The Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church is meeting this week in Evanston, Illinois to make a declaratory decision on the constitutionality, application, meaning, and effect of the Traditional Plan, which passed at the recent Special Session of the UMC General Conference.
Linda Bloom, a NewYork-based assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service who covers the UMC Judicial Council, released an article this week that details and explains the upcoming Judicial Council docket and the role Dr. Tim Bruster’s motion will play in this decision. Read Bloom’s full article here for more detail ad specifics.
“The April 2019 docket is short but significant,” Bloom writes, then goes on to explain that because the General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, passed the Traditional Plan in February, as it now stands there will be stronger enforcement of bans on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and same-sex weddings when those bans go into effect on January 1, 2020.
Bloom then outlines the issues the Judicial Council will be ruling on in this meeting:
“The Rev. Timothy Bruster, a delegate from the Central Texas Conference, later made a motion to request a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council on “the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect” of the Traditional Plan. The motion passed 405-395, exceeding the requirement that at least 20 percent of delegates approve sending a request to the council.
“In his brief to the Judicial Council, Bruster argues ‘that the Traditional Plan as adopted by the General Conference should be treated as one plan and be ruled unconstitutional as a whole by the Judicial Council.’ He cited Decision 1210 from General Conference 2012, when the court looked at the entirety of ‘Plan UMC’ when ruling it unconstitutional. That legislation would have restructured the church agencies.
“Bruster also argues that language in the Book of Discipline singling out “the LGBTQ+ community” is contrary to the church’s constitution and violates the rule to “do no harm.”
The second docket item is a request from the United Methodist Council of Bishops for a declaratory decision on the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of Petition 90066, which was one of the proposed “exit plans” that would allow local churches to leave the denomination.
Petition 90066 amends nothing in regard to the trust clause that holds property within the denomination. Rather, it outlines a process for churches desiring to do so to exit the denomination. The Judicial Council already ruled during the General Conference session that Petition 90066 violated Paragraph 33 in the constitution because it omitted the annual conference as the body ratifying a local church vote to change affiliation.
Petition 90066 was amended before later approval by General Conference 2019, but the amendments did not remedy the violation of paragraph 33.
In order for the Judicial Council to make a ruling on constitutionality, all nine seats at the table must be filled by members or alternates, and at least six of the nine who are seated must vote the same way. If the vote of unconstitutionality is not at least 6, The Traditional Plan will be declared constitutional.
“No matter which way the council rules, there are still important conversations going on about finding a better way forward,” notes Dr. Tim Bruster. Dr. Bruster will be among 600 pastors and laity meeting at The Church of the Resurrection May 20 – 22 in Kansas City.
Organization: The Church as Connection (from umc.org)
Terms: General Conference, Jurisdictional Conferences, Central Conferences, Annual Conferences, Districts, Charge Conferences and Local Churches
United Methodist leaders often speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning.
The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading scriptural holiness. Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” a network of classes, societies, and annual conferences.
Today, our denomination continues to be organized in a “connectional” system, which “enables us to carry out our mission in unity and strength” (Book of Discipline, ¶ 701). Every local church is linked to an interconnected network of organizations that join together in mission and ministry, allowing us to accomplish far more than any one local church or person could alone.
Within the connectional structure of The United Methodist Church, conferences provide the primary groupings of people and churches for discernment and decision-making. Wesley described Christian conferencing as a spiritual discipline through which God’s grace may be revealed. At every level of the connection, church leaders and members come together in conversation, or conferencing, to discuss important issues and discover God’s will for the church. The word, conference, thus refers to both the assembly and organization of people as well as the process of discerning God’s call together.
As the primary legislative body, General Conference is the only entity with the authority to speak on behalf of the entire United Methodist Church. The General Conference meets every four years to consider the business and mission of the church. An equal number of lay and clergy delegates are elected from United Methodist conferences around the world to decide matters of policy and procedure for the denomination. Learn more.
There are five geographic jurisdictions, or regions, in the United States, which are comprised of eight to 15 annual conferences each. Learn more.
In Africa, Europe and the Philippines, there are seven geographical regions, called central conferences, each of which is comprised of annual conferences and divided into several episcopal areas. Learn more.
The annual conference is a geographical entity, an organizational body (made up of elected lay and clergy members), and a yearly meeting. It is the fundamental body of the church (Book of Discipline, ¶ 11). Learn more.
Each local church is part of a district, which is an administrative grouping of churches in a geographic area. Learn more.
Charge Conferences and Local Churches
As the visible presence of the body of Christ, the local church is the place where members grow in faith and discipleship, putting their faith into action through ministry in the world. Learn more.Read on UMC.org
Constitutional Structure (from umc.org)
Terms: General Conference, Council of Bishops, Judicial Council
The United Methodist Church does not have a central headquarters or a single executive leader. Duties are divided among bodies that include the General Conference, the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council. Each of these entities is required by our Constitution, a foundational document, to be part of our structure, and plays a significant role in the life of the church.
The General Conference, the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church, is the only body that speaks officially for the church. Meeting once every four years to determine legislation affecting connectional matters, it is composed of no fewer than 600 and no more than 1,000 delegates.
Working within the boundaries of the Church Constitution and General Rules, the General Conference defines and fixes the conditions, privileges and duties of church membership; the powers and duties of elders, deacons, diaconal ministers and local pastors; and the powers and duties of annual conferences, missionary conferences, charge conferences and congregational meetings. It authorizes the organization, promotion and administrative work of the church. The General Conference also defines the powers and duties of the episcopacy, authorizes the official hymnal and book of worship, provides a judicial system and procedures, initiates and directs all connectional enterprises of the church and enacts other legislation for the operation of the church. Learn more.
Council of Bishops
The Council of Bishops gives general oversight of the ministry and mission of the church and spiritual leadership to the entire church connection. Composed of all active and retired bishops, the council meets as a group at least once a year.
Bishops are elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and assigned to a particular area, made up of one or more annual conferences. Each bishop provides oversight of the ministry and mission of annual conferences in his or her area and appoints all clergy to their places of service.
Through its Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, the council builds and maintains ties with other Christian denominations as well as other faith groups. Learn more.
As the denomination’s highest judicial body or “court,” the Judicial Council’s nine members, made up of laity and clergy, are elected by the General Conference and normally meet twice a year to consider whether actions of the various church bodies adhere to the constitution and follow the rules outlined in the Book of Discipline.
Their cases are generally referred to them by action of the Council of Bishops, the annual conferences or the General Conference. According to the Constitution, decisions of the Judicial Council are final (Paragraph 57, Article III). Learn more.Read on UMC.org