News Archives

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.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
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).

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
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.

Concurring opinion

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.”

Dissenting opinion

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 women.”

“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.”

Decisions issued

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

Related Articles
Protesters, Judicial Council members worship together
Briefs crystallize debate points over Judicial Council decisions
Appeals ask Judicial Council to reconsider two decisions
Decision 1031
Decision 1032
Rules of Practice and Procedure
Judicial Council Dockets