Face of Unity or Mask over Difference?
The Social Principles in the Central
of The United Methodist Church
Darryl W. Stephens
The Social Principles appear to present a face of unity on social issues
for The United Methodist Church (UMC). This paper compares and contrasts six
contemporaneous statements of social ethics in the UMC in four different
languages, illustrating the variety of stances on social issues in this global
institution. Examples cited in this paper are thematically grouped around the
issues of homosexuality, marriage, and divorce. Shown is that the face of unity
implied by the General Conference Social Principles masks global differences of
procedure, polity, and practice within the UMC. The significance of this
comparison is threefold: (1) the existence of these diverse documents is little
known within U.S. United Methodism; (2) such a comparison has never before been
published; (3) the polity guidelines allowing for such diversity of social
teachings provide constructive possibilities for thinking about denominational
unity and division.
“Naturalmente, la Disciplina es el producto genuino de mentes pensantes en
inglés, con sus patrones de pensamiento angloamericano.”
– Reinaldo Toledo, Traductor y Editor de Disciplina de la Iglesia
Metodista Unida, 2000
If the average person in the United States heard anything in the news about
the 2004 General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) in session in
April and May of 2004, she heard two things: homosexuality and division.
Homosexuality was not the only social issue debated at General Conference, just
the most highly publicized by the media. Among the items
considered in conference debate were whether to retain the church’s condemnation
of “the practice of homosexuality” as “incompatible with Christian teaching,”
and whether to adopt the statement, “We support laws in civil society that
define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” As an observer at
General Conference, I witnessed many hours of committee deliberation centered
around just these two statements. Delegates from around the world voted on what
they understood to be the official, authoritative United Methodist declaration
on these issues. In these two cases, the United Methodist 2004 General
Conference decided favorably for both.
What is the broader relevance of this intra-denominational skirmish in The
United Methodist Church? Religious historian Nathan Hatch ventures that
Wesleyans are “quintessentially American,” offering “insight into the distinct
[historical] character of religious life in the United States.”
I extend Hatch’s idea by claiming that The United Methodist Church, as it
becomes increasingly global and diverse, offers
distinctive insight into the character of other religious institutions in the
United States, especially as it grapples with divisive issues such as
homosexuality. As the world-wide Anglican Communion struggles with the recent
ordination of U.S. Bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay and living in a
partnered relationship, and as U.S. Roman Catholics argue the morality of voting
for a presidential candidate who advocates for the right to abortion, the UMC
also struggles with divisive social issues. Each of these religious institutions
grapples with the challenge of deciding policies on matters of social ethics
amidst an increasingly diverse constituency. The polity of The United Methodist
Church suggests one model for maintaining institutional unity amidst divisive
A Primer on United Methodist Polity
Each General Conference attempts to present a denominational face of unity by
legislating the official United Methodist stance on a number of social issues.
The contentious United Methodist debates covered by the media occur at a meeting
called General Conference, which is a quadrennial gathering of 1000 delegates
from around the world. General Conference meets for a period of two weeks every
four years and is the only body with the authority to speak for The United
Methodist Church as a whole. It is this body that
legislates changes to the book of law of The United Methodist Church – The
Book of Discipline. The Discipline is a record “of how United
Methodists agree to live their lives together.” Official
denominational social teachings, on issues such as homosexuality, marriage, and
divorce are found in the part of the Discipline called the Social Principles.
Included in this document are over 60 sections of material on various issues of
social and ethical responsibility, organized under six major headings.
The Social Principles are designed to be revised and updated. For example,
thirty-five years ago The United Methodist Church did not sanction or condone
divorce except on the ground of adultery and would not conduct weddings of
divorced persons, except for the innocent party in a case of adultery.
Today, the United Methodist Social Principles describe divorce as “a regrettable
alternative in the midst of brokenness” and declare that “Divorce does not
preclude a new marriage.” Since the UMC describes the
Social Principles as their “most recent official summary of stated convictions
that seek to apply the Christian vision of righteousness to social, economic,
and political issues,” readers are led to believe that it
is the sole, current statement of Social Principles in the UMC. However, this
apparent face of unity belies another aspect of the document’s flexibility.
