Thinking About Religion
Volume 5 (2005)

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Face of Unity or Mask over Difference?
The Social Principles in the Central Conferences
of The United Methodist Church

Darryl W. Stephens
Emory University


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[1]


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.[2] 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.[3]

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.”[4] I extend Hatch’s idea by claiming that The United Methodist Church, as it becomes increasingly global and diverse,[5] 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 social issues.

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.[6] 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.”[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.”[10] 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,”[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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 institution.

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] Each of these versions is unique, and all are different from the General Conference version.[19] 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.[20] 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”.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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 homosexuals.

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.[24] 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”[25] and “We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or economic status.”[26] 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.[27] 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.”[28] 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.[29] 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....”[30] 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.”[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] 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[35]

The Africa Central Conference’s Le Livre de Discipline 1990[36] 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.[37] 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.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40]

The African Special Advices are divided into five sections: Christian stewardship, entertainment, temperance, marriage, and tribalism.[41] 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.[42] Neither is polygamy mentioned in the Special Advices, but the African Discipline clearly indicates that polygamous persons may join the membership of the church.[43] 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. [44]

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,”[45] 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.[46]

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.


[1] 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.

[2] For example, “Conservative Methodists Propose Schism Over Gay Rights” by Laurie Goodstein, NYT, 5/07/04, A16.

[3] 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.

[4] Hatch, N. O. (1994) "The Puzzle of American Methodism." Church History 63: 177-78, 186.

[5] 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.

[6] GD2004, ¶509.

[7] GD2004, “Episcopal Greetings,” p. v.

[8] 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 (NB all websites in this paper were valid as of June 18, 2005).

[9] GD1968, ¶97.

[10] GD2004, ¶161D and publishing erratum (The United Methodist Newscope, vol. 33, no. 20, May 20, 2005, p. 4).

[11] GD2004, p. 49.

[12] 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.

[13] GD2004, ¶540.3.

[14] “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).

[15] 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).

[16] 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.

[17] 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).

[18] 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; German 1996 at; German 2000 at; French 1997 at; French 2001 at 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’ websites:,,

[19] 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.

[20] 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).

[21] GD2000 ¶162S. Text also online:

[22] However, the French 2001 editor includes an extensive note after the dual text on human sexuality, as explained below.

[23] 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 documented.

[24] 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.”

[25] GD2000 ¶161G.

[26] GD2000, introduction to ¶162.

[27] 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).

[28] GD1996 ¶161C.

[29] GD2000 ¶332.6. This move was prompted by UM Judicial Council Decision 833 (

[30] 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).

[31] Translation by Darryl Stephens. Original reads “Eine Mehrheit in der Kirche interpretiert die Bibel so, dass sie die Ausübung der Homosexualität nicht billigen kann.”

[32] 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.

[33] 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.

[34] 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 ( NB: Detailed consideration of this new document is beyond the scope of this paper.

[35] 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.

[36] 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.

[37] Le Livre, p. 42.

[38] 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.

[39] 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.

[40] 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.

[41] 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.

[42] Le Livre, p. 73, ¶161.1, emphasis added.

[43] Le Livre, p. 47, ¶¶118-119.

[44] 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.

[45] GD2004, preface to Social Principles, p. 95.

[46] 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 above.

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