The United Methodist Judicial Council, reversing a decision by Bishop John Schol, has ruled that a resolution passed this earlier this year by the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference is at odds with the United Methodist Book of Discipline‘s official teaching on human sexuality.
The resolution, which mirrored legislation rejected by the 2008 General Conference, said that United Methodists “have been and remain divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality.”
However, the official church teaching of the United Methodist Church, approved by the General Conference and included in ¶161F of the 2008 Book of Discipline, clearly states that the UMC “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider[s] this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Further, the Discipline language notes that “sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”
In its ruling (Decision 1120), the Judicial Council, the denomination’s highest court, wrote that the “effect of the Baltimore-Washington resolution is to negate the church’s clearly stated position.” Moreover, “the Baltimore–Washington resolution attempts to articulate a new and different standard of church belief using language that has been specifically rejected by the General Conference.”
The Council ruled that an annual conference “may not negate, ignore or violate” the Book of Discipline, “even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections.”
A report from the United Methodist News Service offers additional background:
In previous decisions, the council had determined [that] statements of beliefs on sexuality from the Desert Southwest [Decision 913] and Pacific Northwest [Decision 1021] conferences — and even an earlier Baltimore-Washington resolution calling for inclusive behavior in the acceptance of congregational members [Memorandum 1044] — were permissible because they did not negate, ignore or violate the Discipline.
But a California-Nevada resolution directing the conference to distribute a list of retired clergy willing to perform same-sex union ceremonies was considered an endorsement of actions prohibited by the Discipline [Decision 1111].
Applying guiding principles from such previous decisions, the Judicial Council found that the Baltimore-Washington statement’s claim to communicate a “more authentic and truthful representation” of the church implies the denomination’s position is less than authentic.
The Baltimore-Washington resolution voided by the Judicial Council was sponsored by seven churches — three in Maryland and four in Washington, D.C. — aligned with Baltimore-Washington Area Reconciling United Methodists.
The group “seek[s] to affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and ensure the full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the ministry and life of the United Methodist Church, particularly in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.”
The Maryland churches are Emmanuel UMC in Laurel, Christ UMC in Columbia, and St. John’s UMC in Baltimore. The D.C. congregations are Capitol Hill UMC, Wesley UMC, Dumbarton UMC, and Foundry UMC.
In 2008, one of the seven churches, D.C.’s Foundry UMC, began “recogniz[ing] same-sex unions in special ceremonies that fall just short of an official wedding,” according to a account from the United Methodist News Service.
In other rulings, the Judicial Council affirmed a decision by Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster that a five-year-old Western North Carolina Conference plan that gave local churches leeway in choosing which conference and general church funding requests to pay is in violation of ¶247.14 of the Book of Discipline.
Quoting the Discipline, the Council noted that payment in full of “apportioned” items is “the first benevolent responsibility of the church” (Decision 1121).
In a matter arising from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the Judicial Council agreed that a retired elder is allowed serve as chair of a local church Finance Committee (Decision 1126).
In a case from the California-Nevada Conference, the Judicial Council upheld Bishop Warner H. Brown’s ruling that an annual conference is allowed to set the retirement-pay rate for retired clergy as long as it does not reduce compensation. The case stemmed from a conference decision to forestall an “automatic” 2 percent annual increase for retired pastors (Decision 1141).
Below is a United Methodist News Service summary of several additional rulings.
The Judicial Council:
- Ruled the secretary of the General Conference has the authority to determine the number of delegates that each annual and missionary conference will elect to the General Conference within the provisions of the Constitution and the legislative enactments of the General Conference.
- Affirmed the ruling of Bishop Jonathan Keaton that a request for a decision of law in the Detroit Annual Conference regarding identifying local church membership in the Reconciling Ministries Network was “moot, hypothetical and improper.”
- Found that the Louisiana Annual Conference did not violate the Discipline by establishing clergy compensation before knowing the cost of health insurance premiums because such a cost is a benefit, not compensation.
- Upheld a decision by Bishop Mary Ann Swenson regarding implementation of the California-Pacific Conference’s Annual Conference’s Clergy Benefit Charge to cover the costs of the health premiums for retired and incapacitated clergy.
The nine-member Judicial Council met last week in Durham, North Carolina. Current members and alternates are listed in this post.
Members of the Council are elected by the United Methodist General Conference.