The Social Principles are adaptable across cultures. While the General
Conference version is the only version that speaks for the denomination as a
whole, it is, strictly speaking, only binding on United Methodists in the
Jurisdictional (U.S.) Conferences. Outside of the United
States, United Methodists are organized into seven different Central
Conferences: Northern Europe, Germany, Central and Southern Europe, Africa, West
Africa, Congo, and the Philippines. The Central
Conferences provide a critical window into the institution of The United
Methodist Church because of an important and peculiar aspect of denominational
polity. These conferences may adapt and change the wording of the Social
Principles as legislated by General Conference to fit their own cultural,
ethnic, economic, and political setting. Thus, the hotly
contested statements on homosexuality and marriage presumed to be ‘settled’ at
General Conference (at least for the current quadrennium) are actually not the
last official word in the church on these issues. To the extent that the General
Conference version of Social Principles functions as a face of unity for the
denomination, it also functions as a mask over differences within this
At this point, I think it wise to alert the reader to a significant
institutional commitment related to the function of this mask, namely the myth
of democracy. The United Methodist Church, at many points in its history, has
voiced its faith in and commitment to democratic principles.
Clashing with this democratic ethos is a polity that allows the international
delegates at General Conference to vote on legislation that is not directly
binding on them or the conferences they represent. Of course, one might
counter-argue that democracy is an ideal that can rarely be achieved in
practice. However, by using the word “myth”, I am primarily pointing to the
internal perception of this polity in relation to actual practice; namely, there
is much institutional self-deception about the degree of democracy in the UMC.
As I speak with United Methodist clergy and leaders from around the United
States, I find that very few of them are aware of the power of the Central
Conferences to adapt the Discipline. This ignorance is institutionally
systemic. The documents compared in this paper are not available at the
denominational archives, publishing house, Council of Bishops, or even the
general board responsible for implementing the Social Principles.
The face of unity implied by the General Conference version of Social
Principles might be a mask over more than just differences on social teachings
within the church. A commitment to a deeply seated, institutional myth might be
at stake, if not the reality of denominational unity itself. Exploring the
variety of Social Principles currently in effect in the Central Conferences is
one way to unmask the differences that characterize the social teachings within
this institution and, by implication, the actual nature of denominational unity
as it exists in practice. This paper proceeds by contrasting several European
and one African version of United Methodist social teachings, on the issues of
homosexuality, marriage, and divorce, with the Social Principles approved by
General Conference. I conclude by suggesting that it is
just this peculiarity of polity (and perhaps also the general institutional
ignorance of this aspect of polity) that provides The United Methodist Church
the institutional flexibility necessary to remain unified as an institution
despite social and cultural differences as it becomes increasingly global in
character and composition.
The Social Principles in Europe
This section of the paper is based on a comparison of the General Conference
Social Principles with four contemporaneous versions of the Social Principles
from United Methodist conferences in Europe, each in a different language:
English, Russian, French, and German. Each of these
versions is unique, and all are different from the General Conference version.
However, each strictly adopts the structure and format of the General Conference
version of Social Principles, utilizing almost identical headings and section
titles. Alterations to the original General Conference version are confined to a
rather narrow set of parameters. In only two instances is a section of text
completely rewritten. In only one case is a topic
entirely omitted: the German 2000 version inexplicably leaves out the section
introduced by General Conference 2000 entitled “Persons Living with HIV and
AIDS”. For the most part, these European translations all
tend to honor the General Conference text, conserving its theological flavor and
human-rights idiom. In no case did I encounter a European introducing a topic
not covered in the General Conference version of Social Principles.
Divergence from the original General Conference version is most often expressed
through a very restricted set of editorial functions: small additions or
deletions of text, alteration of single words or phrases, retention of old text,
and rearrangement of material.
Minor addition of text is the primary means of alteration used by the
Northern Europe English version of Social Principles, which is the most closely
aligned to the General Conference version of any of the European versions here
discussed. The Northern Europe English 2001 text includes only six small
additions and changes to the General Conference 2000 text, all of which are
judiciously footnoted. In total, less than 50 words of this 10,000 word document
have been changed. None of these changes affect the church’s stance on
homosexuality, marriage, or divorce.
The Russian and German texts differ from the General Conference 2000 version
to a much greater degree than the Northern European English version.
