By Billie K. Fidlin, Director of Outreach Ministries & Reserve Lay Delegate
As with every General Conference, the proposed changes to our Social Principles are many and when passed, affect our Conference and local church work on justice issues. Reports and proposed legislation affecting Church & Society comprised over 200 pages for consideration at the 2016 session. Significant changes as noted by the General Board of Church & Society are as follows:
Local churches are encouraged to adopt a policy of zero tolerance for all types of bullying. Remember to include cyber-bullying in your policy. The following statement can guide us in our policy development.
“We affirm the right of all people regardless of gender, socio-economic status, race, religion, disability, age, physical appearance, sexual orientation and gender identity to be free of unwanted aggressive behavior and harmful control tactics.” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-nurturing-community#Bullying)
Many of our local church youth leaders address bullying with our youth regularly. Your Conference Council on Youth Ministry, led by Kim Ogle (St. Mark’s UMC / Tucson) has addressed bullying annually for a number of years now. We must remember that youth are not the only victims of bullying.
Our churches have been asked to work with abusers, helping them (and us) to understand root causes and forms of abuse and to help them overcome negative behaviors. The Principles in Section 161 on Family Violence now reads,
“Regardless of the cause or the abuse, both the victim and the abuser need the love of the church. While we deplore the actions of the abuser, we affirm that person to be in need of God’s redeeming love.” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-nurturing-community#family-violence)
A number of our Conference Outreach teams are already addressing the difficult question of how to be an effective Christian witness and source of help to abusers. Children & Poverty and the Anti-Human Trafficking groups hold this topic of outreach as a priority. But many questions remain, not the least of which is how our churches can fully comply with Safe Sanctuary policies as we minister to abusers.
Our denomination added language to the Social Principles that both defines and denounces pornography. The statement reads,
“We oppose all forms of pornography and consider its use a form of sexual misconduct. Pornography is sexually explicit material that portrays violence, abuse, coercion, domination, humiliation, or degradation for the purpose of sexual arousal.” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-nurturing-community#Pornography)
The Conference Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (Lynn Wallesky – AZ Chair) specifically centered some of its work on this topic and presented at the 2017 West District Leadership event on the link between human trafficking and pornography. Members of the task force and staff Billie Fidlin are available to come to local churches to discuss this grave topic. The reference the group is using is “Pornland” by Gail Dines. Warning: the book is very graphic and a most difficult read; however it is an excellent resource that will provide churches with a complete understanding of the industry.
Paragraph 162.H on Immigration was amended to add a statement opposing all national immigration policies that separate family members or that include detention of families with children. The general church asks that local churches be in ministry with immigrant families.
Our Conference, while historically has been involved in immigration issues for many years, has strongly responded to these same needs with recent actions, some in the planning long before this amendment. Our South District is responding to the needs of immigrants with The Inn Project (https://dscumc.org/2016/12/the-inn-project). Our Immigration Task Force (Ella Rawls, Chair) is in the process of establishing a Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) legal clinic. We will join the network of JFON clinics already established throughout the country. JFON attorneys and volunteers advocate for immigrants on issues of social justice, assist immigrants by providing high-quality immigration services, advocate for immigrant rights, and offer education to communities of faith and the general public. The clinic will be located in the Tucson area. Currently, the team is working on raising sustainable funding for this effort.
- Other significant changes to the Social Principles can be found at https://umc-gbcs.org/faith-in-action/a-summary-of-social-principles-changes-2016-general-conference
- Options for accessing the Book of Discipline are available at http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/is-the-book-of-discipline-available-online
- UMC resources and information on 2016 General Conference
- DSC resources and information on 2016 General Conference