The 2008 General Conference is over. Did you know that? Most United Methodists are never aware of what goes on in the larger church, so it doesn’t surprise me. But there are momentous decisions that have been made, and we all need to know about it. Otherwise we are “Methodist Mushrooms” – kept in the dark and fed garbage.

Our brothers and sisters from the African Central Conferences have been crucial for a number of years in convincing the other delegates and voting to retain the traditional teachings of the Bible and Wesley. They are the ones who are encouraging those of us in the US to hold on to the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. While the UMC in the USA is in a state of serious decline, the UMC in Africa and Asia is growing by leaps and bounds, due to the faithfulness of their pastors and bishops in preaching the Word of God and not giving in to the sin and blasphemy that is condoned and celebrated in much of the liberal UMC in the United States. We therefore ask God’s continued blessing on the Central Conferences of Africa and Asia.

Here is some of the most important news from the General Conference as e-mailed out by the Confessing Movement. Emphasis is mine.

The key Discipline paragraph, from which other United Methodist positions are based, is Para. 161G in the Social Principles, which states, “we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The debate took place Wednesday, April 30, afternoon and lasted three wrenching hours. The debate included points of order, minority reports, and impassioned speeches. The African delegates spoke frequently. What was finally accepted was a re-writing of Para. 161G which states clearly that sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and the phrase, “we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote was 501-417 (55%- 45%).

After the vote 175 members and friends of Soulforce (a gay and lesbian advocacy group) and the Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist related) stood and sang (and kept singing), “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” as a protest and in an attempt to disrupt the conference. Sympathetic delegates stood with them. 20 of the 40 general agency staff persons also stood (which says something about board and agency staff members). On Friday morning, (after this post was originally written), a massive protest was held on the floor of the convention center by pro-gay demonstrators. See tomorrow’s report for details.

Another very important vote dealt with Para 304.3 on church memberships. The issue was whether the pastor has authority in determining readiness for church membership or whether the “pastor is to faithfully receive all persons willing to take the membership vows” (suggesting the final authority is the person taking the vows). Does the pastor have discretion in matters of membership, or not? Behind the argument is the matter that one pastor who denied membership to a practicing homosexual was relieved of his pulpit and the case went all the way to the Judicial Council. The evangelical argument is that this matter is not about practicing homosexuals but about standards in general.

A minority report prepared by evangelicals and moderates giving clear pastoral authority was rejected 384-515 (43%-57%). Then in an unusual move, the conference rejected also the majority report 436-448 (49%-51%) which stated that persons determine their own readiness. Thus the present statement in the Discipline remains.

Once the crucial motion retaining the words “We do not condone..” was approved other homosexual-related petitions followed suit.

The statement that ministers are not to perform same-sex marriages was retained. The statement that self-avowed practicing homosexuals shall not be ordained or appointed was retained by a vote of 579-338. The statement that apportionment funds will not be used to promote the cause of homosexuality also was retained.

It was evident that the vote of the African conferences was crucial. One African delegate was heard to remark, “Today we saved the church.” Another said, “This is why we are here.”

From the next day’s briefing, here’s a little bit on the pro-homosexual demonstration and the shameful actions of our bishops.

The other “happening” on Thursday (which is being reported in the media) was the demonstration by Soul Force and other homosexual advocacy groups on the floor of the conference which was in response to the conference’s voting to retain the stance on homosexuality. The demonstration was officially clocked at 15 minutes (but timed by others more like 20-25 minutes) and consisted of a number of marchers (one estimate was 250) who sang and circled the floor of the conference. As demonstrations go this one seemed not as disruptive as some before when, for example, police had to be called in to make arrests (including those of demonstrative bishops), the chalice on the altar was smashed (although the table used as an altar in Fort Worth was appropriated for the demonstration), and the demonstrators would not disperse as they promised they would.

Although the rules of the conference indicate that the permission of the conference must be given for persons not delegates to speak or have the floor of the conference, the bishops circumvented the rule by citing another rule that the floor is accessible when the conference is not in session. The presiding bishop simply announced the conference not in session and the demonstrators took over. As in the past a number of bishops stood in solidarity with the demonstrators and one bishop spoke. It was then explained that twelve bishops were in “dialogue” with the demonstrating group. When reported by the official press (UM News Service) the demonstrators were referred to as “witnesses” and the whole event was referred to as “Christian conferencing.”

To put it in another perspective, bishops circumvented the rules of the conference to allow demonstrators, many of whom were not United Methodist, to publicly protest the actions of the conference. Figuring how much the conference is costing, the 20-minutes demonstration used $18,300 of agenda time. The bishops appeared to show much more sympathy for the demonstrators than the delegates (who have been referred to by the demonstrators as doing “spiritual violence” because of the decision). In terms of pain the Africans (with much less experience about such things) are reported to be simply devastated because of actions which appear disrespectful to them and their convictions. And in the end this was all referred to as “Christian conferencing.”

So the church is “saved” for another four years until the next General Conference.

Or is it?