Expanded Prayers for the UMC Judicial Council

The United Methodist Church’s version of the Supreme Court, otherwise known as the Judicial Council, will be ruling in October about Karen Oliveto’s consecration as a UM bishop, and they’ll be adjudicating whether an annual conference’s Clergy Session and Board of Ordained Ministry can properly have before them persons who have self-avowed behaviors that are in violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. It is basically a question of whether an annual conference’s prerogatives outweigh General Conference’s actions.

The first major Judicial Decision which established that General Conference is preeminent in legislation and supersedes annual conferences’ administrative function, was made back in 1972. In reference to the establishment of the General Council on Ministries, the Judicial Council  stated in Decision 364, “The General Conference may not delegate legislative functions and responsibilities which are assigned to it by the Constitution.” This specifically helps us pray for the Judicial Council because at issue is who outranks whom in our checks and balances system. The bottom line is exactly what the Book of Discipline says in Par. 509.1,2: Only the General Conference has the authority to speak for the church.

Judicial Decision 1321 that was rendered at GC2016 also covers this in great detail and cites previous decisions of church law (All Judicial Council Decisions can be researched online at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/judicial-council). Decision 1321 reinforces that the General Conference certainly has full legislative authority over all things “distinctively connectional” (Par. 16), including matters of defining minimum clergy credentialing requirements (Cf. Judicial Decision 536). There are plenty of Judicial Decisions that make the recent actions of certain annual conferences null and void, even the election of Karen Oliveto. My interpretation of the aforementioned decisions is that it is impossible in our connectional polity for an annual, central, or jurisdictional conference to contravene the General Conference. Read the specifics of Judicial Decision 1321!

It really doesn’t matter if an annual conference says persons are in “good standing” if they have already self-avowed that they are in opposition to The Book of Discipline. The declaration of the General Conference is the last word, and the “right to trial” guaranteed to each UM clergyperson is moot when someone precludes the need of a trial by their own volition. Judicial Decision 980 is very specific if an annual conference’s Committee on Investigation refuses to certify a bill of charges and ignores stated facts that ipso facto would convict a person. The Decision reaches two very pertinent conclusions: “Should members of the Committee on Investigation be unwilling to uphold the Discipline for reasons of conscience, such members must step aside…” and  “persons who state that they cannot in good conscience uphold the Discipline are ineligible to serve on a trial jury.”

As a historical aside, after the 1956 GC had approved full clergy rights for women, a specific case arose about some who refused to enforce the GC’s action. This Decision is a great help in understanding our denominational jurisprudence and the rights of whole entities in the church to ignore General Conference actions. The Judicial Council rendered Decision 155 in 1958 which stated clearly that everyone had to abide by the same Book of Discipline. This was a wonderful decision in many ways, and in this case by setting a legal precedence (Par. 2611 BOD) of the Book of Discipline over all other documents and entities. It alone speaks for the UMC and is the voice of General Conference.

Similarly, Judicial Decision 886 offers clear guidance in our current milieu. In its opening “Digest of Case,” the decision says, “The Discipline is the law of the Church which regulates every phase of the life and work of the Church. As such, annual conferences may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions.” It seems obvious that connectionalism is based upon mutual covenant keeping, or the whole house falls.

The United Methodist position on the practice of homosexuality extends both grace and definite boundaries. It is a complex issue. Not only is the authority of Scripture involved, but also our ecclesiology. My sincere hope is that our denomination can work through this. My plea is for us to honor the Study Commission and pray for them as they do their work on “A Way Forward” on this issue. Our most urgent prayer in the timeline is to pray fervently for the Judicial Council.

In the meantime, all of us need to keep covenant, whether pro or con in changing the language of the Discipline about the practice of homosexuality. We pray and hold fast in the interim. I remind all UM clergy that Judicial Decision 986 says that any pastor that deliberately encourages withholding apportionments is liable for a charge of disobedience. BOD Pars. 340.2(c)(2)e, 639.4 and 247.14, last sentence, are very instructive. Let’s remain calm and let the judicial process work.

This is about the rule of canon law and covenant keeping in a connectional church. These are tenuous times for us. We can either obey the General Conference or fracture into something we’re not. I wouldn’t want to be anything else than a United Methodist. Every person who has been ordained promised to keep our rules and stated that he or she agreed with them. I made that promise, and I’m still keeping it by the grace of God.

Judicial Council Book Pic

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15 thoughts on “Expanded Prayers for the UMC Judicial Council

  1. Tim,

    I’m praying that the Judicial Council agrees with your very clear perspective… The Church should not be Politically Correct, but should rather seek to bring all to the grace of God… I think some have rejected that idea and re-worked the idea that God loves us all to be “God will never punish anyone for violating His Law”. I think those folks need to re-read the Bible, especially the Old Testament.

    All the Best,

    Lewis Browning

    1. Good thinking, Lewis. tim

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      On Aug 17, 2016, at 11:20 AM, A Potter's View wrote:

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    1. Thanks, John. Appreciate your work, tim

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      On Aug 17, 2016, at 11:49 AM, A Potter's View wrote:

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    1. Thank, Steve, time for prayer and clear thinking and decisions. tim

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  2. Thank you for these wise words. I, too, am standing firm for now as a United Methodist Clergy. I refused to abandon my post and been called as “Missing In Action”. And I refuse to make a decision based on what “might” happen. Your words are words that bring us together with hope.

    1. God bless you, Randy! Stand firm, tim

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  3. Tim,
    Thanks for doing the research on the judicial Councils proceedings.
    Our Arkansas Connection of Orthodox Wesleyans met with Bishop
    Mueller yesterday. As a member of the executive committee of the COB, he was encouraging
    In terms of future prospects. In fact he. Told us he plans to attend the WCA meeting in October.

    1. Good news, Bob! Glad to hear it, tim

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  4. It was said of Rev. King that white people listened to his pacifist appeals because they were afraid of the crazy %#@$^$ standing behind him with a bomb. I sincerely hope that our General Church agencies are listening to the likes of you, Drew McIntyre , Chris Ritter, and others–because I’m one of the crazies standing behind you with a bomb.
    As you pointed out (and it requires minimal research) the JC has addressed the specifics of this case many times and with clarity (as well as the issues arising from NYAC, NIAC, WJ, and others.) In fact, 1321 begins by pointing out that these issues have been addressed “numerous ” times and then cites the long history. Why does the CoB, and our boards and agencies, need another ruling? Only so they can delay implementing what has already been decided. When the JC does rule, they will not tgen get up from their chairs and go move her out of her office and she will not resign. What will the CoB do then? Ask for another JC ruling. And if they ever should act is there any reason to believe it will be different from the Talbert “Just Resolution ” that changed nothing but effectively affirmed his actions.
    I don’t believe any solution will come from our general church structures that means implementing what GC and the JC has already decided because they don’t like that.

    1. Hope it turns out better than anyone thinks! I’m hopeful with skepticism, tim

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  5. Tim….seems to me that the realities of the issue are clearly articulated by The Discipline an JC decisions. What I’m not clear on is how we go forward in unity with folks who say red doesn’t mean stop because they don’t want it to mean stop. A conversation about what it means to be UM with that attitude is like one hand clapping. In these moments we’re thrown back on our real issue: how can we be the best disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Parenthetically it’s not by holding up a sign that says “We are all Muslims.” Thanks for your good word.
    Larry

    1. Thanks for your wise words! The image of one hand clapping is a good one. Appreciate you, tim

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