Judicial Council denies reconsideration of two decisions
May 2, 2006
By Neill Caldwell*
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (UMNS) — The United Methodist Judicial Council has
rejected appeals to reconsider two decisions that have created much
debate within the church.
The council voted not to revisit Decisions 1031 and 1032, issued
last October and related to the case of the Rev. Ed Johnson of South
Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church, who blocked a practicing homosexual
man from taking membership in the church.
The Rev. Ed Johnson
Johnson was placed on involuntary leave last June by his clergy peers
in the Virginia Annual Conference, and Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer
upheld the action. But in Decision 1031, the Judicial Council ruled that
Johnson’s due process rights were violated when the conference
transformed an administrative complaint against him into a judicial
complaint. And in Decision 1032, the council made a much more
far-reaching ruling, saying that the senior pastor of a local church
does have the right to determine a person’s readiness for membership.
Following the rulings, Kammerer returned Johnson to the South Hill pulpit.
The two rulings created much protest across the denomination from
those who said the decisions stood in contrast to the spirit of the
church’s theme of “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” The decisions
also triggered official appeals from Kammerer and the Virginia
Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, as well as briefs from the
principals in the case and numerous friends of the court.
During the council’s April 26-28 meeting, about 50 demonstrators held
a silent vigil in the public areas of the Embassy Suites hotel where
the court met. The group, which included clergy, laity and students from
around the country, wanted the council to reconsider and overturn
Decisions 1031 and 1032 (see related story).
Bishop Charlene Kammerer
The Judicial Council issued short memos (1040 and 1041) declaring it
would not reconsider the two rulings. Four of the Judicial Council
members joined in writing dissenting opinions, and three members signed a
concurring opinion. The court has nine members.
Council members James W. Holsinger Jr., Mary A. Daffin and Keith D.
Boyette signed a concurring opinion, saying they “join with our
colleagues who have voted to deny the petition for reconsideration in
this matter because the petitioners for reconsideration have not shown
Decision 1032 clearly to be in error, nor have they shown that
reconsideration of the decision is necessary to prevent a manifest
injustice resulting from the interpretation of the decision.
“We recognize that the issues presented in Decision 1032 are
controversial in nature and the subject of heated debate long before
they reached the Judicial Council …,” the concurring opinion continues.
“Twenty-two briefs were filed with the Judicial Council prior to
Decision 1032, representing the diversity of positions on the substance
of the questions before the council. The issues were thoroughly briefed
and ably argued. The council conducted oral hearings in the matter
because of the diversity of positions taken on the questions presented.
The issues were fully debated within the council, and the council
rendered its decision.
“The 12 briefs and the more than 2,000 communications filed with the
Judicial Council on the petitions for reconsideration, again reflecting
the diversity of positions on the issues before the council, have not
persuaded us that the council erred in Decision 1032,” said Holsinger,
Daffin and Boyette.
They added that “it is time for the issues addressed in Decision 1032
to now be debated by the United Methodist Church, as is occurring.”
“The presiding bishop fulfilled her disciplinary responsibilities
when she responded to the questions of law,” they wrote. “The Judicial
Council has fulfilled its disciplinary responsibilities in reviewing the
decisions of law rendered.
“We disagree with those in the minority who cavalierly assert that
the Judicial Council has somehow exceeded its role in precisely
fulfilling that role,” they said. “The role of the Judicial Council is
to interpret the Discipline and to apply its provisions to the scenarios
that are presented. In Decision 1032, the council has interpreted
relevant provisions of the Discipline and applied them to the scenario
posed to it.
“We disagree with those in the minority who assert that further
debate before the Judicial Council will be healing for the United
Methodist Church. Rather, we believe that reopening this matter,
especially where no grounds have been demonstrated to do so, will
further polarize the various parts of the church,” Holsinger, Daffin and
Boyette wrote. “We have arrived at this view with great respect and
admiration for those who disagree with us in the minority.”
In their joint dissent to the decision not to reconsider Decision
1032, the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe and the Rev. Paul Shamwange, joined by
Beth Capen and Jon R. Gray, wrote that “theologically, and as well as
disciplinarily, the pastor has no discretion to exclude anyone from
membership or the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist because it is not
his/her invitation. It is Christ’s. Therefore, all who present
themselves for baptism, Eucharist and reception into the church are
joyfully welcomed. …
“For the pastor to deny membership is to present obstacles to the
work of the Holy Spirit,” they said. “This denial is dangerous and does
not serve the work of evangelism.”
