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Two Judicial Council Members Add Opinions to Decision

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    Two Judicial Council Members Add Opinions to Decision A UMNS Report By Neill Caldwell* Nov. 29, 2005 Amid the debate about the United Methodist Judicial
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2005
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      Two Judicial Council Members Add Opinions to Decision
      A UMNS Report
      By Neill Caldwell*
      Nov. 29, 2005

      Amid the debate about the United Methodist Judicial Council's recent
      ruling on a pastor's authority to determine membership, two people who
      were directly involved in the decision have weighed in with their own
      opinions.

      The two additional opinions became part of the official ruling for the
      Judicial Council's Decision 1032, which was issued Oct. 31 and can be
      found on the denomination's Web site at www.umc.org.

      In the ruling, the United Methodist Church's supreme court found in
      favor of a Virginia pastor who refused to admit a self-avowed,
      practicing gay man into membership in his church. The ruling reversed
      a decision of law by Bishop Charlene Kammerer and reinstated the Rev.
      Ed Johnson, who had been placed on involuntary leave by the Virginia
      Annual (regional) Conference.

      Johnson has been returned as senior pastor at South Hill (Va.) United
      Methodist Church, where he had served before his suspension last summer.

      Judge Jon R. Gray of Missouri, one of nine members of the Judicial
      Council, filed a dissent to Decision 1032, while the Rev. Keith
      Boyette of Virginia filed a concurring opinion.

      Gray lamented the "serious ramifications" of Decision 1032, including
      a potential loss of credibility for the court because the ruling
      "abandons the traditional and limited role of the Judicial Council as
      interpreter of church law and assumes a new mantle as creator of
      church law."

      "The majority's decision now condones the denial of the fellowship of
      the church to persons in need of its ministry and guidance who are
      homosexual," he wrote. "The decision eviscerates our statement that
      God's grace is available to all and reduces it to an empty platitude.
      More tragically, the same Judicial Council charged with giving effect
      to the intent of the enactments of the General Conference has turned a
      cold and rejecting ear to its plea that families and churches not
      reject lesbian and gay members and friends. …

      "We cannot begin to comprehend the unwanted and undesired consequences
      of this ruling," Gray added. "The majority's ruling has dangerous
      potential to create adversarial relationships between pastors and
      persons who seek membership in our denomination. It encroaches upon
      the authority of the office of bishop by judicial whim rather than
      through a deliberate legislative process. It upsets the delicate
      system of checks and balances inherent in our governance."

      Another council member, the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe of Atlanta, also
      wrote a dissenting opinion, which was included in the majority decision.

      Boyette wrote in his concurring opinion for Decision 1032 that
      "contrary to what some will assert, our decision here is not a
      statement that homosexuals are barred from membership in the local
      church."

      "As one can plainly see from the decision and digest of the Judicial
      Council as well as the analysis and rationale, there is nothing in
      such language that can remotely be construed as making a sweeping
      declaration that the Judicial Council has held that 'homosexuals' are
      barred from membership in the church," Boyette wrote.

      Boyette - a Virginia Conference member, like Johnson - also addressed
      his decision not to recuse himself in the two cases that came before
      the court regarding Johnson. Those related to the clergy executive
      session of the Virginia Annual Conference placing a fellow
      clergyperson on involuntary leave and the subsequent rulings by the
      bishop.

      "The issues raised by these decisions are not unique to Virginia but
      have impact on every clergyperson in our connectional system," he
      said. "In my view, it would be inappropriate for me to recuse myself
      under such circumstances, and I exercised my right as a member of the
      Judicial Council to make that determination."

      The Judicial Council's procedures allow members to make their own
      decision about whether or not to recuse themselves from an individual
      case.

      Boyette was joined in his concurrence by lay Judicial Council member
      Rodolfo C. Beltran, an attorney from the Philippines.

      *Caldwell is a freelance writer based in High Point, N.C.
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