|Judicial Council: Conferences may disagree with rulings|
By Neill Caldwell*
Nov. 6, 2006 | CINCINNATI (UMNS)
United Methodist Church's top court says the denomination's regional
conferences may pass petitions that disagree with court decisions, as
long as they do not mandate any violation of the Book of Discipline or ignore directives included in those decisions.
Meeting here Oct. 25-28, the United Methodist Judicial Council
considered several petitions that stemmed from a ruling it issued last
fall, Decision 1032, which dealt with a Virginia pastor who denied
membership to an openly gay man. The nine-member council ruled that a
pastor has the right to determine who is ready for church membership.
During last summer's annual meeting of the Baltimore-Washington Annual
Conference, a petition encouraging churches to be inclusive was ruled to
be in order by Bishop John R. Schol because it "represented the hope of
the annual conference." Judicial Council - which routinely
reviews all bishops' rulings during annual conference sessions - agreed
Bishop John Schol
A petition from the Kansas East Annual Conference went beyond the
court's standard, the council said, but did not violate the specific
paragraphs in the Book of Discipline that were cited in the request for a decision.
The difference is in the wording. The Baltimore-Washington's petition
"expects and encourages its congregations and clergy" to be inclusive,
the Judicial Council said. Because it is "aspirational in nature" it
does not violate Paragraph 16.1 of the church's Constitution, the court
said in Decision 1044.
The Kansas East petition reads: "No pastor … shall deny membership
solely based on the candidate for membership being a self-avowed
practicing homosexual." That is "proscriptive language" according to the
Judicial Council, meaning the resolution "does more than express ideals
and opinions…" according to the analysis and rationale section of
Addressing the Kansas East petition, the council reiterated that
annual conferences are welcome to express ideals and opinions, but
cannot direct pastors or lay members to do something that is contrary to
the Discipline or past council decisions. "All actions of an annual conference must be faithful and consistent with the Discipline,"
the council said. "Annual conferences may express disagreement with
other bodies of the United Methodist Church, but they are still subject
to the Constitution, the Book of Discipline and the decisions of the Judicial Council."
Kansas clergy disagree
During oral arguments in the Kansas East case, the Rev. Mark Holland of
Trinity United Methodist Church in Kansas City said that the council had
created a "wedge issue" for the church by requiring a "litmus test" for
The Rev. Mark Holland
"It's an embarrassment to the church that we've picked this one
issue," Holland said. He compared the action to that of a Baptist church
in Kansas City "that requires members to sign a statement that says,
'I'm not gay.'"
Holland told the council that the Kansas East petition passed with 90
percent approval "and Kansans don't agree on anything. You'd be
hard-pressed to get 90 percent to agree that the sky is blue."
The Rev. Paul Stevens, also from the Kansas East Conference but
speaking against the petition, told the Judicial Council that the
conference action should not be upheld "because it's not in line with
the Book of Discipline and what the United Methodist Church says
it believes. … If a pastor sees fit to accept a person into membership,
they can. Decision 1032 got it right, and still is right."
Pacific Northwest decisions
Reviewing other annual conference cases, the council affirmed Bishop
Edward W. Paup's ruling that upheld a Pacific Northwest Conference
petition "expressing dismay" at Decision 1032.
The council also agreed with Paup's ruling that another petition from
the conference was out of order. That petition invited pastors to say
publicly that they "voluntarily relinquish the authority granted them by
Judicial Council Decision 1032." The Judicial Council agreed with Paup
that the petition was contrary to the Book of Discipline.
The Judicial Council deferred six cases on its 20-item docket --
including one dealing with the National United Methodist Native American
Center -- until its spring session, which will be held in April 25-28
in Manila, the Philippines. That will be a historic meeting, as it will
be the first time a United Methodist Judicial Council has convened at a
location outside the United States.
The Judicial Council also:
Ruled that the 2004 General Conference was within its authority to
limit the Methodist Church of Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to two General
Conference delegates. (See related story.)
Ruled that the Task Force on Connection Funding in the Iowa Annual Conference was in violation of "many provisions" of the Book of Discipline.
The task force set up a "tithe system" for the conference budget
whereby churches sent 10 percent of their income to the annual
conference and could choose additional conference ministries to support.
"A system that allows local churches to choose what ministries to
support violates the Discipline and undermines the spirit of the
connectional system," the council stated in Decision 1054. "General
Conference has set forth very specific and detailed processes by which
annual conferences are to determine and set their budget." Bishop
Gregory V. Palmer of Iowa had rejected the budget plan on the
apportionment grounds and because it was not presented to Iowa's Council
on Finance and Administration. His decision was affirmed.
Affirmed North Georgia Conference Bishop G. Lindsey Davis's ruling
that only ordained clergy in full connection may vote for General and
jurisdictional conference delegates, saying that Amendment VII to
Paragraph 32 of the Book of Discipline did not change Paragraphs 35 and 602.
Upheld Bishop Sally Dyck's decision that the Minnesota Conference
may officially join the Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive
Choice even if some of the group's stances disagree with the position of
the United Methodist Church.
Ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in an item from Minnesota
related to supervisory records because the questions were moot and
hypothetical and the record did not have enough facts to show
Affirmed Bishop Ben R. Chamness' decision of law in the Central
Texas Conference regarding a question of the rights of an elder, saying
that fair process procedures apply when a written and signed complaint
is received by the bishop and that the actions in question preceded the
filing of a complaint.
Said Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton of the Detroit Annual Conference had
improperly ruled on a hypothetical question. The council repeated
information from an earlier ruling that requests for decision of law
from a presiding bishop must be related to the business under
consideration by the annual conference.
Approved the clergy sexual misconduct policy for the Minnesota
Annual Conference, saying it fulfilled the requirements of the council's
Ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in a request from the
Greater New Jersey Annual Conference on just resolutions in judicial
proceedings because the questions posed lacked factual context.
Ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in a bishop's decision of
law from the Rocky Mountain Conference because it did not receive the
minutes from the session in question.
Ruled in a case from the North Carolina Conference that a pastor's
withdrawal -- whether it is made under complaint or is voluntary -- is
effective at the time it is received. "The decision to surrender
credentials before being presented with a formal complaint … works as a
forfeiture of further rights," the ruling said.
In a dissenting opinion on the North Carolina case, the Rev. Keith
Boyette, Judicial Council secretary, wrote: "The decision of my
colleagues concludes that a withdrawal is a withdrawal and that it does
not matter whether the clergy person understood that he was withdrawing
in response to a complaint which in fact did not exist at the time of
his withdrawal. … It is the bishop and the annual conference that (have)
the responsibility of ensuring that disciplinary procedures and
processes are faithfully followed. In my opinion, that was not done
Two members of the council, Mary A. Daffin and Shamwange P. Kyungu, were absent from the meeting.
*Caldwell covers the Judicial Council for United Methodist News Service and is editor of the Virginia Advocate of the Virginia Annual Conference in Richmond.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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Judicial Council Decisions
Decision No. 1032