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Women's Division and United Methodist Women Face The Challenges at General Conference

Kelly Martini
Executive secretary for communications
Women's Division
General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church

475 Riverside Drive, #1501
New York, NY 10115

The challenge was two-fold for United Methodist Women and the Women’s Division at the General Conference Conference of United


The challenge was two-fold for United Methodist Women and the Women’s Division at the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. 


First, the Division brought several petitions around women’s and children’s issues before the legislative body with the hope of action and support from the denomination.  Second, the work of United Methodist Women and the Women’s Division as a lay women’s organization with separate funds and members was at risk as opponents tried to make changes to organizational structures and funding in subtle ways.


United Methodist Women met the challenges, however, with Conference votes that supported the issues and the work of the 1-million member organization.


The Issues


Among the issues submitted to and approved by General Conference was a petition on Greed.  It stated: ‘human greed and hard-heartedness… not a scarcity of resources… cause most of the human suffering and material desperation in this world.  Greed is seen in both personal practices and in economic and political systems. Greed manifests itself in inhumane practices toward our neighbors.’  In response, General Conference passed a resolution to address the issue with specific actions.


Understanding that the United States cannot act alone, the Conference passed ‘In Defense of International Law and Multilateralism.’  The resolution says the world is faced with an unprecedented global environmental crisis, a devastating economy, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and gross human rights violations.  The Church agreed that the United States should not act alone on the issues.


The Conference also voted approval on ‘Compensation for Comfort Women,’ which was a resolution responding to the enslavement of more than 200,000 women from Korea, Malaysia, Burma, China, Taiwan, East Timor, Indonesia and the Pacific Islands by the Japanese government during World War II.  Among other things, it urges United Methodists to be supportive of the struggle and the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal.


The resolution on Privatization, approved by the Conference, stated: “’Corporate interests are rushing to privatize many of the resources of the earth -- water, energy, education, natural plants, human and animal genes, cultures and public services such as social security, health care and public safety.’  The overwhelming approval of the resolution calls the Church to action in areas of economic justice, including challenging and changing International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and World Trade organization; questioning billions of dollars spent for private companies to take over public resources in poor countries; and education and advocacy on the issue.


With the world’s 6 billion inhabitants using 54% of all accessible water, the Church approved a resolution that will protect the valuable resource.  The majority vote affirmed that water is a human right; encourages strategies to protect it; demands that misuse, abuse and pollution stop; and advocates access to safe drinking water for all people.


General Conference also approved four racial justice petitions from the Division – reparations for African Americans, Affirmative Action, Global Racism and Xenophobia, and Environmental Racism.


The reparations, environmental racism, and affirmative action petitions were revisions and updates of existing resolutions.


The Global Racism and Xenophobia resolution acknowledges the United Nations principles dealing with racism and xenophobia.  It urges studies of the issue, inclusiveness at all levels of church and society, an abolition of child labor, and advocacy around human rights abuses of migrant workers and others, most of whom are women.


The Conference came together on the issue of teens at suicide risk because of struggles with sexual identity.


On May 6, the General Conference agreed to put $375,000 toward the Women’s Division resolution, ‘Teen Sexual Identity and Suicide Risk.’ The resolution cites federal studies documenting that youth suicide rates have increased while adult rates have stabilized or decreased. 


The study also shows that teens dealing with issues of sexual identity are two to three times more likely than other youth to attempt suicide.


The funding will help a United Methodist task force with research, to publish educational materials, and to suggest resources and programs for families, congregations and pastors on the issue.


The General Conference approved additions and revisions to three more existing resolutions.  These changes give more current data and make the issues more applicable to today.  The resolutions are Rape in Times of Conflict and War, The Status of Women, and Environmental Justice for a Sustainable Future.


United Methodist Women and Women’s Division Under Attack


United Methodist Women and their ministry with women, children and youth were challenged at the denomination’s General Conference on May 6.  United Methodist Women prevailed as the General Conference voted down a petition that many felt was meant to undermine women’s work in the Church.


The challenge came with a petition, supported by the unofficial United Methodist Renew network, that added to the book of Discipline, ‘In every local church, there may be an organized women’s ministry or ministries that address the program needs and desires of local church women.’


The minority report stated that their change to The United Methodist Book of Discipline was for women looking for other ministries and that local women felt ‘intimidated’ by the present wording of The Discipline. 


Supporters of United Methodist Women stated that the petition was meant to undermine the work of the 1-million member organization.


Anna Kelsey Powell, 20, presented the statement concerning the local church committee’s recommendation.


‘The issue as the committee saw it has to do with a system of accountability,’ said Ms. Kelsey Powell.  She pointed out that the organizations supported by the Church have a system of accountability.  The Women’s Division, like other official organizations within the denomination, adhere to the rules and regulations as determined by the General Council on Finance and Administration and as defined in The Discipline.


‘The language that is there [in the minority report] is unnecessary,’ said Ms. Kelsey Powell.


Ms. Kelsey Powell read existing paragraph 255.8 from The Discipline which states:  ‘The organized unit of United Methodist Women shall encourage all women to participate in the total life and work of the Church and shall support them in assuming positions of responsibility and leadership.’


‘This means that the needs of all women can be met,’ she said.


Two local people also submitted a petition to the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, supporting the work of United Methodist Women and the Women’s Division.  The result was overwhelming as the petition became a resolution of the denomination on May 5 by a margin of 835 to 26.


The petition was submitted by Leo W. Curry of White Plains, NY and Sharon Davis of Walnut Creek United Methodist Women in Walnut Creek, Cal.


According to the petition, the Women’s Division for 135 years has been doing educational ministries, outreach, work for justice and peace, mission at home and abroad, and continued solidarity for women, children and youth.


‘The Women's Division continues to be at the heart of the denomination's missionary movement by working with Bible women, missionaries and deaconesses and to function as an integral structure and administrative entity with the General Board of Global Ministries,’ says the resolution.


The resolution asked that the General Conference reject the attacks on the Women’s Division, affirm the organization’s faithful service to Christ, and uphold the current structure of United Methodist Women and the Women’s Division. 


General Conference overwhelmingly agreed, supporting the resolution.


The Conference Celebrates United Methodist Women


135 years of mission with women, children and youth was the focus of the speech by United Methodist Women’s Division president, Genie Bank, before General Conference on Monday, May 3.   The speech – the first by a Women’s Division president in the history of General Conference – preceded a video made for the anniversary. 


Hundreds of women also flocked to the 135th anniversary gathering, sharing stories and experiences in United Methodist Women.  The majority of women there had a story about how the organization had given them leadership skills -- making it possible for them to lead in Church, in the General Conference arena, at home, and in society.


United Methodist Women is a one-million member organization whose purpose is to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice.  Members raise around $25 million a year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world.






See Also...

Topic: Advocacy Children Civil rights Economy Environment Finance General Conference Health Resolutions of the UMC United Methodist Church Women
Geographic Region: ChinaEast TimorIndonesiaKoreaMyanmar-Burma
Source: WD Press Releases
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Date posted: May 12, 2004