Undocumented deletion of General Conference material is the most significant
means of alteration employed by the Russian edition, a practice also employed by
the German editions. For example, both omit a significant portion (italicized
for emphasis below) of the General Conference 2000 section ¶162H “Equal Rights
Regardless of Sexual Orientation”:
H) Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation-Certain basic human rights
and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those
rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple
justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material
resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and
other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that
involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal
protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence
and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians. We also commit
ourselves to social witness against the coercion and marginalization of former
Taken by itself, this omission significantly reduces the church’s advocacy of
civil rights for homosexuals, especially in the context of what may be called a
civil union or domestic partnership. Furthermore, the German 2000 edition omits
the last sentence of this section. The German text also
omits two other statements newly approved by General Conference 2000 regarding
homosexuality: “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their
lesbian and gay members and friends” and “We deplore acts
of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, ethnicity, gender,
sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or economic status.”
These omissions fit an overall pattern: there is an overall tendency in the
German text to be more willing to deplore discrimination in general than to name
specific groups who might be targets of discrimination.
Cumulatively, however, these textual omissions lessen the church’s advocacy for
the rights of homosexual persons.
Both the Russian and German versions retain a contested statement at the end
of the section on Marriage: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall
not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
This prohibition, introduced by General Conference in 1996, was deleted from the
Social Principles in 2000 and moved to a different part of the Discipline
having to do with clergy conduct. Although the
prohibition still holds in the Jurisdictional Conferences, it is now a matter of
professional regulation of clergy rather than ‘social principle’. This variance
from the General Conference 2000 text is indicated in the Russian text with
italics. The German version provides no indication of variance from the General
Conference text anywhere in the document.
Free adaptation of General Conference material is the primary means of
expression of the Germany Central Conference edition, which is the most
extensively altered of any of the European versions. Of over 60 different
sections of material in the Social Principles, nearly 50 are altered in the
German version, although many of these changes are confined to a single word or
phrase. For example, the German version alters what is perhaps the most
controversial phrase of the entire Social Principles document: “we do not
condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible
with Christian teaching....” Instead, the German 2000
version reads: “A majority in the church interprets the Bible in such a way that
it cannot approve of the practice of homosexuality.” The
significance of this alteration is difficult to infer from the text alone. Since
the General Conference speaks for the entire church through legislation approved
by majority vote, the first part of this phrase seems to convey the same meaning
in both versions. Likewise, “do not condone” and “cannot approve” seem to convey
the same meaning. The primary difference is the replacement of the phrase
“consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” with the phrase
“interprets the Bible in such a way that it cannot approve of the practice”. The
German version narrows the debate to Biblical interpretation rather than
Christian teaching more broadly considered, and it lessens the sharpness of the
statement by speaking in terms of disapproval rather than incompatibility.
Textual alteration is usually combined with addition and omission of text in
the German version. For example, the section on Human Sexuality (¶161G) in both
the 2000 General Conference and the 2000 German texts reads “Although all
persons are sexual beings” but the General Conference clarifies “whether or
not they are married” (emphasis added) whereas the German edition omits this
clarification. The General Conference version goes on to say that “sexual
relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond” (emphasis
added), but the German version changes the phrase “the marriage bond” to “einer
verbindlichen Partnerschaft” (“a binding partnership”), which includes the idea
of marriage but is much broader. I infer from the first alteration that there is
not a presumption among German United Methodists (as might be presumed in the
United States) that sexuality would only be expressed in the context of marriage
and from the second that sexuality within the context of partnerships other than
marriage is clearly affirmed (in contrast to it being clearly not
affirmed among United Methodists in the United States).
The French texts of the Social Principles (Principes Sociaux) utilized
by the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference explicitly exhibit
tensions between the German and General Conference editions. Both the 1997 and
the 2001 French texts are translations of the same basic text, the 1996
German version. The two French texts are different,
though, and nearly every change made in the newer French edition restores
General Conference material where the German text had altered it. I infer that
the very purpose of creating the newer text was to bring the document into
closer conformity with the General Conference version. For example, in an
unprecedented move, the section entitled “Human Sexuality” in the 2001 French
edition appears as a dual text, retaining the translation of the 1996 German
text and adding a translation of the 1996 General Conference text.
The origin of each text is clearly labeled, and the editor includes an extensive
note acknowledging the contentious debate around the issue of homosexuality,
including the statement: “The representatives of several countries voiced
reservations about the wording of the two Central Conferences and prefer to be
accountable to the text of the General Conference with regard to homosexuality.”
The evidence of the French texts indicates to me that United Methodists in the
Central and Southern European Central Conference are becoming more aware of the
differences between the German and General Conference Social Principles, are
moving toward the General Conference version in their French translation, and
are becoming more careful to document places of contention and disagreement.
