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Judicial Council to be 'on call' at General Conference

A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell*

Feb. 5, 2008

The top judicial body of The United Methodist Church has a light docket of cases for its spring meeting but will be "on call" to handle questions of law that rise from the floor of the 2008 General Conference.

The closing of General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative meeting, also will serve as the beginning of the new eight-year terms of Judicial Council members who are re-elected or elected by the churchwide assembly. 

The nine-member Judicial Council acts as the church’s supreme court and often is asked from the floor to make rulings during General Conference, which meets every four years. The 2008 General Conference will meet April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas. The council meets twice a year but, during a General Conference year, its spring session coincides with the legislative gathering.

The five-item spring docket includes several items continued from previous meetings:

  • Continuation of review of a bishop’s decision of law in the Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference concerning the application of Paragraph 612.19 of the 2004 Book of Discipline to the 2007 conference budget, as required by Decision 1081, which remanded the case back to the conference for continued investigation. In 1081, the council ruled that "the annual conference Council on Finance and Administration is charged with the primary authority and responsibility to ensure that … funds are not given or used in a manner proscribed by Paragraph 612.19." That paragraph of the denomination’s Book of Discipline mandates that church funds are not given to any gay group or used to "promote the acceptance of homosexuality";
  • Continuation of review of a bishop’s decision of law in the California-Nevada Annual Conference concerning involuntary leave of absence, administrative and judicial process, and voluntary or involuntary retirement as required by Decision 1088. The 1088 decision continued the item until the spring session because the Judicial Council did not have the minutes of the conference’s clergy executive session;
  • A request for declaratory decision from the Committee on Nominations of the 2004 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference on Paragraphs 27.5, 705, 706 and 805 of the Book of Discipline. At issue are the actions of the secretary of General Conference regarding central conference representation and proportional jurisdictional representation, the concordant agreement between The United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, and the allocation of membership of the general boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church. In Decision 1087, the council ruled that a similar request had come from 11 individuals of the committee in the form of a petition, which is not allowed. This time the request comes from the committee’s action;
  • A request for declaratory decision from the Tennessee Annual Conference with respect to Paragraph 642.3(o) of the Book of Discipline in regard to the role of the Commission on Religion and Race as an investigatory body following the filing of a complaint against a clergyperson or layperson;
  • The appeal of Wesley Kendall, a former pastor in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference, who underwent a church trial after facing several charges. His case has been the subject of previous Judicial Council Decisions 1046 and 1064. Kendall was found guilty of many of the counts against him, and the church trial court imposed the penalty of terminating his conference membership and revoking his credentials of ordination. The Committee on Appeals for the Western Jurisdiction upheld the rulings of the trial court, but Kendall has now appealed the entire proceeding to the Judicial Council.

Judicial Council elections

One of the most watched moments of the 2008 General Conference will be elections to the Judicial Council. Five of the nine members are eligible for re-election.

Four members––Dr. James Holsinger, Mary A. Daffin, the Rev. Keith D. Boyette and Rudolfo C. Beltran––were elected in 2000 to an eight-year term. Also ending his term this year is the Rev. Paul Shamwange, who replaced the Rev. Larry Pickens in 2004 when Pickens became chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Council members may serve two consecutive eight-year terms before they rotate off, according to Paragraph 2602.1 of the Book of Discipline.

General Conference will elect three clergy and two laity to the council, which will be made up of five clergy and four laity through 2016. Since 2000, the council has had four clergy and five lay members. The conference also will elect six lay and six clergy alternates for four-year terms.

Any new members will join the council at the end of the 2008 General Conference and serve through the end of the 2016 session. The alternates will serve through the end of the 2012 General Conference.

*Caldwell covers the Judicial Council for United Methodist News Service and is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate of the Virginia Annual Conference.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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