Annual Conference passes legislation on immigration, redistricting evaluation, more

By Allison Trussell

FLORENCE – Immigration reform, redistricting evaluation, AIDS and other key pieces of legislation fueled much debate during the five days of Annual Conference.

The Committee on Resolutions offered three resolutions Wednesday for information and reference, and the body voted on them Friday morning; the committee recommended concurrence on each. And while lengthy debate ensued on two of the three resolutions, members of Annual Conference ultimately agreed to support them.

Evaluating number of districts

The first resolution brought before the conference was “A Resolution to Develop a Task Force to Evaluate the Current Number of Districts in the South Carolina Annual Conference,” authored by the Rev. John Culp, pastor of Virginia Wingard UMC, Columbia. The committee recommended concurrence.

The Rev. Gary Phillips, pastor of John Wesley UMC, Charleston, stood to oppose the resolution, citing argumentative language and presupposition within it. Culp defended the resolution, stating, “We’re asking for a study. … Every business or corporation needs to have occasional evaluations. We cannot be a maintenance church.”

Rev. Karen Upson, pastor of the South Anderson Charge, Anderson, opposed the resolution, stating that decreasing the number of districts can have hidden costs that don’t come into focus until after the decision is made.

“I like 12 districts, working with 12, and there were 12 with Christ,” Upson said.

Denise Fleming, from Canaan-Sand Hill Charge, Ridgeville, wondered what was wrong with establishing a task force and getting information, while Rev. Paul Harmon, Spartanburg District superintendent, pointed out that such a task force exists within the cabinet and extended cabinet.

During the report of the Cabinet earlier, the Rev. Sara White, superintendent of the Rock Hill District, remarked indirectly on the resolution: ˆ“We fear that if we decrease the number of districts in South Carolina, we would not be able to be with you at all, that we would only see you when there is a conflict, we would only see when it is too late,” White said. “There would be no way to form the larger relationships required to live into the new world. ... To increase the distance between the district superintendents and local congregations will hurt that connection even more. Ultimately, the role of the cabinet in the Annual Conference is crucial only when we have those relationships formed.”

The Rev. Willie Teague, director of Connectional Ministries, offered an amendment to the resolution, deleting the presumption of the conclusion of the task force. He also took the opportunity to remind the body that we need to “stop trying to fix the problem at the top and address problems where they are. And the problem is that we’re not adequately equipping churches, we’re not helping them.”

Culp said he was willing to accept the amendment, and the body adopted it. With that, the body turned its attention to the amended resolution.

Liz Patterson, a member from Central UMC, Spartanburg, and a former member of the S.C. Legislature, noted that the states are required to consider redistricting every decade to accommodate population shifts.

Emily Rogers, youth representative from the Charleston District and a member of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, asked about the $5,000 requested in the resolution. “Is that included in the budget that’s been presented?” she asked. Tony Prestipino, conference treasurer, said it was not included, and the 2012 budget would have to be adjusted.

The resolution was supported, and funds were moved from the Contingency Fund to Fund 7 (Administrative Committees) to accommodate the $5,000.

20/20 Visioning and AIDS-Free World Campaign

This resolution urged the 2012 S.C. Annual Conference to take a special offering to support the UM Global AIDS Fund (Advance #982345). The resolution, authored by Culp, was supported without discussion.

Immigration reform

The third resolution addressed by the Committee on Resolutions was “A Resolution for Immigration Reform.” It called for the conference to “call upon all United Methodist congregations to study the biblical basis of hospitality to all … and to advocate for the comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system”; to welcome newly arrived persons in their communities; and to deliver a copy of the resolution to the S.C. Legislature.

Betty Walker, chair of the committee, said it concurred based on Para. 162 of the Social Principles, and the floor was open for the lengthy discussion that arose.

Becky Garris, from Mount Prospect UMC, Richburg, had concerns that there are Native Americans who have not been able to be recognized and have churches, but that S.C. does support them as well as Hispanic and other peoples in Christian love. When questioned whether she was amending the resolution, she responded that it was a statement.

The Rev. Michael Rouse, pastor of Main Street UMC, Dillon, said this resolution didn’t portray an accurate picture of immigration: “There is a criminal element of illegal immigration that we don’t want to consider, but we cannot hide our faces from it.”

The Rev. Emily Sutton, pastor of the West Columbia Hispanic Ministry, corrected the body in its language. “‘Illegals’ is a hate term,” she cautioned. “We prefer ‘undocumented.’ As a pastor of immigrants, we need to see them as children of God who are trying to raise a family and are working in our communities, bringing diversity to our state and our churches.”

Dot Scott, St. Thomas Charge, Huger, agreed: “How dare we as Christians stand up and be so vehemently opposed to this? I know our problems aren’t illegals, it’s the businesses that allow the criminals and their methods.”

Larry Shuler, Providence UMC, Providence, agreed with Rouse: “These people are breaking the laws of our borders, working illegally. … The bottom line is they’re breaking the law, and I don’t think we should do this.”

With three statements for and three against, Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor called for the vote. Carroll Player from the Florence District made a motion to postpone the vote to give people a chance to read and understand the resolution. The resolution was not in the pre-conference packets and had been left on information tables for members to pick up. After some discussion, the motion was defeated.

The Rev. Bob Howell, Bethany UMC, Summerville, offered an amendment, deleting the first resolved: “that the S.C. Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church call upon all United Methodist congregations to study the biblical basis of hospitality to all … and to advocate for the comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system.”

Calling this “our Confederate flag issue du jour,” Howell pointed out that we often divide the church over things we are not controlling. “I do not want us to get into the business of creating legal arguments.”

Opposition to the amendment focused on the responsibility of the Church to speak against injustice and for the poor. With a standing vote too close to call, Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor called for a written ballot.

After the lunch break, the written ballot was reported, and the Howell amendment was defeated 550-520.

Because previous discussion had covered the maximum three statements for and three against, Taylor c
alled the question. Again, a standing vote was too close to call, and a second written ballot was taken. The resolution for immigration reform prevailed, 543-501.

Other resolutions

The Conference Board of Global Ministries brought a resolution to recognize the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission as the official agency for sending volunteer mission teams from the conference. “We want to make sure everyone has the opportunities for proper training and support,” said the Rev. Michael Henderson, chairman. The resolution was supported.

The Trustees of the Annual Conference brought a resolution to authorize the use of unattributed funds now in trustee custody. It was approved. The trustees also brought a resolution approving the disposition of funds from the sale of the discontinued Spring Branch UMC in Marion District. It was approved.

Three churches were discontinued in separate resolutions. The Rev. Tim McClendon, Columbia District superintendent, brought these resolutions for Beulah UMC, Anderson District; Black Creek UMC, Charleston District; and Sharon UMC, Anderson District and called this time “a holy moment and a poignant moment for the churches that will be discontinued.”

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