Contrary to the usual practice in the UMC, the 2001 French version and the 2001
English Northern Europe version are the only editions of the Social Principles
explicitly to acknowledge the plurality of official Social Principles documents
effective in The United Methodist Church today.
The Special Advices in Africa
The Africa Central Conference’s Le Livre de Discipline 1990
includes social teachings in a format much different than other current
Disciplines in The United Methodist Church. Here we find Special Advices
much more prominent than Social Principles. Under the heading “Les Principes
Sociaux,” the African Discipline provides no text, only a footnote directing the
reader to consult The Book of Discipline 1988, the English text on which this
translation was based. More readily available to the
Francophone in Africa is a section of social teachings entitled “Conseils
Particuliers” which conclude with a note that other “conseils” (advices) may be
found in the Social Principles. Thus, the Social
Principles, distanced by language and location, supplement the Special Advices,
which appear to be the primary body of current social teachings in the Africa
Central Conference. The Special Advices, although much
different in form and content from the Social Principles, are not idiomatic to
the Africa Central Conference: they are actually a direct translation and
adaptation of social teachings common to past generations of U.S. Methodists.
The African Special Advices are divided into five sections: Christian
stewardship, entertainment, temperance, marriage, and tribalism.
The section on marriage includes counsels about premarital counseling, divorce,
remarriage of divorced persons, the dowry (“lobola”), gender roles in marriage,
abortion, sexuality, and sexual education. The most striking differences with
the Social Principles effective in other conferences are the much stricter
standards regarding remarriage of divorced persons (similar to the standards of
U.S. Methodism a couple of generations ago) and a discussion of the lobola. No
mention is made here of homosexuality, although elsewhere in the African
Discipline, the local church is instructed to represent the diversity of
age, sexual orientation, cultural, economic, ethnic, regional, and
theological viewpoints of the parish on its Administrative Council.
Neither is polygamy mentioned in the Special Advices, but the African
Discipline clearly indicates that polygamous persons may join the membership
of the church. Polygamy is not explicitly contrary to the
General Conference Book of Discipline 1988 but was certainly not
consistent with the spirit or practice of United Methodist social teachings in
the U.S. and Europe at that time. 
In summary, what we find in the Africa Central Conference is a much different
set of primary social teachings, both in form and content, than those currently
found in other conferences in The United Methodist Church. Nevertheless, the
Special Advices remain an adaptation of General Conference material (albeit from
the 1930s) and are meant to accompany the current Social Principles, not replace
them. Tensions between the Social Principles and the Special Advices remain
unaddressed and unresolved in these texts. The continued existence of this form
of social teachings in the UMC is a reminder of the many layers of institutional
history behind today’s Disciplines and of the generations of missionaries and
other church leaders who have shaped this global institution. Many of these
influences still affect denominational identity today, even as the General
Conference Discipline masks this diverse history.
Unity and Difference in The United Methodist Church
This paper has investigated the current social teachings of the UMC as found
in its conferences around the world. Each of these versions is based on
legislation originally approved by the UM General Conference, but each is also
an adaptation as well as a translation of this material. Every Central
Conference version of social teachings researched in this paper is unique in
some way. Differences among the global conferences in The United Methodist
Church on various social issues are expressed textually through a range of
editorial functions, from Northern Europe’s few, carefully documented variations
on the General Conference Social Principles to Africa’s relegation of the Social
Principles text to a footnote, treating them as a supplement to its adaptation
of a much older form of Methodist social teachings. These institutional texts
are all unified in their starting point: the General Conference legislation.
Whether the Social Principles function to mask these differences in The
United Methodist Church depends in part on the degree of self-awareness of this
institution regarding its diversity of social teachings. One measure of this
awareness is found in the Social Principles texts themselves. The 2001 Russian
text uniquely indicates, with boldface type, new additions to the text. The 2001
Northern Europe English text is the only one to accurately document its own
variation from the General Conference text. The 2001 French edition is unique in
its inclusion of parallel texts for two sections and acknowledgment of the
contentious debates surrounding these issues. If, as the General Conference
claims, “The Social Principles are a call to all members of The United Methodist
Church to a prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice,”
this dialogue can be heard in the Central Conferences as they change and adapt
the Social Principles. To the extent that a text perpetuates ignorance of
institutional differences on social issues, it masks the real face of United
Methodism in the world and silences this dialogue. Failing to indicate any of
this diversity within the institution, General Conference editions of the Social
Principles cultivate this ignorance and silence this dialogue. The same may be
said of the German editions.
