CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
Monday, April 29, 2002
Judicial Council revisits language of earlier decision
By Joretta Purdue*
INDIANAPOLIS (UMNS) � A decision by the United Methodist Judicial
Council to revise an earlier ruling leaves Bishop Elias Galvan of
Seattle with more discretion on the issue of suspending a clergywoman
whose credentials are under review.
In question was whether the suspension of a clergyperson whose
ministerial credentials are under review is mandatory or optional.
The new decision brings an earlier ruling into line with the
denomination�s 2000 Book of Discipline by substituting the word "may"
from the cited passage of the book for the word "shall," used in the
earlier decision. Three council members signed a dissenting opinion
in the current decision, saying suspension was required by the facts
presented in the case. The case originated last year in the Pacific
Northwest Annual (regional) Conference, which Galvan oversees.
Meeting in its spring session April 24-25, the denomination's
equivalent of the Supreme Court decided to alter the wording of its
previous decision to accurately reflect that of the church�s book of
laws and procedures.
The relatively short docket � seven items, of which one was withdrawn
� enabled the council to conclude its business a day earlier than
expected. Spring storms prevented the Rev. C. Rex Bevins from
attending, leaving the court with eight members for the session.
Last year, the council had been asked by the Pacific Northwest
Conference if a conflict exists between the denomination�s
prohibition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual" clergy from being
appointed to serve a congregation and the rule that requires the
ministerial appointment of all clergy in good standing.
In its decision, the council held that the two rules are not in
conflict but that a bishop could not act unilaterally to withhold
appointment of a clergyperson. Rather, the standing or status of an
ordained pastor is determined only by the annual conference in
accordance with fair process, a set of procedures designed to
guarantee the rights of the clergyperson.
The council's decision last October also noted that the specifics of
this case were enough to subject the person to review of her
ministerial credentials. Earlier in the year, the Rev. Karen Dammann
had sent a letter to Galvan saying she was living in a covenanted
same-sex relationship. Dammann was not mentioned by name in either
Judicial Council decision.
Galvan and another conference official subsequently sought the
council's reconsideration of its directive, contained in Decision No.
920, to suspend the clergywoman.
The new decision does not alter the earlier decision except to change
the direction that the bishop "shall place the clergy person on
suspension" while proceedings are conducted to "may place the
clergyperson on suspension," in keeping with the wording of the Book
Three council members � the Rev. Keith D. Boyette, Mary A. Daffin and
James Holsinger � dissented, saying that suspension is required in
the specified case. They also said that the earlier decision "does
not say that the bishop must suspend every person against whom any
type of complaint is made. Decision 920 is limited to the factual
situation set forth in the request for declaratory decision."
A request for a declaratory decision from the churchwide Commission
on General Conference asked, in effect, which groups may submit
petitions to the General Conference, the church's highest legislative
body. The commission also asked if it has the responsibility to
interpret the meaning of a Book of Discipline reference to "any
organization" of the United Methodist Church. The question arose in
regard to the submission of petitions to General Conference.
The council ruled that the commission does not have the authority to
define the phrase "as being limited to official organizations" of the
denomination. The Book of Discipline provides legislative access to
both official and unofficial groups within the church, the council
Another case involved the North Carolina Annual Conference's approval
last June of a motion to appeal a Judicial Council decision. North
Carolina members wanted to appeal the court�s ruling that a request
from the conference's 2000 session did not meet the requisites for a
"There is no disciplinary provision for appealing a decision of the
Judicial Council," the council said. "All decisions of the Judicial
Council are final." Four members used a concurring opinion to point
to the inadequacies of the original request, reminding petitioners
that when questioning legality, they need to cite a particular
paragraph in the Book of Discipline that relates to the matter.
The concurring members � Rodolfo C. Beltran, the Rev. John G. Corry,
Sally Brown Geis and James Holsinger � said they believed the North
Carolina Annual Conference intended to ask for a decision on the
legality of a resolution that it adopted in 2000, calling for seeking
the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the issue of homosexuality through
study and prayer and through the use of the official study materials
of the denomination. "There is nothing in this resolution that makes
it illegal or that is contrary to the provisions of the 2000
Discipline," they wrote.
The court also reviewed North Carolina Bishop Marion Edwards'
decision of law regarding a question raised in the conference�s 2001
session. The question dealt with whether funds of any unit within the
church could be given to any organization that "promotes the
acceptance of homosexuality by authorizing any portion of its
property or buildings to be used to celebrate 'same sex' unions in a
service resembling a marriage service or in a quasi service." The
council agreed with the bishop that the question did not relate to
business before the conference and was moot.
In another case, the council upheld Edwards' ruling that a series of
questions related to procedures for handling complaints against
clergy was moot and hypothetical because the questions did not refer
to any action before the conference.
All bishops' decisions of law � responses to questions asked during
the business session of the annual conference � are sent to the
Judicial Council for review.
The court gave a similar review to decisions by Bishop Hae-Jong Kim
of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference related to questions
about conference structure. The council sometimes affirmed the
bishop, sometimes overruled him and sometimes found that his decision
that a particular question was moot and hypothetical was incorrect
but that the bishop correctly ruled that the question was factually
The council retained jurisdiction and said it expects to see the
complete conference structure and rules at its fall session in
Baltimore. The court also specified that district superintendents and
members of the conference staff are barred from membership on the
conference committee on episcopacy; the conference rules permitting
the conference council to meet in executive session violate the Book
of Discipline; and the conference's council on finance and
administration cannot have voting members who also are members or
employees of another church unit that is considered for funds from
the conference budget.
Before the council session began, a request related to whether annual
conferences are required to provide for archival and historical
matters was withdrawn by the petitioner. The Judicial Council also
denied three other requests for reconsideration of earlier decisions.
*Purdue is news director for United Methodist News Service in
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