Introducing the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church
The Social Principles
The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church are a call to a “prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice.” They are statements of belief and practice spoken both to the church and to society.
The Social Principles are a product of prayer, but they also lead us to fervent prayer. The Social Principles begin with holy conferencing by people of faith, but they must be practiced to have any real value. The Social Principles emerge from the will of the church, but they reflect the needs of society as well as the church.
Some lifelong United Methodists become defensive when a new idea seems to conflict with a principle they hold. Other United Methodists are overjoyed that what their consciences and experiences have taught them is in accord with the Social Principles. As you read the Social Principles, you may find yourself nodding in agreement at times to some principles and responding negatively to others.
Remember, General Conference is held every four years. It is the only entity to speak officially for the denomination through The Book of Discipline and The Book of Resolutions. Each of more than forty thousand local churches in more than one hundred conferences in Africa, the Philippines, Europe, and the United States elects approximately one thousand delegates to General Conference. Half are laypersons and the other half are clergy. These delegates determine the Social Principles, mandates, and resolutions of The United Methodist Church.
Any United Methodist person, local church, conference, agency, caucus, or group may propose changes to the Social Principles at General Conference. Petitions are written and submitted in advance of the quadrennial meeting. Once at General Conference, delegates discuss and vote on petitions. If supported, the petitions are included in either The Book of Discipline or The Book of Resolutions.
The Social Principles, though not church law, are part of the Discipline. They are intended to be “instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit,” according to their preface. “They are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation.”
Justice in Everyday Life, pp. 11-12.