This mask functions to protect a particular conception of unity. This myth
says that unity depends on unanimity, sameness, and commonality and that
difference necessarily leads to division. There is much more flexibility in
practice with regard to social issues than is evidenced during General
Conference debates, which seem to assume that unanimity is the basis of unity.
For the (U.S.) Jurisdictional Conferences, which use the General Conference
version of Social Principles, the implication of textual unity belies a flexible
practice of polity which allows for divergence of views among United Methodists
on social issues. The General Conference delegates’ battles over legislation
seem to me to be a misplaced attempt to assert definitive, ‘official’
statements when a plurality of social teachings is actually embraced by The
United Methodist Church. A myth of unity might be considered essential to
denominational continuity, but this myth of unity as unanimity does the
institution the disfavor of hiding who The United Methodist Church really is, in
all of its diversity. A unity that relies on the silencing of difference cannot
recognize and respect the members of this body for who they are. Developing a
genuine relationship with others is hardly possible at a masquerade. Does this
institution’s peculiarly flexible polity require such a mask in order for the
denomination to maintain its unity?
The actual practice within The United Methodist Church’s Central Conferences
suggests a way out of the apparent dilemma of choosing between unanimity and
division. The cultural adaptability of the Social Principles seems to be one
factor in the success of this denomination in maintaining a vital social witness
as it strives to remain united across the globe. Perhaps the five Jurisdictional
Conferences should consider allowing each other the same flexibility allowed the
Central Conferences as a way of acknowledging regional differences inside the
U.S. If Reinaldo Toledo is right, that “the Discipline is the genuine
product of minds thinking in English, with its patterns of Anglo-American
thought,” the flexibility offered the Central Conferences in adapting the
Discipline may be necessary to unity if The United Methodist Church is to
avoid Anglo-American centrism and charges of cultural colonization in relation
to its growing international and multicultural constituency when its General
Conference takes stances on social issues.
 My own translation: “Naturally, the Discipline is the
genuine product of minds thinking in English, with its patterns of
Anglo-American thought.” “Reconocimientos,” The United Methodist Church (U.S.)
(2000). Disciplina de la Iglesia Metodista Unida, 2000. Nashville, Tenn.,
Casa Metodista Unida de Publicaciones, p. xv.
 For example, “Conservative Methodists Propose Schism
Over Gay Rights” by Laurie Goodstein, NYT, 5/07/04, A16.
 The United Methodist Church, The Book of Discipline
of The United Methodist Church. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing
House, 2004, ¶161G and ¶161C, respectively. A new General Conference edition of
the Book of Discipline is issued every four years, hereafter abbreviated
GD and the year of issue.
 Hatch, N. O. (1994) "The Puzzle of American Methodism."
Church History 63: 177-78, 186.
 Methodism in the United States became institutionalized
as the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784, a decision prompted by the change in
political relationship between the former colonies and Great Britain. Since its
twin birth with the United States, Methodism as a denomination(s) has shared the
growth and struggles of this nation. What began as a denomination for and within
the United States has become increasingly international, with nearly 30% of its
current membership residing in countries other than the United States.
 GD2004, ¶509.
 GD2004, “Episcopal Greetings,” p. v.
 The Social Principles document took its present form in
1972, and its content has been revised quadrennially since then. The form
consists of a preface, preamble, Our Social Creed, and six major headings: ¶160
The Natural World, ¶161 The Nurturing Community, ¶162 The Social Community, ¶163
The Economic Community, ¶164 The Political Community, and ¶165 The World
Community. Each of these headings includes sections on multiple topics across a
wide range of social ethics. Full text of the current General Conference version
of Social Principles can be found at
http://www.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=1686 (NB all websites in this
paper were valid as of June 18, 2005).
 GD1968, ¶97.
 GD2004, ¶161D and publishing erratum (The United
Methodist Newscope, vol. 33, no. 20, May 20, 2005, p. 4).
 GD2004, p. 49.
