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Methodist Conference votes to give geographical regions more autonomy

The Rev. K Karen, left, of St. Paul & St. Andrew United Methodist Church in New York joins other protesters in song and prayer outside the United Methodist Church's special session of the general conference in St. Louis, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. The Associated Press/Photo by Sid Hastings, File

Methodist Conference votes to give geographical regions more autonomy

Delegates at the United Methodist General Conference approved several petitions on Thursday to restructure the international church by establishing four regional conferences: Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and the United States. A vote to amend the church constitution passed with a 78 percent approval vote. The measure moves to regional annual church conferences for final approval by the end of 2025.

What’s the purpose of establishing regions? Regionalization may soothe international tensions over the church’s position on homosexuality. Different regions would be able to tailor the church’s Book of Discipline to meet regional needs. Each regional conference would have the authority to establish customized church judicial courts and rules for religious rites, including ordination and marriage. The Book of Discipline would also include a section customized for each conference.

About a quarter of UMC congregations in the United States split from the denomination in recent years over disagreements about homosexuality in the church. However, only 4.5 million UMC members live in the United States, with 11.5 million members worldwide. While the church in the United States has signaled growing acceptance of openly gay leaders, homosexuality in many parts of Africa remains a crime. The United Methodist Church in Africa thrives because of conservative evangelism, and that won’t change anytime soon, said Zimbabwean Pastor Lloyd Nyarota. Additionally, regionalization will allow churches to enact regional conference-level changes without waiting years for the next General Conference. Regionalization also decenters the United States within the church and dismantles colonialism while still keeping the church on mission, said Bishop Tracy Smith Malone, incoming president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

Dig deeper: Read Elizabeth Russell’s report in WORLD Magazine about theological disputes within the UMC.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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