Bishops' President Foresees More Dialogue After Judicial Session
- Bishops' president foresees more dialogue after judicial session
May. 3, 2006
A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell*
The president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops reacted
cautiously to news that the church's top court had declined to
reconsider two decisions with which the bishops had expressed strong
On May 2, the Judicial Council handed down rulings from its recent
meeting in Overland Park, Kan., including the denial of appeals of
Decisions 1031 and 1032. Those two decisions, rendered last October,
dealt with the Rev. Ed Johnson of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist
Church, who prevented a practicing gay man from becoming a member in
The Judicial Council ruled that a senior pastor does have the right to
determine who is ready to take membership, and that the Virginia
Conference had violated Johnson's right to due process. Johnson, who
had been placed on leave by the conference, was reinstated to his
appointment at South Hill following the council's decision.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, of the Texas Annual Conference, said she
was disappointed that the church court did not vote to reconsider the
rulings, but said she "respects the Judicial Council and their
process." Huie began a two-year term as president of the
denomination's Council of Bishops this month.
She said she also agreed with comments made in a concurring opinion
issued with the ruling that "it is time for the issues addressed in
Decision 1032 to now be debated by the United Methodist Church, as is
"I agree that this larger issue belongs to the church, and the proper
place for the debate to continue is in our church, specifically at the
2008 General Conference," she said. "We will continue our dialogue on
how the church responds to homosexuals."
Huie declined to speculate as to what might happen at the next General
Conference, which will be held in Fort Worth, Texas, in late April, 2008.
Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer of Virginia, a principal in the two
Johnson cases, said May 3 that she was disappointed in the Judicial
Council's response, but added: "I will do my part by modeling
Christian conversation and civility within our family of United
Methodists here in Virginia as this conversation continues.
"As I reflect on the concurring and dissenting statements issued by
the council, I recognize that the Judicial Council is split in its
opinion, resulting in a five to four vote," said Kammerer, who filed
one of the appeals for reconsideration. "I believe that members of the
Judicial Council have signaled their encouragement for the wider
church to continue in Christian conferencing around the important
issues at stake. I believe those issues include the meaning of
membership, inclusiveness and our Wesleyan understandings about grace.
"I understand that the Judicial Council is charged with interpreting
church law," she said. "However, it is only the General Conference of
our denomination that makes and changes church law."
The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline holds that
homosexuals are people of sacred worth but that the practice of
homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. It also bans
the performance of same-sex unions by United Methodist clergy and in
United Methodist sanctuaries.
Huie said that as questions about the Judicial Council's decisions
arise, "I would ask pastors to work with their churches and district
superintendents and their bishop as we follow the teachings of Jesus
and uphold the Discipline as faithfully as we can."
She said she would direct clergy and laity in her own conference to
look at the statement issued by the Council of Bishops last fall. "We
continue to stand by that," she said.
In that Nov. 2 pastoral letter, issued after the Judicial Council's
original rulings, the Council of Bishops said homosexuality should not
prevent people from becoming members of a United Methodist Church.
"While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for
membership, homosexuality is not a barrier," the bishops said.
"With the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, we affirm
'that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live
together in Christian community,'" the bishops said, quoting from the
Social Principles in the Book of Discipline. "'We implore families and
churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.
We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.'"
Huie noted May 3 that "the Judicial Council was asked to reconsider
those rulings and they've declined. We're exactly where we were in the
The Council of Bishops will not meet again until November, when the
bishops will travel to Mozambique.
In the meantime, Huie said she will "be listening carefully to pastors
and congregations over the next few weeks to hear what they're saying,
and determining how to respond."
*Caldwell is a freelance writer based in High Point, N.C.