 The United Methodist Church in the United States is
organized into five Jurisdictional Conferences, which are roughly equivalent to
the (non-U.S.) Central Conferences (GD2004 ¶¶37-38). The Jurisdictional
Conferences do not have the authority to adapt or change the version of Social
Principles legislated by General Conference because they do not fall within the
flexible polity guidelines of GD2004 ¶543.7. Only the Central Conferences are
given authority to alter the Book of Discipline and the Social Principles
to their own contexts, and it is for this reason that they are the subject of
this research. Although there exist within the (U.S.) Jurisdictional Conferences
two additional language versions of the current Book of Discipline
(Spanish and Korean), these language versions are, so far as I know, accurate
translations rather than adaptations of the General Conference Book of
Discipline, since there is no denominational body with the authority to
alter the text in the U.S. context.
 GD2004, ¶540.3.
 “A central conference shall have power to make such
changes and adaptations of the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and
the mission of the church in the area require” (GD2004, ¶543.7).
 For example, Bishop Tuell asserts about The United
Methodist Church that “the conference system is its guarantee of basic
democratic process” and that “[t]his chain of conferences [General,
jurisdictional or central, annual, district, and charge] represents a chain of
representative democracy that permeates and undergirds our entire Church” (The
Organization of The United Methodist Church, 2005-2008 ed., by Jack M.
Tuell. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005. p. 115 and passim).
 This is the UM Board of Church and Society. Thus, much
of the work in carrying out this research went into simply discovering and
locating these different versions. As far as I can tell, no where in the world
does there exist a complete collection of United Methodist Social Principles
documents currently in use.
 The findings in this paper are based on research of
the following Central Conference versions of Social Principles: Northern Europe
(English 2001 and Russian 2001), Germany (German 1996 and 2000), Central and
Southern Europe (French 1997, French 2001, and both German versions), and Africa
(French 1990 - “Special Advices” rather than Social Principles). Observations
and conclusions in this paper are restricted in their scope to only this set of
documents (in comparison with the General Conference documents).
 I am deeply indebted to the Rev. Natalya Shulgina,
elder in the Russian United Methodist Church, for her help in locating and
interpreting the Russian 2001 version. Other documents are cited from the
following websites: Northern Europe 2001 (English) at
www.umc-northerneurope.org/2003/NEBoD2001.pdf; German 1996 at
http://www.umc-europe.org/sozialefragen/download/sozfr96d.doc; German 2000
http://kug.umc-europe.org/dokumente/sozialegrundsaetze/2002/; French 1997 at
French 2001 at
http://www.umc-europe.org/ueem/Doctrine/principessociaux.pdf. During my
research in the Fall of 2004, these were the only versions known to me. Since
that time, the web-presence of the UMC in Europe has significantly been
improved. Now, versions of Social Principles in Polish, Danish, Swedish, and
other languages can be found through the three European UM Central Conferences’
 The differences among documents discussed throughout
this paper are not simply difficulties of translation but are alterations of the
meaning of the text. The institutional significance of these changes depend in
part on the procedure by which these alterations and omissions were made and by
the ways in which this document functions in each Central Conference.
Unfortunately, these considerations are beyond the scope of this paper.
 The Russian 2000 text includes a thorough rewriting of
¶163C “Work and Leisure.” The German editions include a thorough rewrite of
¶162J “Alcohol and Other Drugs.” In addition, two other sections are extensively
revised if not completely rewritten: ¶166 Our Social Creed (German and French
editions) and ¶161G “Human Sexuality” (German and French).
 GD2000 ¶162S. Text also online:
 However, the French 2001 editor includes an extensive
note after the dual text on human sexuality, as explained below.
 The Russian text, contrary to its own claim, is
clearly a translation of the General Conference 2000 version rather than the
Northern Europe 2001 version since none of Northern Europe’s well-documented
changes are replicated in the Russian adaptation. The Russian translator also
utilized a 1996 version of Social Principles since many (but not all) of the
changes introduced by General Conference 2000 are indicated in bold type. This
is a unique aspect of the Russian version. In no other version of Social
Principles is new material indicated with a different typeset. However, none of
the deletions of General Conference material in the Russian version are
 The full text of the 2000 Soziale Grundsätze version
of this section reads “Grundrechte und bürgerliche Freiheiten gehören allen
Menschen. Wir müssen dafür sorgen, dass sie auch homosexuellen Menschen gewährt
werden. Außerdem unterstützen wir alle Bemühungen, Gewalt und andere Formen von
Zwang gegenüber homosexuellen Personen zu beenden.”
 GD2000 ¶161G.
