Nov. 2, 2004
By Neill Caldwell*
(UMNS) – The United Methodist Judicial Council affirmed the
denomination’s new Connectional Table as a "new and different entity" of
the church — but one that must follow constitutional rules in terms of
inclusiveness, including representation from racial ethnic caucuses.
its fall meeting Oct. 27-29, the denomination’s supreme court issued
decisions on 16 docket items and deferred one until its meeting in
April. Deferred was a decision on 2004 General Conference Petition
40325, which deals with powers of the United Methodist Board of Pension
and Health Benefits. Council members said they would seek more
information before making a ruling.
Judicial Council decisions dealt with the Connectional Table, created
last spring by General Conference as a way of bringing the
denomination’s ministries and money together at the same table. The
Connectional Table will begin operating Jan. 1.
Conference asked the Judicial Council to rule on whether the
Connectional Table must meet the same requirements for membership as the
church’s general agencies under the United Methodist Book of Discipline. The assembly also asked whether the Book of Discipline allows the inclusion of caucuses as organizations permitted to place members on the Connectional Table.
nine-member council stated that the Connectional Table was "created as a
new and different entity, not as a new general agency." At the same
time, "the provisions for membership must be consistent with the
Constitution (Paragraph 4)." The council also noted that an amendment to
designate the Connectional Table as a general agency was "intentionally
rejected by a vote of 761 to 128" at General Conference.
second question related to whether the Connectional Table should
include representatives from racial ethnic caucuses. The council ruled
that "enacted legislation providing for the nomination of prospective
members to the Connectional Table from racial ethnic caucuses does not
violate any disciplinary provision and is not unconstitutional."
its rationale, the council said that "the United Methodist Church has
been and seeks to be sensitive to the inclusiveness of racial and ethnic
persons. Moreover, the Constitution mandates inclusiveness in the
church." It continued: "The stated purpose of the Connectional Table is
to be the visioning body for the United Methodist Church. The Discipline permits the whole church to be represented at the table."
Tomlinson, assistant to the bishop in the North Georgia Annual
Conference, spoke in favor of including the ethnic caucuses during oral
arguments before the court. "The membership of ethnic communities is
working to strengthen the church," he said. "It is not out of character
with the Discipline to include these caucuses."
to another request from General Conference, the council ruled that
Calendar Item 1514 – dealing with doctrinal standards of the church –
violated Restrictive Rules I, II and V in the Book of Discipline and therefore was "null and void."
to another question from the General Conference, the court ruled that
lay people may not serve on annual conference committees on
investigation – nullifying an action of the assembly. "Calendar Item
1167, giving lay professing members the right of voice and vote on the
committee on investigation, is unconstitutional," the court said. The Book of Discipline
restricts matters of character and conference relationships to clergy
in full connection and members of the board of ordained ministry, the
final question related to 2004 General Conference was on the
constitutionality of Calendar Item 1017, which would have made an annual
conference’s scouting coordinator a lay member of that conference. The
council ruled that the addition was unconstitutional, since the church’s
Constitution doesn’t include the scouting coordinator in its definition
of the annual conference’s membership.
Health care concerns
The council dealt with two items related to heath care benefits for domestic partners.
The West Michigan Annual (regional) Conference asked for "a declaratory decision on the meaning, application and effect of the Discipline to the addition of domestic partner benefits to the conference benefits health policy."
oral arguments, David Lundquist, former top staff executive of the
General Council on Ministries and a lay member of the West Michigan
Conference, said the Judicial Council had limited jurisdiction in what
should be an annual conference decision. "This is really a question of
whether the annual conference has the authority to determine its own
health plan," he said.
council ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in the matter because
West Michigan’s request did not refer to a specific paragraph of the Book of Discipline, "which is required for a declaratory decision."
second case was more complex. It concerned a review of Bishop Susan M.
Morrison’s decision of law in the Troy Annual Conference concerning a
resolution, "Providing Health Care Coverage for Domestic Partners,"
which the annual conference approved June 11. The petition directed the
conference committee on health insurance to make "all reasonable efforts
to find a way to extend health insurance coverage to domestic partners
of employees of the Troy Annual Conference and its churches … and to
implement such coverage as soon as possible." The resolution asked the
committee to petition the churchwide Board of Pension and Health
Benefits to "make insurance coverage more inclusive and available."
