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Board wants church to emphasize Social Principles in 2005-08


NOTE: A sidebar, UMNS #474, is available with this report.

HERNDON, Va. (UMNS) - By putting a four-year emphasis on the United Methodist Social Principles, a church agency is aiming to make the historic but changing document a household term with denomination members around the world.

As the church approaches the 100th anniversary of its Social Creed in 2008, the denomination's social advocacy agency wants to remind members that the creed and its successor, the Social Principles, have often played a prophetic role in U.S. social issues, such as in advocating the abolition of child labor.

The agency also wants to support the church's members throughout the world in adapting the document to their own situations. A plan to achieve these goals was endorsed by voting members of the Board of Church and Society during an Oct. 10-13 meeting.

The Social Creed began as a short declaration calling for "equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life," worker safety, "release from employment one day in seven," workers' rights to arbitration in industrial disputes, an end to sweatshops, "a living wage" and other predominantly work-related issues. It asked for "recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society." The creed led the way for almost a century of resolutions and pronouncements about social ills.

Dissemination and study of the Social Principles is one of four new or expanded ministries that the board has approved for submission to General Conference, the denomination's highest legislative body. Funding for those programs also will be included in the board's budget request to General Conference, which meets in Pittsburgh in 2004. However, before the assembly convenes, the board's proposed budget for 2005-2008 - like that of all the church agencies - will be subject to the sifting and sorting process of the denomination's financial agency.

The board will request $2 million in funding for the four-year Social Principles program, which will comprise several projects in the areas of Christian formation, covenant leadership and doctrinal and theological discussion.

Specific projects include printing and distributing 1 million copies of the Social Principles in several of the languages used at General Conference; conducting a regional gathering on teaching the document in each jurisdiction and central conference; providing a global conference for youth and young adults; producing Web and video teaching resources; commissioning a text on the Social Principles to be used in colleges and seminaries; and hosting consultations and joint projects on expression and application in central conferences.

Promoting education and advocacy around HIV/AIDS issues will be another priority for the board in the coming four-year period, or quadrennium. The agency will seek $500,000 for a new program addressing that concern.

The board's proposed budget also includes $500,000 to support the church's efforts to eliminate the death penalty. Funding would allow the board to supply grants to annual conferences in the five states that have the highest numbers of people on death row. The board also proposes to hold a summit on death penalty, restorative justice and victims' rights.

At its spring meeting, the board decided to beef up its work on drug and alcohol issues by hiring a full-time worker to replace the part-time person then employed. The proposed budget would allow the agency to hire another full-time person to work with annual conferences, as well as provide funding for a convocation of annual conference leaders on substance abuse issues.

This fall, the board decided that gambling and pornography are addictive behaviors like alcohol and drug abuse. An additional $610,000 is being requested to address those four concerns, which will constitute one work area for the board during the 2005-2008 period.

Current budgets are designed to force agencies to spend down their reserves, and board staff said they believe their agency has done that. The proposed budget for the coming quadrennium seeks restoration of funding through the World Service budget category to its 2000 level, plus additional funds for the new and expanded programs.

Other board actions also were geared to the next General Conference. The agency will propose changing the wording of part of the church's constitution that relates to inclusiveness. In the list of things that must not be barriers to membership, the board is seeking to add disability and mental status.

Several changes to the Social Principles were approved for proposal to General Conference, including the addition of a paragraph affirming the importance of international trade and investment in an interdependent world. A paragraph supporting the separation of church and state is being offered for addition to the section on "The Political Community."

The board is seeking to add advocacy for adequate funding to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic to the paragraph on "Persons Living with HIV and AIDS." "Neurological conditions" is a phrase board members want to see added to the list of disabilities found in the paragraph on the "Rights of Persons with Disabilities."

In the Right to Health Care, the board is recommending specifying mental health conditions, and adding references to public health care crises and the need for access to reproductive health and family planning information and services. The board also would like to see a recommendation to make treatment for mental illness available with treatment for substance abuse.

A proposal to delete a sentence on late-term abortion from the Social Principles was discussed but did not win the necessary votes to become a board recommendation.

Resolutions that General Conference passed in 1992 and 1996 will expire automatically under a rule passed in 2000 unless they are readopted. The board decided that it would not revise about a dozen that were no longer relevant. It focused instead on updating about two dozen, dealing with such diverse topics as terrorism, homelessness in the United States, Okinawa, Vieques and global HIV/AIDS. The revision work will continue at the board's next meeting in March.

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