Gray, joined by Capen, Henry-Crowe and Shamwange, filed a separate
dissent on the denial of reconsideration of Decision 1032 around the
idea that the Judicial Council “created new law heretofore unknown and
in my judgment uncontemplated by any previous General Conference.”
“The role of the Judicial Council is to interpret disciplinary
provisions from a legal standpoint,” Gray wrote. “The pronouncements
contained in Decision 1032 concerning ‘discretion’ and ‘responsible
pastoral judgment’ have abandoned all traditional notions of
interpretive restraint. … Separation of powers is a time-honored
doctrine that has served our connection well. The General Conference
would be unwise to attempt to execute episcopal functions. Bishops do
not participate in the legislative process as they are not eligible to
vote at the General Conference.
“It follows that the Judicial Council should not, under our system
of governance, attempt to create law by legislating from the bench,” he
wrote. “Judicial activism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Decision 1032 is an example of judicial activism of the rankest order.”
The dissent used a Latin term, “Jus dicere, non-dare,” which means, “To declare law, not make it.” It went on to call Decision 1032 “clearly in error.”
“The Book of Discipline is silent on the issue of ‘responsible
pastoral judgment,’” Gray continued. “Our task would have been complete
had we merely said so. It would have been better for the Judicial
Council to provide no guidance on the question than to provide the poor
guidance of Decision 1032.”
The dissent stated that “at times in the church there is a tendency
to see the Discipline as superseding Scripture. The Constitution as
contained in the Book of Discipline has to be the measure by
which we apply the Bible. The Constitution should not be in conflict
with the Bible. If the Discipline violates the Bible, then the church is
no longer Christ’s church, but rather a mere association of men and
“The unspeakable pain that this decision causes calls for repentance
and prayer, which will lead to healing,” the four added. “The cause of
Christ’s church and Christ’s hospitality, openness, generosity, justice
and righteousness are the principles at stake.”
On its docketed items in this spring session, the Judicial Council:
- Declined jurisdiction due to the “inadequacy of the record” in two
requests from the California-Pacific Annual Conference to rule on the
withdrawal of a recommendation for probationary membership by the
conference’s board of ordained ministry, and the continuance of a
probationer beyond eight regular sessions of the annual conference. Both
memoranda stated that “although the record reflects the request for
declaratory decision, it provides little else upon which the Judicial
Council can logically proceed.”
- Ruled that Amendment VII to the United Methodist Constitution
defines clergy membership in an annual conference and does not limit or
change the voting rights of the various clergy categories that remain.
The case came from a request by the Dakotas Annual Conference to examine
how Amendment VII, adopted by the 2004 General Conference and ratified
by annual conferences last year, would affect voting rights. “The
Constitution now mandates a definition of clergy status that includes
only those categories specified in Paragraph 32,” the ruling says.
“Amendment VII has no effect on the voting rights of lay members of the
annual conference,” the council added.
- Ruled that there was no authority to assume jurisdiction in the
question of a pair of bishop’s rulings during a West Michigan Annual
Conference debate on parsonage standards and escrow funds, respectively,
because the rulings were parliamentary in nature.
- Affirmed the decision of law by Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr. in the
Rocky Mountain Annual Conference that a proposed amendment allowing
clergy to waive base minimum compensation was in violation of the Book of Discipline.
“Only deacons may choose to waive minimum base compensation” and can be
appointed to a non-salaried position, the ruling stated. “Elders and
local pastors are entitled to receive not less than the equitable
compensation established by the annual conference.”
- Affirmed the decision of law by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward in the
Mississippi Annual Conference in the case of a protest of the removal of
trees from the property of Aldersgate United Methodist Church. The
bishop ruled that the Discipline was not violated during the tree
removal, and that the action was a local church matter and not the
business of the annual conference.
The Judicial Council is next scheduled to meet Oct. 25-28 in Cincinnati.
*Caldwell is a correspondent based in High Point, N.C.
News media contact: Tim Tanton or Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.