faith in action

Revised Social Principles: Updating The UMC toolbox for social witness

The document addresses United Methodists’ concerns from around the world, paying particular attention to being inclusive of all communities and integrating biblical and Wesleyan references.

RSP - Phone - Mockup

By Crystal Caviness

Originally published at on April 1, 2024

The directive was daunting: Review and revise 50 years of denominational social witness into a document using fewer pages, inclusive of all United Methodist communities, to address complex social issues and integrate biblical and Wesleyan references.

A toolbox to build God’s beloved community

United Methodists have long been identified by their attention to social concerns, taking a stand on issues such as climate change, social and racial injustice, and advocating for equality across a large spectrum. The emphasis dates back to John Wesley’s support for marginalized populations, with the first Methodist denominational document being published in 1908 as the Social Creed. Updates occurred through the years to address various issues of the day. The document named the Social Principles was first approved by the 1972 General Conference, with subsequent General Conferences voting for amendments. At the 2020 General Conference, set to be held April 23-May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C., USA, the proposed Revised Social Principles is pending adoption.

While not church law, the Revised Social Principles aim to serve as a guide for what United Methodists agree are the most relevant social concerns throughout the world today and the church’s position on those issues.

“It gives members and congregations a toolbox with strong biblical and culturally relevant means to speak out against oppressive systems and to build God’s beloved community,” says the Rev. Kalaba Chali, Great Plains Conference’s former coordinator of mercy and justice ministries and current district superintendent.

Worldwide church needs worldwide perspective

Twelve years ago, the 2012 General Conference tasked the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) to make the Social Principles “more globally relevant, theologically founded and succinct.”

What followed was a process, led by Dr. Randall Miller, GBCS Board Vice President and Chair of the Revised Social Principles Task Force and the Rev. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of the Boston University School of Theology, who served as Editor and Chair of the writing teams. The plan was to build the important document from scratch, rather than adding, deleting and amending the existing document that was last approved in 2016.

Over eight years, the team spent four years conducting listening sessions throughout the denomination’s connection, followed by 52 writing teams comprised of United Methodist clergy, lay, young adults and ethnic caucus members from Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States compiling a first draft based on the listening sessions. Then, with first draft in hand, more than 4,000 United Methodists read, reviewed and commented on the initial document.

Introducing the new Revised Social Principles

From all the work and prayers, a new Revised Social Principles emerged.

More succinct with 20 fewer pages, the document addresses United Methodists’ concerns from around the world and paying particular attention to being inclusive of all communities, the Revised Social Principles is categorized into four sections: community of creation, political community, economic community and social community.

Adding language about indigenous people regarding environmental racism, food justice and affirming society and traditional wisdom is one area in the community of creation section that reflects the new focus, according to a FAQ published by the General Board of Church and Society.

Other additions include new language on extrajudicial killings that speak to contexts where political acts are practiced by governments, along with sections titled “colonialism, neocolonialism and their consequences” in the political community segment. The economic community verbiage took feedback from groups in Africa, the Philippines and Eurasia to add language on the topic of poverty and income inequality that rejects the prosperity gospel teaching that wealth is a sign of God’s favor.

African United Methodists expressed concern about inheritance rights for vulnerable women, children and grandchildren when a husband dies, which prompted the writing team to include a section on inheritance rights and widows in the social community section.

The Revised Social Principles also address a wide range of more than 50 concerns, from destruction of ecosystems to Sabbath and renewal time and from substance abuse to restorative justice.

Far from simply existing as a 43-page document that lives on a website and is inserted into the Book of Discipline, the Revised Social Principles are intended to be read, shared and discussed in Sunday School classes and bible studies, studied in seminaries and preached from pulpits. And, perhaps, more importantly, are meant to inspire United Methodists around the world to live into our social holiness heritage.

The Revised Social Principles is a vital update to our toolbox as United Methodists seek to live out our faith in relevant and loving ways.

This has been just an amazing journey involving so many voices in a way that we believe really reflects who we are as United Methodists today,” said John Hill, Church and Society’s interim top executive, said in a recent United Methodist News article.

The revision “gives us a strong social statement for who we are to be as we move forward out of General Conference.”