United Methodists Accept New Litany as Part of Social Creed
by Christie R. House
Fort Worth, TX, May 2, 2008--The United Methodist Church, on the last day of its 2008 General Conference, celebrated the 100th anniversary of its Social Principles, which are guidelines for the social behavior of its members and institutions. Earlier in the meeting it adopted a litany to accompany a denominational Social Creed, which stands at the conclusion of the principles.
The initial plan was to update and replace the Social Creed, but delegates to the General Conference, which meets every four years, decided to retain a creed approved in 1972, and accept the new document as a litany for public worship. The litany was developed by the denomination's General Board of Church and Society.
History of the Social Principles
The United Methodist Social Principles date back to 1908. The original principles, incorporating 11 points, were developed by Harry F. Ward and colleagues in the "social gospel" movement, as the platform of the Methodist Federation for Social Service. The 1908 Methodist Episcopal General Conference meeting in Baltimore adopted the document in its entirety.
Efforts to end child labor and worker abuse and support for the formation of workers' unions topped the concerns of the first Social Principles. The platform called for equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
Shortly thereafter, The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church also endorsed the Social Principles. In 1968, upon creation of The United Methodist Church, the basic beliefs for the Evangelical United Brethren Church provided a new framework for the Social Creed. The Methodist Federation for Social Service later became the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
The 2004 General Conference designated the current quadrennium as a time for celebration and study of the Social Creed and the Social Principles, leading up to its 100th anniversary.
Availability of the Social Creed
In 2004, the General Board of Church and Society created a small task force of six people under the leadership of Bishop Susan Morrison to rewrite the Social Creed for the 2008 celebration. Bishop Morrison retired in 2006 and Bishop Jane Middleton filled in to direct the committee's work. The task force perceived that the current Social Creed was not being used as originally intended. According to The Book of Discipline, 2004, the intention was that the Social Creed be "continually available to United Methodist Christians and that it be emphasized regularly in every congregation." The text does not appear in The Book of Worship or The United Methodist Hymnal. As written, it does not particularly lend itself to liturgical reading.
The task force's first consideration was to make the creed more "user friendly," in the form of a litany that congregations could use in worship. Its second concern was to make sure it reflected the global nature of the church, and to do that, the task force called together focus groups in Norway, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Philippines to review the creed and refine its language.
Bishop Middleton explained that the Apostles' Creed is a "vertical" document that describes our relationship with God. The Social Creed is a "horizontal" document, "our marching orders for how we carry out our task of relating to mother earth and others in this creation. We are to be persons of mercy and justice in this world."
New Social Creed Litany Set to Music
A number of different musical settings have been composed for the new Social Creed litany. The Rev. Grace Cajiuat, of Appleton, Wisconsin, led the General Conference in singing a version composed by Carol Simpson, director of contemporary music and outreach ministries in Glendora, Calif. The task force envisioned the litany being sung in many different cultural settings to different melodies and instrumentation, depending on the context of the worshiping congregation. They hoped to inspire hip-hop, rock, and folk renditions.
Ultimately, the goal of the Social Creed is to motivate church members to act in areas of social concern, to follow the scriptural mandate of Micah 6:8, "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."
* Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine, a publication of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: May 02, 2008