The first revision of Social Principles in the 50-year history of the United Methodist Church was aided by a leader from the Great Plains Conference.
The Rev. Kalaba Chali, mercy and justice coordinator, led a seven-person committee that drafted The Social Community, one of six committees to set forth principles for the denomination. The others were The Community of All Creation, The Nurturing Community, The Political Community, The Economic Community and The World Community.
The conveners of each community, Chali said, were tasked to revise the Social Principles that had not been updated since 1968, to make them more succinct, theologically grounded and globally relevant.
Chali’s group also had to bring them up to date, with references to health care, medical and genetic experimentation, substance abuse, the migrant-immigrant-refugee community and social media.
The Social Principles are recommendations for the denomination, Chali said, and not rules that would appear in the Book of Discipline.
“A principle is kind of a challenge,” Chali said. “We will state what the biblical text affirms, that all creation is good. Then we’re going to calm the brokenness.”
The group first met last July at the General Board of Church and Society office in Washington, D.C., and followed up with video teleconferences monthly.
Chali’s panel included a range of experiences, from seminary professors and biblical scholars to a college student. The biggest disagreement, he said, was over closely following Scripture vs. interpreting Scripture.
Despite disagreements, he said, everyone was respectful of the opposing opinions.
“I was amazed at the level of listening with compassion,” Chali said.
The group did not address LGBT issues and gender identification, items discussed by both the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward. Chali’s group will reconvene following the special session of the General Conference, scheduled for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis.
“We decided not to influence the Way Forward’s suggestions, so let’s hold on to that piece of the principle until they have made a decision at the 2019 conference,” Chali said. “We will follow their lead.”
On April 12, the first draft of the Social Principles became available to the public. After reading it, United Methodists are encouraged to take a survey regarding their opinions.
“This has been a yearslong process, and we are excited about this next step,” the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the Board of Church and Society, told United Methodist News Service. “I am grateful for the hundreds of United Methodists who have devoted time to this endeavor in service to the Church, and urge everyone to read the draft and submit feedback.”
The survey will be open for several months, and the reports eventually will lead to a new draft of Social Principles for consideration at the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis.
“We need a lot of momentum from the people in the pews. The United Methodist Church comes up with the best policy when the laity are involved,” Chali said of the survey. “I am hoping that people take that step seriously, because that way we can improve these principles.”
Chali said he is hoping for opinions regarding social action.
“Our theology as Wesleyan people is that we are people called to personal holiness and social holiness. And social holiness for me is one of the important principles – how do you translate your faith into social action?” he asked.
“The social principles are about the transformation of the world,” he added. “We may pray and sing nicely and listen to a beautiful sermon. But we’re not changing the community in the ways of Jesus Christ. That’s a social principle. It’s not to discipline people, but it’s to empower people to use their faith to challenge a system that is hindering people from living life to the fullest.”
Read more about the Social Principles.
David Burke, communications coordinator, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.