The council ruled that "an annual conference may investigate and study any issue not expressly prohibited by the Discipline.
An annual conference may also advocate with the general church boards
and agencies for changes in policies and procedures." However, the
council ruled that the bishop erred in approving the portion of the
petition that directs the conference committee on health insurance to
implement coverage "without prior specific and affirmative approval of
the annual conference. Annual conferences may not delegate authority
reserved to the annual conference to another body."
Judicial Council affirmed the decision of law by Bishop G. Lindsey
Davis of North Georgia that a resolution approved by the annual
conference in support of a marriage amendment to Georgia’s state
constitution did not violate the Book of Discipline. The
resolution originated in the South Georgia Annual Conference and
expressed support for "laws which define marriage as existing only
between a man and a woman." The North Georgia Annual Conference approved
it on June 18.
Judicial Council ruled that a revised plan of structure for the
Northern Illinois Annual Conference complies with church law and may be
the council ruled that the Virginia Annual Conference’s organizational
plan, which was approved during 2004 Annual Conference, was consistent
with the Book of Discipline. The Rev. Keith Boyette, a council member and clergy member of the Virginia Conference, recused himself on this case.
on another item from Virginia, the Judicial Council reversed a
conference action that placed a clergy member on involuntary leave of
absence. The court remanded the case back to the annual conference "with
directions to reinstate the clergy member to the same status he held
prior to the 2004 clergy session of the annual conference."
clergy member had been notified in May of the district superintendent’s
decision to place him on involuntary leave of absence and to seek a
waiver of a 90-day rule. On June 2, the conference relations committee
voted to place the clergy member on involuntary leave and recommend a
waiver of the 90-day requirement. Five days later, the pastor informed
the bishop of his request for voluntary retirement. However, at the
clergy session of the annual conference that month, a motion to place
the member on involuntary leave was approved.
its ruling, the court said, "The member is entitled to immediate
appointment and to all salary and benefits retroactive to June 14, 2004.
The annual conference is required to act on the clergy member’s request
for voluntary retirement. In the event the annual conference chooses to
deny the request for voluntary retirement, the member is then entitled
to fair process on the issue of involuntary leave of absence…"
Judicial Council approved the method of implementing the Kansas West
Annual Conference plan to remedy gender-based inequity in clergy
compensation. The plan was required to be reviewed and approved under a
previous ruling, in which the court said that while the plan was
"permissible under the Discipline, its method of implementation must not result in further discrimination on the basis of gender."
council said it had no jurisdiction to rule on a request from the
Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference for "a declaratory decision on
the authority of a bishop to overrule the Judicial Council and deny an
individual’s request for a jury trial." In its ruling, the council said
it would "not render decisions that are merely advisory or that decide
abstract or uncertain questions based upon hypothetical facts."
council also said it did not have jurisdiction in the case of a
bishop’s decision of law in the North Central New York Conference
concerning approval of a candidate for commissioning as a probationary
member by the clergy session. "Such (parliamentary) questions are the
prerogative of the presiding officer and are appealable to the annual
conference," the court said.
Judicial Council voided a decision of law by Bishop Ernest S. Lyght
related to a New York Conference elder’s right to trial. "A review of
the minutes of the closing session of the New York Annual Conference of
June 5, 2004, reveals that there was no regular business, consideration
or discussion before the conference to which the request for ruling of
law was germane," the court ruled. "... Therefore, the request for a
ruling of law was moot and hypothetical and should not have been decided
by the bishop." The court reviews all decisions of law made by bishops
during conference gatherings. Council member Beth Capen, a New York
Conference lay member, recused herself on this case.
council received a request for declaratory decision from the Wisconsin
Annual Conference on the constitutionality of Paragraph 346.1 of the Discipline,
dealing with the discontinuance of local pastors. The council was asked
to rule whether the paragraph conflicts with the church’s Constitution,
which reserves the right of all clergy to trial with the right of
appeal. The court ruled that the paragraph is constitutional.
part of the same docket item, the council also examined Paragraph 356.1
to determine whether allowing a bishop or a district committee on
ordained ministry to not recommend continuation of a local pastor’s
license conflicts with the Constitution, which gives the annual
conference the authority to vote on the character and conference
relations of its clergy. The court concluded that the paragraph is
*Caldwell is a freelance writer residing in High Point, N.C.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.