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Ban on unofficial identifying labels extends to local churches

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    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE Ban on unofficial identifying labels extends to local churches Nov. 2, 1999 News media contact: Joretta
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 1999

      Ban on unofficial identifying labels extends to local churches

      Nov. 2, 1999 News media contact: Joretta Purdue�(202)546-8722�Washington

      EVANSTON, Ill. (UMNS) - The ban on official United Methodist church bodies
      labeling themselves as parts of unofficial movements and organizations
      affects groups at the congregational level, the denomination's highest court
      has ruled.

      In a case brought by the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, the Judicial
      Council extended to the local church or congregation the ban on church
      organizations adopting identifying labels of unofficial bodies or movements.

      "A local church or any of its organizational units may not identify or label
      itself as an unofficial body or movement," the council's decision said.
      "Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the local church
      subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the (Book of)
      Discipline and doctrines of the United Methodist Church."

      The council made this and 18 other decisions regarding church law when it
      met Oct. 27-30.

      The council members had first looked at the issue of church bodies joining
      movements during their October 1998 session. At that time, the court
      specifically named churchwide agencies and annual conferences as two of the
      official groups that may not take on such labels as "Reconciling
      Congregation" or "Transforming Congregation." In making this ruling, the
      council reversed two of its earlier decisions allowing such identification
      by first a general agency and later an annual conference. Several other
      official bodies also adopted labels before the 1998 decision.

      In recent years, some official bodies have adopted labels that reflect their
      support for a particular unofficial movement in the church. For example,
      Reconciling Congregations welcomes the full participation of all people in
      the life of the church, regardless of sexual orientation. Transforming
      Congregations believes the practice of homosexuality is a sin and that
      individuals can be transformed or changed through the grace of Jesus Christ.

      During its session last summer, the Northwest Texas Annual Conference had
      passed a resolution giving its congregations 45 days to divest themselves of
      any such labels. However, Bishop Alfred Norris, who presided over the
      session, said the annual conference did not have the authority to adopt that
      measure under the Book of Discipline. The council reversed his decision.

      Six members of the council joined in a concurring opinion on the labeling
      issue. Having agreed with the decision, they went on to say: "Our decision
      does not mean that all bodies within the Church should not be encouraged to
      engage in study, educational forums, conversation and prayer around
      sensitive and controversial issues with the aim of finding healing and
      reconciliation for the sake of the gospel." They also praised the church's
      historic commitment to critical social issues, reconciliation and witness.

      The Rev. John Corry of Nashville, Tenn., vice president of the Judicial
      Council, presided at the meeting in the absence of President Tom Matheny of
      Hammond, La. Matheny is ill, and this was the first session he had missed in
      his 28 years on the council, according to other members.

      In the only case that included oral hearings, the council ruled that the
      church's open meetings law does not apply to the Council of Bishops and the
      Judicial Council but does apply to all levels of the church, including
      general (churchwide) agencies, annual conferences and local churches. (See
      UMNS story #582.)


      The California-Pacific Annual Conference sought a declaratory decision on
      whether its use of a discernment model during decision-making at its 1999
      session was legal. The conference used the discernment process as it worked
      on petitions going to General Conference - the denomination's top
      legislative body -- and in dealing with other business.

      The Judicial Council decided that the process was in conflict with the Book
      of Discipline and contrary to a previous decision by the court. Part of the
      problem was that the discernment process didn't allow a clear yes-or-no vote
      on legislative proposals and made no provision for minority reports to be
      presented on the floor. The council voided all conference legislative
      proposals that were decided using the discernment model.

      The California-Pacific Conference also asked the council to decide on the
      meaning and application of an amendment to the church's constitution that
      was ratified in 1997. The Judicial Council ruled that the amendment requires
      that people who vote in the election of clergy delegates to General and
      jurisdictional conferences must be in full connection and already ordained..
      A person already approved for ordination but whose ordination ceremony is to
      be a few hours or days later may not vote..


      Similarly, the council found that it does not have jurisdiction in a case
      from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. There, Bishop C. Joseph
      Sprague ruled on the legality of a person's election as a General Conference
      delegate when the person's suspension from ministry was to begin before the
      event. The council ruled that the question was improperly submitted because
      it was not given to the bishop in writing during the session. Since it was
      not properly before the bishop, the decision was nullified.

      Another case from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference challenged a newly
      passed conference resolution on pastoral ministry with homosexual people.
      The council affirmed Sprague's decision that there was no conflict between
      the resolution and the Discipline's prohibition against celebrating services
      of homosexual union.

      The council also affirmed the decision of Bishop Mary Ann Swenson that a
      Rocky Mountain Annual Conference resolution on inclusive ministry was not in
      conflict with church law.


      United Methodist News Service
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