Methodists Reject Structure Changes, Inclusive Membership

The United Methodist Church rejected a number of amendments to the church's constitution, including one on the inclusiveness of church membership.

The amendment stating, "All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, and upon baptism be admitted as baptized members," did not receive a majority of votes to be ratified, the Council of Bishops announced Tuesday.

Some had feared the amendment would challenge the United Methodist Church's current position that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching.

An early tally last year had revealed that most Methodists in the United States were opposed to the proposal on inclusiveness.

More than 49,000 representatives of the worldwide church – representing 11 million members – voted on 32 amendments. Only five were ratified, according to the denomination's news service.

Among the approved was an amendment that adds "gender" to the list of categories ensuring the rights of membership regardless of race or status and another that allows lay people to vote on matters of ordination, character and conference relations of clergy.

Meanwhile, proposals to restructure the denomination were denied.

The amendments would have made the U.S. body one of several regional bodies around the world, similar to the seven conferences outside the country (Africa, Central and Southern Europe, Congo, Germany, Northern Europe, Philippines, and West Africa). Those seven conferences are currently organized much like the five jurisdictions – Northeastern, Southeastern, North Central, South Central and Western – in the United States.

Some feared the creation of a regional conference in the United States would lead to an inward focus and create greater distance in the relationship between the U.S. church and the United Methodist Church in other parts of the world.

Critical of the votes rejecting structure changes, retired bishop Emilio DeCarvalho of Angola said the votes keep in place a "40-year-old colonial structure" that is a denial of the worldwide nature of the church, as reported by the United Methodist News Service.

Proponents of the amendments maintain that the new structure would reflect the growth of the church outside the United States.

The Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church, however, said the votes imply that Methodists around the world were sending a "strong message that this specific vehicle for change was flawed."

"It left many issues open to broad interpretation," the committee stated. "It was unclear how the changes, if approved, would have been implemented."