The Special General Conference 2019: Bishop Kenneth H. Carter gives the sermon during opening worship for the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. (Photo:Kathleen Barry, UMNS)
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters,[a] by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. 1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT
Who makes decisions for The United Methodist Church if there is no one person in charge? Good question. The only body that can set official policy and speak for the denomination is the General Conference.
The General Conference is an international body of nearly 1,000 delegates that generally meets every four years. The delegates are elected by annual conferences (at annual conference sessions) to attend General Conference. They represent all annual conferences around the world. Half of the delegates are laity (non-clergy members), half are clergy.
Bishops attend the General Conference but cannot vote. Different bishops serve as presiding officers during the conference. Other bishops cannot speak unless permission is specifically granted by the delegates.
During General Conference, delegates discuss and vote on petitions and resolutions proposed by individuals, agencies, annual conferences, and other groups within the denomination. These actions result in a revision of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of law, and Book of Resolutions, policies of the denomination on current social issues.
It is at General Conference where delegates wrestle with today’s issues in light of scriptural teachings and the church’s understanding of that teaching. Here is where the church’s official stands and church policies are made regarding such issues as human sexuality, abortion, war, and peace, as well as determination of ministries and funding.
General Conferences are generally held in years divisible by 4, such as 2016, 2020, 2024, etc., with the exception of special sessions like the one held in 2019. (Source: https://www.umc.org/en/content/general-conference)
Before the 2019 Called Session of the General Conference, the United Methodist Church had been a dysfunctional denomination since 1972. Defiance and disobedience against the General Conference and the UMC Book of Discipline defined the parameters of the conflicts and controversies surrounding human sexuality. Even after the 2019 Called Session affirmed the Traditional Plan, defiance and disobedience continued. Accusations against supporters of the Traditional Plan for being hateful, judgmental, and discriminatory intensified. The Bishop of the Baguio Episcopal Area called for mutual respect and understanding among feuding parties during the 2019 Annual Conference Sessions.