By Jessica Brodie
This June, lay and clergy members of the South Carolina United Methodist Annual Conference will consider five issue-based resolutions ranging from affirming the Discipline’s current language on human sexuality to supporting equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians living in the Holy Land.
The five issue-based resolutions were submitted by South Carolina United Methodist individuals, ministries or groups and will go before roughly 2,000 people at Annual Conference, set for June 3-6 at the TD Convention Center in Greenville. Five additional resolutions were also submitted from Bishop L. Jonathan Holston and his Cabinet on church closings and charge-line changes.
The issue-based resolutions are Resolution Affirming Current Language in Book of Discipline Regarding Human Sexuality; A Resolution Designating Old Bethel United Methodist Church, Charleston, a United Methodist Historic Site; Resolution in Support of Just and Inclusive Policy for Lay Volunteers and Lay Staff in Local Church Ministry; Resolution to Ensure that Every Child in State Care Receives the Best Possible Care; and Resolution to Support Equal Rights for Israelis and Palestinians Living in What We Call the Holy Land—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Voting members of Annual Conference will have the chance to amend, pass, refer or reject the resolutions by majority vote.
Because of a change last year in Annual Conference’s standing rules, these are expected to be the only resolutions to be considered at Annual Conference. Late resolutions are no longer allowed to be submitted on the conference floor (though this or any standing rule can be suspended with a two-thirds vote at Annual Conference). Standing Rule 71 now specifies that resolutions and appeals submitted after the March 15 deadline will be referred to the appropriate body for consideration at next year’s conference.
Conference Secretary the Rev. Ken Nelson told the Advocate late resolutions often caused confusion and a rush to vote without the body having time to adequately consider the consequences. He said the change will allow people to have time to properly consider the resolutions.
This year’s five issue-based resolutions are as follows:
Resolution Affirming Current Language in Book of Discipline Regarding Human Sexuality
This resolution was submitted by pastors and members of several South Carolina UMCs, including Covenant UMC, Greer; Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington; Trenholm Road UMC, Columbia; Christ UMC, Myrtle Beach; and Chapin UMC, Chapin.
It affirms current language in the UMC Book of Discipline that states homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, specifically language in Paras. 161.G, 304.3, 341.6, 613.19, 806.9 and 2702.1.
Para. 161.G states, “We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift. Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
“We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status or sexual orientation are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth and adults. We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others and with self.
“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
Para. 304.3 states, “While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
Para. 341.6 states, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
Para. 613.19 states, “To ensure that no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The UMC ‘not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends’. The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. This restriction shall not limit the church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic, nor shall it preclude funding for dialogs or educational events where the church’s official position is fairly and equally represented.”
Para. 806.9 states, “It shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church ‘not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.’ The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. It shall not limit the church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic.”
Para. 2702.1 states that a bishop, clergy member of an annual conference, local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location or diaconal minister may be tried, “When charged with one or more of the following offenses: a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies; c) crime; d) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; g) child abuse; h) sexual abuse; i) sexual misconduct including the use or possession of pornography, j) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; k) racial or gender discrimination; or l) fiscal malfeasance.”
The resolution aligns the conference in full agreement with these positions and resolves that “the members of South Carolina Annual Conference challenge the leaders of the United Methodist Church—lay people, ordained pastors and bishops—to rely on Scripture and not societal pressure to determine the way forward for The United Methodist Church and to abide by the Book of Discipline’s governance of the denomination.”
A Resolution Designating Old Bethel United Methodist Church, Charleston, a United Methodist Historic Site
Submitted by the Commission on Archives and History, this resolution lifts up Old Bethel as
the third oldest church building of any denomination in the city of Charleston and the oldest Methodist structure in the city.
“Old Bethel has long been one of the cornerstones of Methodism in Charleston and in the South Carolina Conference, representing over two centuries of history as well as the transition of African-American Methodism from slavery to freedom,” the resolution notes.
Construction on the building began in 1797 and was completed in 1807 as the sanctuary of Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church. Bethel built a new sanctuary in 1852, moving the old sanctuary to a new site where it was used by the church’s African-American members; it was given to its African-American congregation and moved again to its present location in 1880. Old Bethel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975
The resolution thus designates Old Bethel UMC as a historic site of the South Carolina Annual Conference, to be registered with the General Commission on Archives and History.
Resolution in Support of Just and Inclusive Policy for Lay Volunteers and Lay Staff in Local Church Ministry
Submitted by a variety of United Methodist clergy and laity from churches across South Carolina, this resolution notes that while South Carolina UMCs thrive on qualified laity called to serve the church in volunteer and paid positions, including LGBT members.
“Yet, qualified lay volunteers and employees have been denied or dismissed from their called positions based solely on their sexual orientation,” the resolution alleges.
It further notes some UMCs practice a policy of inquiring about sexual orientation during the interview process and denying employment of called and qualified laity to non-appointed staff positions based on their sexual orientation.
