Sunday, June 5, 2011

Worldwide Book of Discipline

The Study Committee on The Worldwide Nature Of The Church has posted a proposed General Conference petition on their website.  The accompanying press release explains that the intention of the petition is to streamline The Book of Discipline by identifying the sections that apply to the entire denomination and the sections that can be adapted to better fit regional contexts.

Reading about the committee's work has motivated me to get to work on an article idea I've been contemplating for more than a year.  I read The Book of Discipline through an interpretive framework I call the Six P's of United Methodist Polity.  Every paragraph of the BOD can fit into at least one of these six categories:
  1. Principles-- Many sections of the BOD begin with a statement on UM theology or principles.  For example, ¶701 is a statement on the principle of connectionalism.  Of course all of Part II and Part IV could be included in this category.  Every paragraph that reflects on UM theology should be retained in the worldwide BOD.  Paragraphs on social principles could be adapted by regions.
  2. Plan-- The Organizational Plan of the UMC at the General, Central, Jurisdictional, Annual, District, and Local levels is set out in the BOD.  The paragraphs in the Constitution should apply to the whole denomination.  Regions should be able to design an organizational structure that enhances ministry in their unique settings.
  3. Purpose-- Part III begins with a statement of purpose, ¶120 "The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."  The purpose served by local church committees and General Agencies is also detailed in the BOD.  As long as a purpose statement is consistent with the general mission of the UMC, regions should be able to edit paragraphs related to the purpose of the various parts of their organizational structure.
  4. Personnel-- The make-up of the different committees of the church is stipulated in the BOD.  These paragraphs identify who should be on the committees, the ratio of men and women, young adults, and youth that should constitute the membership of a committee.  A general statement on the principle of inclusive personnel should apply to the entire denomination.
  5. Powers-- After identifying an organizational entity of the church, its purpose and personnel, paragraphs then follow that explain the group's authority, for example ¶1303 explains the objectives of the General Board of Global Ministries.  Similar to the paragraphs on Plan, each region should write its own paragraphs on the powers of the committees that constitute the organizational plan at the regional through local level.
  6. Procedure-- My impression is that most of the paragraphs in the BOD deal with the procedures a group is to follow in order to fulfill its responsibilities, however I have not counted to what percentage of the paragraphs would be a part of this category.  I find the Procedures paragraphs to be the most contingent.  Perhaps a general statement on the principle of transparency could apply to every level of the church.  A detailed, step-by-step set of instructions that tells a group how it is to carry out its work is impractical and can hinder rather than help ministry initiatives.
When I write my article (!) I will focus on the Procedure paragraphs, discuss their purpose and function in the BOD, and recommend ways to shorten these sections and thus reduce the size of the Book of Discipline.

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