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By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

Debates on homosexuality and church structure may have captured the bulk of attention, but that’s not all United Methodists did at their General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
They also heard addresses from the famous (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia) and a father of the famous (Bill Gates Sr.).
By the time the two-week conference wrapped up on Friday (May 2) Methodists, including almost 1,000 lay and ordained delegates, had sifted through more than 1,500 proposed resolutions.
Debate and “holy conferencing” lasted long into the night, leaving many a delegate bleary-eyed.
When all was said and done, the 11.5 million-member church largely upheld its status quo on sexuality issues. It will continue to declare homosexual practice “incompatible with Christian teaching,” ban gay clergy from Methodist pulpits, and bar ministers from celebrating liturgical rites for same-sex unions.
However, delegates did agree to condemn homophobia, and to allow a church agency to develop materials to assist local churches on the issue.
Methodists did not take action to remove transgender pastors from ministry, meaning the Rev. Drew Phoenix, who transitioned from female to male about two years ago, may continue as pastor of his Baltimore congregation.
Among other actions taken by Methodists at the General Conference:
— Voted down petitions seeking selective divestment of church funds from companies that profit from products or services that “cause harm to Israelis and Palestinians, or support “Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.”
— Continued the church’s 35-year membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
— Elected the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe as the first female president of the Judicial Council, the church’s supreme court; four others were elected to join her on the nine-member court.
— Refined the church’s mission statement to read: “The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
— Planned to reduce the number of bishops in four of the church’s five geographic jurisdictions in the U.S. by 2012.
— Approved the creation of a hymnal revision committee, which will report back in 2012, and a new “companion litany,” for the church’s social creed.
— Opened the door for dramatic changes to how the church governs itself, allowing more input from African and Asian jurisdictions, which are rapidly growing.
— Approved full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, allowing the nation’s two largest mainline Protestant churches to support each other’s ministries and possibly share clergy.
— Raised the mandatory retirement age for bishops from 68 to 70 years old.
— Formally received the Cote d’Ivoire delegation as full members.
— Approved a $462 million budget for the next four years.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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