"Pray Down at High Noon"An Evangelical Perspective Of General Conference 2000
Evangelicals show strength at UM General Conference
Long-term prayer effort begins to bear fruit
by Joseph Slife
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Sparking new hope for new United Methodist renewal, evangelicals scored a string of victories at the Church's first General Conference of the 2000s, held May 2-12 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Among their successes: approval of a change in the formula for representation at the General Conference, which is held every four years.
The new formula, proposed by the North Georgia delegation, shifts voting power away from several smaller, and more theologically liberal, jurisdictions of the Church toward the larger and more conservative South Central and Southeastern jurisdictions.
Observers said the formula change holds major implications for representation on general church boards and agencies. "This may be the most significant action of the General Conference," noted North Georgia Bishop Lindsey Davis.
Taking center stage at the conference, however, was the continuing debate in the Church over homosexuality.
In a sermon on the third day of the gathering, Bishop Arthur Kulah, bishop of the Libera area of Africa, spoke out strongly on the issue. "The Scripture, our primary authority for belief and practice, is highly unequivocal on this subject of homosexuality. And if the global United Methodist Church [is to] persist as the church of Jesus Christ, then we must pay heed," he said. "May we not suffer the wrath of God because of the quest to satisfy...desires that contravene the loving purpose of God for his church."
A week later, delegates voted overwhelmingly, 628 to 337, to retain language in the Church's rule book, The Book of Discipline, which states that although homosexuals, like all human beings, are of sacred worth, homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
By an even larger margin, delegates also voted to reaffirm that self-avowed practicing homosexuals shall not be ordained or appointed as United Methodist clergy, and that U.M. clergy are prohibited from officiating at "same-sex union" ceremonies.
The debate on homosexual issues was not without tense moments. At one point, more than 30 pro-homosexuality demonstrators, including two bishops, violated conference rules by disrupting the debate and had to be removed from the conference hall. They were arrested and fined.
The disruptive protest, which shut down deliberations for at least half-an-hour, didn't sit well with North Georgia's Bishop Davis. "I was proud of the delegates who refused to be intimidated by the agitators," he wrote in his daily journal, made available on the Internet.
Despite the tense atmosphere, the Rev. John Ed Mathison, a leader in the denomination's evangelical Confessing Movement, said the conference "dealt with difficult and controversial issues in a very mature manner, and spoke clearly and decisively on these issues."
Other evangelical successes at General Conference included the following:
Three strong evangelicals were added to the denomination's supreme court, known as the Judicial Council.
The Judicial Council, responding to a inquiry from the the North Georgia delegation, stated that annual conferences may not "legally negate, ignore, or violate" the provisions of The Book of Discipline. In effect, the Council overruled a California bishop who claimed his conference wasn't bound by denominational rules prohibiting homosexual "marriage."
Evangelical leader Maxie Dunam, president of Asbury Seminary, was elected to the University Senate, which monitors and evaluates UM-related educational institutions.
The General Conference called for an end to the abortion procedure known as partial-birth abortion. President Clinton twice has vetoed legislation that would outlaw the procedure.
Behind the scenes at the General Conference, evangelicals turned out in force to pray. According to reports from the Good News renewal movement, hundreds of United Methodists prayer warriors went to Cleveland at their own expense to pray for the proceedings of the conference.
Much of the prayer presence in Cleveland stemmed from the ongoing prayer emphasis of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries.
Others who came to pray are participants in the "Pray Down at High Noon" movement, launched more than two years ago by U.M. prayer leader Terry Teykl. "Pray Down at High Noon" asks local churches to set aside a time of intercession once a week to seek God for denominational revival.
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