The resolution lifts up the Social Principles of the UMC, specifically language in Paras. 161 and 162, affirming all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God; affirming the right of all people to be free of unwanted aggressive behavior, violence and harmful control tactics; affirming that basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons; and imploring families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. It also lifts up this conference’s resolution approved at Annual Conference 2015 to oppose bullying in all its forms and to create a safe space for all children of God regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, culture, citizenship, socio-economic status, gender identity, sexual orientation and physical or mental ability. It notes lay employees and volunteers of South Carolina UMCs merit the same “safe space” comfort as do other congregants and equal protection from being bullied, singled out, stigmatized or labeled as unfit to serve the church based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It resolves that the South Carolina Annual Conference vow and formally commit to employment and volunteer practices that are aligned with our Social Principles. We will encourage and support local churches’ policies in which qualified laity called to serve the church are placed in and/or dismissed from positions based solely on merit and without regard for sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Resolution to Ensure that Every Child in State Care Receives the Best Possible Care
Submitted by the president and trustees of Epworth Children’s Home, this resolution would have the South Carolina Annual Conference request that Epworth, Thornwell Children’s Home and Connie Maxwell Children’s Home receive exemptions from the Michelle H. lawsuit settlement that relate to the restrictions regarding age, county of origin and length of stay of children in state custody. This is because of these homes’ records of high quality children’s services and outcomes and their national accreditation by the Council of Accreditation.
“During the past 15 years, certain organizations that seek to reform the child welfare system at both the federal and state levels have made the effort through legislative efforts, funding restrictions and class action lawsuits to have as few children as possible in institutional care (children’s homes, group homes),” the resolution notes. “Despite lack of empirical research data, well-funded and politically connected organizations have demonized children’s homes as being harmful to children. They have cherry picked negative incidents and used them as examples to represent all children’s homes, and have used correlations that do not stand up to scrutiny when compared to unbiased research standards.
“This has resulted in legislation and a class action federal lawsuit settlement that severely curtails using children’s homes in South Carolina, no matter how high the quality of services and how excellent the results or outcomes. Our former governor decided not to contest the lawsuit, thus a settlement was signed in 2016 that has brought many unintended, but predictable consequences to many of South Carolina’s most vulnerable children.”
The resolution notes that, because of this, harm has come to children as a result of the impacts of implementation of the Michelle H. Settlement agreement and other directives in South Carolina.
“The ruling of the Michelle H. Settlement shows bias without merit toward high quality, high performing, Level 1 residential group homes like Epworth,” the resolution states, noting these high quality group homes are more intensively trained and supervised, and their care results in positive outcomes above the norm for children who are in state custody.
It notes the Department of Social Services violates its own trauma philosophy and best practices placement disruption philosophy by moving children frequently, dividing sibling groups, placing children in substandard foster homes, placing children far from their homes of origin, placing children in substandard school systems and placing children in the first space available instead of considering which placement is in the best interest of the child.
“Children twelve years of age and younger are moved from one placement to another to satisfy the age restrictions in the Michelle H. Settlement lawsuit causing additional trauma,” the resolution states.
Federal court judge Richard Gergel cited Epworth, Thornwell and Connie Maxwell as the highest performing homes in South Carolina, but granted no exceptions in the settlement with the State of South Carolina, the resolution notes.
In addition to exempting the three homes from the lawsuit settlement, the resolution specifies certain directives, such as that DSS cease placing non-therapeutic children in therapeutic foster parent homes as a solution to meeting the requirements of Michelle H, or refrain from the practice of placing children in the first and or closest bed available without regard to the quality of services. It resolves that sibling groups not be separated unless it is demonstrated through a clinical assessment that it is in the best interest of the sibling group, that the maximum number of children residing in a foster parent home be reduced to six, rather than eight as is now permitted.
It also resolves that Bishop Jonathan Holston appoint a committee of no more than eight people (to include at least two Epworth staff members, two district superintendents and the conference chancellor) to research and provide a plan to help resolve practices in South Carolina that result in unintended negative consequences due to state and federal policies and practices.
Resolution to Support Equal Rights for Israelis and Palestinians Living in What We Call the Holy Land—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea
Submitted by Judith E. Polson, member St. John’s UMC, Anderson, this resolution notes that
Palestinian people living in Israel, Gaza and the Occupied Territories are not equal citizens with Israeli people living in Israel and the Israeli settlements, and Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories are imprisoned unfairly and inhumanely as documented by the United Nations, Amnesty International and many other groups.
“Whereas the people of the West Bank and East Jerusalem have had to endure a military occupation for the past 50 years, and the people of Gaza have had to endure near annihilation of their land, and whereas the people of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem have no real government protection of their civil rights nor their human rights and no representation in a government therefore no freedom, therefore be it resolved that the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church will support equal rights for all in Israel and Palestine.”
Resolutions on church closings and charge-line changes
Annual Conference will also receive resolutions on five church closings: A Resolution Declaring the Closure of Andrews Chapel UMC, Latta; A Resolution Declaring the Closure of Berea UMC, Cordesville; A Resolution Declaring the Closure of Bethel UMC, Greenville; A Resolution Declaring the Closure of St. James UMC, Columbia; and A Resolution Declaring the Closure of Zoar UMC, Sumter.