Leader Update - May 5, 2019

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The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church met last week in Evanston, IL. The Council found that while some provisions of the newly adopted Traditional Plan remain unconstitutional, the rest of the plan is valid as church law. In a separate ruling, legislation to provide an exit strategy for local churches wishing to leave the denomination meet three minimum requirements and thus is constitutional when taken together with the consent of the annual conference as specifically outlined in the Book of Discipline.

What does this means for us at Calvary. We continue to invite, include, and use in ministry all persons. In the meantime before next year’s General Conference, my plan is to have several gatherings/studies in some form or another. There is one new book written by 24 UM Pastors called "Where Do We Go From Here? Honest Responses From Twenty-four United Methodist Leaders” and available by the middle of May. I’ve ordered it and if it is helpful, those who are interested can do a study or a book read together. There are two questions that are out there regarding “how to interpret or read the Bible?” and what does the Bible say about homosexuality. I’m still working on who helps facilitate these discussions, the best time to do this (i.e summer vacations and sports take a lot of people out during June, July, and August), and the best way to do this (i.e. face to face, online in some manner or form, or using some media platform. I’m not there yet. This discussion on interpreting the Bible is a “hot button” conversation both from a religious as well as political perspective. When we have this discussion, I just want to do it well, if that makes sense.

My opinion/belief/conviction is the same as it was after GC 2019: we hold steady because the conversations are certainly not over. Also, my opinion is that GC 2020 will have an outcome that will most likely look like the One Church Plan - a plan whereby churches and pastors will be able to choose their path to follow. Hear me on this, this is my opinion and nothing more. There is nothing official, but as I’m reading things from across the spectrum of thought, I sense a growing conviction that this needs to happen. For now, continue in the practice found in Psalm 46:10 and in persevering for the cause of Christ Jesus.

The following is an excerpt from United Methodist Insight highlighting some of the detail in the Judicial Council’s decision. The full text can be found here.

These pieces of legislation had been ruled constitutional in JCD 1377 and JCD 1378 reaffirmed that previous ruling.

  • An expanded definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” that includes “living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union or is a person who publicly states she or he is a practicing homosexual” (Previously, “self-avowed” had been limited to openly acknowledging oneself to a bishop, DS, BOOM or district committee on ordained ministry). [90032]

  • Minimum penalties for clergy who fit the above definition or who perform same-sex weddings (first offense - one-year suspension without pay; second offense - lose of credentials). [90042]

  • Prohibiting bishops from commissioning and ordaining elders and deacons and consecrating bishops who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” even if they have been recommended by BOOM or elected by a jurisdictional conference. [90036, 90043]

  • Gives complainants a role in the complaint process. [90044,90045 except the second sentence,90046]

  • The church has the right to appeal findings of a trial based on egregious errors of church law or administration. “This is not to be double jeopardy.” [90047]

In sum, they upheld what they had ruled in previous decisions. These changes to the Discipline eliminate most (but not all) of the loopholes. It imposes severe penalties for violations and greater scrutiny of allegations.

This decision reviewed the “Taylor Plan” for the disaffiliation of a local church from the denomination that was approved in the last minutes of the General Conference [90066]. The original version had been ruled unconstitutional because it did not contain a role for the annual conference. Later, it was amended to give the annual conference a role in the disaffiliation process.

The Judicial Council ruled that, in its amended form, it did provide a sufficient role for the annual conference when it is combined it with another paragraph in the Discipline [¶ 2529.1(b)(3)].

They concluded by saying, “In deference to the legislative branch, we reluctantly declare amended Petition 90066 constitutional but stress at the same time that the General Conference bears the responsibility to legislatively address the deficiency identified in ¶ 2553 [the new paragraph number for the Taylor Plan].”

In short, we now have a process in the Discipline for a local church that disagrees with the denomination’s position on homosexuality to be released from the trust clause. However, there is no process for the creation of new denominations.