 GD2000, introduction to ¶162.
 For another example, in the adaptation of Our Social
Creed by the Germany Central Conference, compare “We commit ourselves to the
rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with
disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and
dignity of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.” (GD2000, ¶166) to “Wir
setzen uns ein für das Recht jedes Einzelnen auf sinnvolle Entfaltung in der
Gesellschaft.” (translation: “We stand for the right of every individual to
meaningful development/deployment in society.”). Interestingly, General
Conference 2004 altered Our Social Creed, moving closer to the generality of the
German version, by replacing the phrase “racial, ethnic, and religious
minorities” with “all persons” (GD2004 ¶166).
 GD1996 ¶161C.
 GD2000 ¶332.6. This move was prompted by UM Judicial
Council Decision 833 (http://www.umc.org/interior_judicial.asp?mid=263&JDID=873&JDMOD=VWD&SN
 GD2000 ¶161G. This phrase was approved by General
Conference in 1972 and has remained essentially unchanged, though highly
contested, since. In 2004, the word “we” was changed to “The United Methodist
Church” (GD2004 ¶161G).
 Translation by Darryl Stephens. Original reads “Eine
Mehrheit in der Kirche interpretiert die Bibel so, dass sie die Ausübung der
Homosexualität nicht billigen kann.”
 The French texts are second-generation translations.
Nevertheless, neither French version is strictly a translation. Both alter as
well as translate the text. The 1997 French version includes about six minor
alterations to the 1996 German text, some of which prefigure changes made in the
2000 German version.
 There is one other dual text in the 2001 French
edition, the section on “Alcohol and other drugs.” These two sections translated
from the 1996 General Conference text are not without minor alteration
themselves, though. These are the only dual texts I have encountered in my
research of Social Principles documents.
 A conclusion since confirmed by the actions of this
conference in April 2005 in Bern, Switzerland, issuing a new German version of
Social Principles designed to be translation rather than an adaptation of the
General Conference 2004 version (http://kug.umc-europe.org/dokumente/sozialegrundsaetze/2005/).
NB: Detailed consideration of this new document is beyond the scope of this
 The following analysis is based on the Book of
Discipline from only one of the three Central Conferences in Africa, the
Africa Central Conference. So far, I have been unable to find any information
about the West Africa or Congo Central Conferences.
 The United Methodist Church (U.S.) Africa Central
Conference, et al. (1990). Le livre de discipline de l'Eglise Methodiste
Unie, 1988 : Edition de la Conférence Centrale de l'Afrique, 1990.
Nashville, Tenn., United Methodist Pub. House. Hereafter, Le Livre. This
is the current edition of the Discipline in this conference.
 Le Livre, p. 42.
 Le Livre, pp. 36-41. The footnote reads, “Pour
se renseigner sur d'autres conseils, consultez nos Principes Sociaux tels qu'ils
apparaissent dans The Book of Discipline [=DG], 1988, Partie III,
¶70-76.” The “Conseils Particuliers,” being sandwiched between a translation of
Wesley’s General Rules and this reference to the Social Principles, invite the
reader to infer that part of their function is to bridge these two other texts.
 From email correspondence with a staff member of the
UM General Board of Church and Society, I understand that several countries in
Africa have translations of the Social Principles. However, I have yet to see
any textual evidence of this.
 The most recent record of Special Advices I could find
in U.S. Methodism occurs in The Book of Discipline 1936 of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, New York: The Methodist Book Concern, 1936, ¶¶161-168.
 Compare to the headings of the Methodist Episcopal
Church’s 1936 Special Advices: slavery, dress, marriage, divorce, amusements,
temperance, the Christian Sabbath, and Christian stewardship.
 Le Livre, p. 73, ¶161.1, emphasis added.
 Le Livre, p. 47, ¶¶118-119.
 Interestingly, the new General Conference 2004
legislation, “We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union
of one man and one woman” (GD2004 ¶161C), affects the issue of polygamy. The
debate at General Conference surrounding this legislation, however, was focused
on restricting gay marriage rather than polygamy.
 GD2004, preface to Social Principles, p. 95.
 Bishop Heinrich Bolleter’s introduction to the German
2000 version exacerbates this problem by claiming that what follows is a
“translation” of the English [General Conference] version of Social Principles.
In fact, much of the document was adapted in addition to being translated. The
2005 German document, however, is a translation, not an adaptation, as noted