Pittsburgh conference.
The survey, conducted by the denominations Office of Research & Planning, General Council on Ministries, also listed war and violence, racism, poverty and engaging a changing world among the top five issues facing society.
The UMC also released A Hitchhikers Guide to U.S. Delegates at the 2004 General Conference to provide a description of the delegates. According to the guide, which can be downloaded at http://www.gcom-umc.org/pdfs/methodistics/2004_report_2.pdf, 90 percent of the delegates reported an intense involvement in their local congregations, which meant that they attend worship each week, assume leadership roles and regularly give 5 percent or more of their income to church.
A common perception is that General Conference delegates are nothing more than politicians, the report stated. General Conference delegates, by the very nature of their work, are called to be political to debate, to caucus, to vote but they bring to General Conference the qualities of individuals who are well-equipped to discern the will of God for the United Methodist Church.
More than three-fourths of the respondents 79 percent are white. Blacks and African-Americans represented 14 percent; Asians and Pacific Islanders, 3 percent; Hispanics and Latinos, 2 percent; and Native Americans, 1 percent.
As a denomination, the United Methodist Church tends to reflect (the demographics) of other mainline denominations in terms of race and ethnicity, the report said.
The 2004 conference is scheduled for April 27 May 7 in Pittsburgh.