United Methodist clergy, even if retired, may not perform wedding ceremonies uniting two people of the same sex, even in states in which such unions have been declared legal, according to a ruling issued Monday by the United Methodist Judicial Council.
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. (That state court ruling was overturned by California voters in November).
Because the United Methodist Book of Discipline forbids UM clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies (¶ 2702.1), Bishop Beverly Shamana, then-bishop of the California-Nevada Conference, ruled that the resolution was “void and of no effect.”
Under UM procedure, her ruling was automatically appealed to the Judicial Council.
“The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed,” the Council ruled, noting that “[a]n annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they [sic] disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions.”
The Judicial Council issued a related ruling in a case from the California-Pacific Conference (Memorandum 1115).
From a report by the United Methodist News Service:
[T]he council reversed California-Pacific Conference Bishop Mary Ann Swenson‘s ruling supporting a conference resolution recognizing “the pastoral need and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations to offer the ministry of marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples.”
In a concurring opinion, Jon Gray and the Rev. Kathi Austin Mahle wrote “church law can only be made by the General Conference and cannot be achieved through piecemeal resolutions adopted in an annual conference session.”
In another ruling made during the Judicial Council’s spring session last week and issued Monday, the Council ruled that a decision by Southern Methodist University to lease property for the George W. Bush Presidential Center does not violate the United Methodist Book of Discipline (Decision 1113).
The United Methodist Church’s top court…ruled Southern Methodist University can lease campus property for the George W. Bush presidential library, museum and public policy institute….
Critics opposed to many policies of the Bush administration, including the war in Iraq, argued placing the institute on SMU property would be inconsistent with church teaching.
The Rev. Jeannie Trevino-Teddlie, director of the Mexican-American program at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, made the original request for a legal decision, contending the lease would subsidize “a specific political and ideological point of view.”
Oklahoma Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. made an initial ruling last August that Trevino-Teddlie’s request did not relate to church law. The Judicial Council disagreed, saying the request “could have and should have been answered” as it relates to church law.
In its own review, the nine-member council said it found nothing in the lease agreement that violated the school’s Articles of Incorporation or the church’s Book of Discipline….
Throughout much of Bush’s two presidential terms, SMU lobbied to serve as host for the presidential center. Bush and his wife, Laura, are both United Methodists, and the former first lady is a graduate of SMU. In February 2008, the university and the Bush Foundation reached an agreement to bring the library to the Dallas campus….
Judicial Council member the Rev. William Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, recused himself from all proceedings of the case…
The presidential center, which is expected to be completed by 2014, will consist of a library that contains documents and artifacts of the Bush administration, a museum and a public policy institute.
The United Methodist Judicial Council chose not to rule in a case coming from the Alaska Conference (Memorandum 1118). The Conference had asked whether paragraphs 214 and 225 of the 2004 Book of Discipline are at odds with Article IV of the UM Constitution (paragraph 4 in the Book of Discipline). All three paragraphs deal with eligibility for church membership.
The Council said it did not have jurisdiction because the request for a declaratory decision did not directly relate to any action taken by a session of the Alaska Annual Conference(¶ 2610.2(j)).
The case stemmed from a 2005 Judicial Council ruling (Decision 1032) in which a Virginia pastor was found to be within his pastoral rights to refuse membership to a non-celibate homosexual man whom the pastor deemed unready to take vows related to repentance and discipleship. The Council ruled that a pastor has authority under the Book of Discipline to determine a layperson’s readiness for membership.
In a column commenting on the Alaska case, former Judicial Council member Keith Boyette noted that “[p]roponents of eliminating pastoral discretion obviously hoped that the change in the membership of the Judicial Council in the current quadrennium would result in the Council overruling Decision 1032. The declaratory request from the Alaska Annual Conference did not present a vehicle for them to achieve this goal. The Judicial Council properly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction.”