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General Conference Priorities: Revised Social Principles

by Molly Vetter, General Conference delegate from California-Pacific Annual Conference

As we get closer to the 2020 General Conference (which will be held starting in April of 2024), it feels like there is so much at stake. I wanted to share some thoughts about issues that I see as critical for this Conference, and why I think they matter for us. Thanks for listening.

A broad coalition of leaders in the UMC, especially but not exclusively from the US, named three priorities for the General Conference that will convene this April in Charlotte, NC. We call them our 3 “R’s,” and they can be listed in any order: Removing anti-LGBTQ+ statements and policies, approving the Revised Social Principles as offered by our General Board of Church and Society, and adopting a Regionalization plan that allows us to better function as a worldwide church in diverse contexts. 

I share urgency for all three of these needed changes. I’ve been listening and learning to other wise leaders about why these changes are needed, and here is some of what I’ve heard about adopting revised social principles.

Revised Social Principles

Our General Board of Church and Society has given us a great gift: in a multi-year conversation with more than 4,000 United Methodists from around the world, they have reshaped our statement of Social Principles, creating a document that speaks clearly and succinctly, in the voice of a worldwide church. 

This re-write gives us a thoughtful and coherent resource, relevant to our current reality. In a season where our proclamation of the gospel has been diminished by institutional fights, it centers us back in the work that is at the heart of our mission: discipleship in Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world. Choosing to affirm this revision honors that we are committed to living out our faith, with theological grounding, in the voice of a worldwide church.

Since we first approved our Social Creed in 1908, we have affirmed that we are carrying forward John Wesley’s conviction that “there is no holiness but social holiness.” This new articulation of our values, affirmed at this critical juncture in the life of our denomination, rightly focuses us, together, on this Christ-like work of loving our neighbors. Our existing Social Principles, written and revised through General Conferences over the intervening decades, are dominated by a US-centric perspective; our process for revision requires editing to happen paragraph by paragraph, and this revision was able to look more comprehensively at the whole of the document. It gives us a new point to start from, one that is much more representative of who we are today.

As I read the Revised Social Principles, I find several places where I find the language a little uncomfortable–it does not speak exactly to where I am, or how I think. I believe this is part of their gift: they are not just a list of values, but a theological document that we are invited to engage, study, and talk about. I am aware of the considered way it was written, with input from across our denomination and around the world; I appreciate the significance of the gift of this rewrite, as it gives us a new starting point for conferencing about issues that matter for our faith–it moves us a great step forward in speaking for the whole of the church. 

I am appreciative of Rev. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, clergy member of our Cal-Pac Annual Conference and Dean Emerita of the Boston University School of Theology, who served as Chair of the Revision Editorial Team. Hearing her speak about the care with which they looked at emerging common themes, and also gave repeated attention to individual comments that stood alone in the conversations, is inspiring. What a gift to us: this care for the whole statement, with all its pieces held together.

Approving the Revised Social Principles as they are proposed also deletes the anti-LGBTQ+ statement that has been used as a foundation for the enforceable policies against gay clergy and same-sex weddings that were added later, to other sections in our Discipline. Since 1972, we have been fighting over these particular, outdated, harmful words. We are all tired of the fight (no one more so than our LGBTQ+ kin, whose very belonging in the body of Christ they question). I appreciate how this Revised Social Principles document starts our conversation about sexuality from a new place; I believe that the only way to get past our division over these words is to change this harmful statement that has been used as a weapon against members of our own communities.

More broadly, I hope that we will adopt these revisions as proposed, without much amendment, as a way of affirming that we hope to be a new church moving forward. The future of our witness will require us to work through issues that matter by listening to one another, and by engaging in conversation across the diversities of our worldwide church. This is what the team who authored these Revised Social Principles has done. I affirm the work, and hope we will learn new ways like to work together constructively in a sort of Christian Conferencing that is less restricted by parliamentary procedure and more open to listening to one another.

This is the second of three planned posts in our series on the three priorities. The first post is available here: Removing Anti-LGBTQ+ Statements and Policies.

Related links:

Revised Social Principles for General Conference Charlotte 2024 (UMC Justice)

Webinar with Rev. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, Dr. Randall Miller, and leaders from the General Board of Church and Society:

There will be a local briefing in Cal-Pac hosted by our Methodist Federation for Social Action on Feb 24 at Holman UMC in Los Angeles (with online options):