Confessing Movement General Conference Delegates Ignored By New Jersey Evangelicals - Another Caucus Sought
Sent: Tuesday, June 24, 2003 12:33 PM
To: John Warrener
Subject: Re: News Page
Anyone who arrived in Atlantic City for the third session of The Greater New Jersey Annual Conference expecting to sneak in an afternoon on the beach or eighteen holes of golf had their plans thwarted. It rained for three straight days! Nothing else to do but elect General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates. And there is no truth to the rumor that the Casinos were offering 4 to 3 odds that our entire clergy delegation would be made up of district superintendents.
Well, the entire clergy delegation is not made up of district superintendents but the cabinet did extremely well. Eight of the nine were elected as GC, JC delegates or alternates. Because we are a merged conference in its third year of existence our clergy leadership has not yet established itself beyond the cabinet and conference staff positions. This will change in the coming years but in the meantime district superintendents have a distinct advantage. Elders usually support their own DS in any election, so right off the bat a DS is beginning with at least three to four dozen votes. The only non-DS candidates who currently begin with that many votes are those endorsed by various caucuses. In order for a non-DS to get elected he or she must begin with the support of two distinct caucuses which have little overlap. Both of our non-cabinet General Conference delegates had this type of support.
The longest debate concerned our health insurance plan. Clergy will now be paying two percent of their base salary into a fund designed to offset future premium increases. We currently provide a Medicare B plan for our retirees. The cost of this will be subsidized by our Preacher's Aid fund. We are better off than most annual conferences because the Preacher's Aid fund is heavily endowed. This is why, for the time being, we can continue to provide heath insurance for our retirees while other annual conferences have had to eliminate this benefit. This plan is only a stop-gap measure but it will buy us a little more time as we come up with long term solutions. The other controversial piece of legislation was a human sexuality resolution. This resolution proposed amending the Book of Discipline to read, “As a church, we are not of one mind on the origins of sexual orientation. Many, through discernment and study of scripture understand homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching. Others, through discernment and study of scripture, understand homosexuality to be at the core of an individual’s being, created in the image of God. We are open to the work of the Holy Spirit to further our understanding of sexual orientation.” After a standing vote, this resolution was not passed.
One of the highlights of the Conference Session was our Service of Repentance for Racism. I can honestly say that this service featured the best music I have ever heard at an annual conference. Dean Snyder, pastor of the Foundry United Methodist Church preached. In his conversational style, Snyder named racism as, “the stink in the basement of United Methodism.” Snyder said that one of the major consequences of racism in Methodism is that our worship became stale, boring and unemotional. Hey, if the shoe fits, wear it.
How did this conference fare for evangelicals? That depends on who you talk to. Despite the perception many United Methodists have of the northeast being a liberal stronghold, evangelical Methodism in New Jersey has a proud history. In the 1920's Harold Paul Sloan led what came to be known as The New Jersey Protest, the first of the modern evangelical renewal movements. There are several thriving camp meeting associations in New Jersey due to the hard work of evangelicals who, over the past one hundred years have kept alive this remnant of nineteenth century Methodism. In 2003 the several evangelicals were elected as lay delegates. There is only one Confessing Movement endorsed evangelical from our clergy delegation to General Conference. Our confessing movement caucus could have done better if they had endorsed an evangelical district superintendent. However, many seem to be of the opinion that one ceases to be evangelical the moment they come on to the cabinet. On most ballots approximately 150 votes were needed to elect. Several of the candidates who were officially endorsed by the confessing association received less than 25 votes which raises the question: why endorse people who half of your own caucus has no intention of voting for? Lesson learned? While keeping in mind that this exercise is little more than Monday morning quarterbacking, evangelicals need to be more flexible in their strategy. When it becomes obvious that an endorsed candidate is not getting more than 1/3 of the votes needed to elect the pre-conference playbook needs to be modified. Also, we must seriously consider if having the Confessing Movement as the sole evangelical voice hurts the evangelical cause. Many evangelicals who are involved in Aldersgate, Walk To Emmaus, Order of Saint Luke, Tres Dias or other renewal organizations hold The Confessing Movement at arms length. Evangelicals also need to reach out to the Hispanic caucus. Our Hispanic brothers and sisters have been winning many souls for Christ and founding United Methodist churches among a population which is traditionally Roman Catholic or Pentecostal. A partnership between the evangelical renewalists and the Hispanic caucus might help both groups gain greater representation.
Perhaps we need to have an umbrella organization with representatives from various renewal and ethnic clergy associations which will act as the orthodox/evangelical voice. On its own, The Confessing Movement is not able to muster much more the one third the necessary votes to elect clergy delegates in New Jersey.
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