Citing a lack of official documentation, the United Methodist Judicial Council has sent two controversial cases back to the conferences in which they originated. One case involves homosexual marriage, the other church membership.
The same-sex marriage case stems from a resolution passed at the 2008 session of the California-Nevada Conference. The resolution encouraged and commended retired United Methodist clergy who publicly offered to perform same-sex marriages, following a 4-3 ruling (PDF) by the California Supreme Court that legalized such unions.
Because the United Methodist Book of Discipline forbids UM clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies (¶341.6), Bishop Beverly Shamana, then-bishop of the California-Nevada Conference, ruled that the resolution was “void and of no effect.”
“It is not within the power or prerogative of an annual conference to offer the services of its clergy to perform acts which the General Conference has declared to be chargeable offenses against the law of The United Methodist Church,” she wrote.
Under standard UM denominational procedure, her ruling was automatically appealed to the Judicial Council.
The Council, at its Oct. 22-25 meeting in Bloomington, Minn., said related documentation submitted by the California-Nevada Conference was lacking.
“The record does not provide the minutes and the specific action of the Annual Conference,” the Council wrote. “Consequently, the submission fails to reflect facts sufficient to invoke the Judicial Council’s jurisdiction” (full text here).
The case was remanded to the secretary of the California-Nevada Conference, along with a 30-day deadline to provide the Judicial Council with necessary materials relating to the matter.
(NOTE: The California Supreme Court’s homosexual-marriage ruling could be overturned next week, depending on the outcome of the vote on the state’s Proposition 8 referendum).
The Judicial Council also sent back a case involving standards for church membership. It was remanded to the the Alaska Conference.
From a United Methodist News Service report by Neill Caldwell:
While conference lay leader Lonnie Brooks offered oral arguments to the court in behalf of the conference, the council said “the record supplied is insufficient in that it fails to provide an exact statement of the entire question submitted for declaratory decision” (full text here). The Alaska case will be added to the spring 2009 docket.
(NOTE: This case ultimately could become moot. The 2008 General Conference, barely mustering the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional change, voted 66.9% to 33.1% to alter the language of Article IV to make it more “inclusive.” A transcript of the brief General Conference debate before the vote is in the PDF file here — see pages 2705-2707. Before taking effect, a constitutional change must be approved by two-thirds of the annual conferences.)
In another key matter, the Judicial Council ruled that the General Conference — meeting next in 2012 — would need to enact enabling legislation to change the church’s structure in the United States.
Again from UMNS:
The 2008 General Conference mandated creation of a regional conference in the United States as part of its efforts to make the denomination less U.S.-centric in structure and has sent the amendment to annual conferences for a vote in 2009 as part of the ratification process.
The Judicial Council, however, said the amendment does nothing to “harmonize its content” with the rest of the Book of Discipline… and that enabling legislation is necessary.
In responding to a request for a ruling of law brought from the floor of General Conference about the amendment’s meaning, application and effect, the council clarified that the structural changes could not take effect before 2012, even if ratified at the annual conference level in 2009.
“We conclude that the General Conference did not intend… to create a regional conference in the United States before the next General Conference,” Decision 1100 states.
The United Methodist Judicial Council has nine members:
- Susan T. Henry-Crowe (Council president, clergy, South Carolina Conf.)
—— Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life – Emory Univ. in Atlanta
- Jon R. Gray (Council vice president, lay, Missouri West Conf.)
—— attorney, former circuit court judge
- Kathi Austin-Mahle (clergy, Minnesota Conf.)
—— retired pastor and district superintendent, co-chair of the steering committee for the controversial 1993 Re-Imagining Conference that focused on feminist theology
- Dennis L. Blackwell (clergy, Greater New Jersey Conference)
—— pastor – Asbury UMC, Camden County, N.J.
- Angela Brown (lay, California-Nevada Conf.)
—— asst. district attorney – San Francisco, board member – National Center for Lesbian Rights (PDF-see page 2), past vice president – NIA Collective, an organization for lesbians of African descent
- Beth Capen (lay, New York Conf.)
- F. Belton Joyner (clergy, North Carolina Conf.)
—— retired pastor, author – Being Methodist in the Bible Belt
- William B. Lawrence (clergy, North Texas Conf.)
—— Dean – SMU’s Perkins School of Theology
- Ruben Reyes (lay, Philippines Central Conf.)
—— Associate Justice – Supreme Court of the Philippines
The alternate members are:
- Joe May (first clergy alternate, Mississippi Conf.)
- Jay Arthur Garrison (first lay alternate, Holston Conf.)
- J. Montgomery (Monty) Brown (clergy, West Virginia)
- Thomas K. Byerly (lay, West Michigan Conf.)
- Mary A. Daffin (lay, Texas Conf.)
- John Harnish (clergy, Michigan Conf.)
- James D. Karblee (clergy, Liberia Conf.)
- Raymond Mande Mutombo (lay, North Katanga Conf.)
- Deanell Tacha (lay, Kansas East Conf.)
- William F. White (lay, Wisconsin Conf.)
- Rodney E. Wilmoth (clergy, Rocky Mountain Conf.)
- Vicki Woods (clergy, New England Conf.)
The Judicial Council clerk is former Council member Sally Curtis AsKew (lay, North Georgia Conf.) — retired law librarian, Univ. of Georgia.