New Judicial Council's Initial Rulings
- CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
The Judicial Council has nine members. Six new members attended this
meeting. On May 8, 2000 the official Confessing Movement posted this notice:
"We Celebrate the Election of the Following to Judicial Council" naming Mary
A. Daffin, James Holsinger, Keith D. Boyette (see
http://www.confessingumc.org/gc2000_6.html). The other new members are:
Sally Brown Geis, Larry D. Pickens and Rodolfo C. Beltran.
This article is a long one; I snipped a number of paragraphs at the end. You
can read the complete article at: http://umns.umc.org/00/oct/498.htm
Church court acts on Norway Conference's power to adapt rules
Oct. 31, 2000 News media contact: Joretta Purdue �(202) 546-8722�Washington
DALLAS (UMNS) � For more than 30 years, the non-U.S. parts of the United
Methodist Church have had the right to alter parts of the denomination�s
rules and procedures to fit their own situations, but specific applications
of this power were in question before the church�s supreme court at its
recent fall session.
The members of the United Methodist Judicial Council, meeting Oct. 25-28,
may have been more divided by their decision about the Norway Annual
(regional) Conference than any of the other 13 cases on their docket. Four
of the nine members signed a dissenting opinion.
In its decision, the council ruled that certain structural changes adopted
earlier by the Norway Annual Conference, a regional unit of the Northern
Europe Central Conference, were unconstitutional. These included eliminating
the conference board of laity and combining the conference financial arm
with other administrative bodies.
From the beginning of the United Methodist Church in 1968, with the merger
of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church, the
denomination�s constitution empowered the central conferences � those
located outside the United States � to change or adapt parts of the Book of
the Discipline, the church�s rules and procedures, as conditions in the
respective areas may require.
This authorization was subject to the powers vested in the General
Conference, the denomination�s highest legislative assembly.
The Judicial Council held that this limitation prohibited combining the
annual conference council on administration and finance with the
conference�s "Main Board," a Northern Europe Central Conference innovation
that functions as an executive committee of the annual conference. The
General Conference has mandated that each annual conference have a council
on finance and administration, the Judicial Council noted.
Combining the two entities eliminates a system of checks and balances that
was specifically legislated by General Conference to provide a separation of
powers, the council said, citing one of its own earlier decisions.
The issue of the conference board of laity is "distinctively connectional,"
the council said. It ruled that the Northern Europe Central Conference must
remove from its Book of Discipline the adaptation permitting annual
conferences to eliminate their board of laity, and that the board must be
restored to the Norway Annual Conference structure.
The council's decision also reversed Bishop Hans Vaxby�s ruling that these
changes conformed to church law. Included in the decision was a
determination that personnel decisions relating to the annual conference
treasurer can only be made by the conference council on finance and
In their dissenting opinion, four council members said they believe that
"the changes made by the Northern Europe Central Conference are within the
disciplinary authority given to the central conferences." The changes have
been in place since 1976, they said. The relevant parts of the church�s
constitution and Book of Discipline have become unwieldy and confusing, the
four observed, a matter that only General Conference can address.
"Allowing these central conferences to adapt certain parts of the Discipline
to the situation in their part of the world affirms that we are a world
church," they said.
Joining in the dissenting opinion on the central conference question were
Sally Curtis AsKew, Athens, Ga.; Sally Brown Geis, Denver; the Rev. Larry D.
Pickens, Chicago; and Rodolfo C. Beltran, Cabanatuan City, Philippines.
Geis, as first lay alternate elected at the 2000 General Conference, took
the seat vacated by the Aug. 31 death of longtime council member Tom
The docket also included two council items related to actions of the
committee on investigation in the California-Nevada Annual Conference.
The committee had investigated charges against 68 clergy members of the
conference, who had been accused of officiating in a ceremony celebrating a
same-sex union on Jan. 16, 1999. In the annual conference gathering last
June, presiding Bishop Melvin Talbert was asked by two different people
about "correcting errors" in the work of the committee, which had announced
on Feb. 8, 2000, that it would not bring the clergy to trial. The council
affirmed the bishop�s response that he did not have authority to review the
committee�s action because a previous Judicial Council decision had declared
unconstitutional the disciplinary passage granting such power.
Two council members, the Rev. Keith D. Boyette, Fredericksburg, Va., and
James W. Holsinger Jr., Lexington, Ky., joined in a supplementary opinion
that both concurred and dissented. They agreed with the council�s decision
based on the precedent of the previous council decision about the
unconstitutionality of the directions for correcting errors, but urged that
the original decision be reconsidered and reversed.
In the other California-Nevada case, the bishop was asked if the committee
was acting properly in allowing witnesses at a public hearing to speak on
homosexuality and sexual orientation in general rather than specifics of
events alleged to have taken place. The bishop ruled that the committee did
act properly. The council said the bishop should not have answered the
question because it did not involve a decision on church law.
Three council members concurred because of the "procedural context" but
observed that the council was unable to address important issues for the
connectional system because of that procedural context. They were Boyette;
Mary A. Daffin, Houston; and Holsinger.
Lonnie D. Brooks of Anchorage made oral presentations related to two
questions raised by the Alaska Missionary Conference.
In one, he argued against provisions for lay members of the church to lose
their membership on the churchwide boards and agencies when they move their
permanent residence outside the annual conference from which they were named
to the board. Brooks contrasted this with the provision that clergy lose
their comparable memberships if they cease to be a member of the annual
conference from which they came. The council found these rules to be in
harmony with the church�s constitution.
In the other request, the Alaska Missionary Conference asked which church
groups are governed by the stipulation that the fiscal and program year be
identical to the calendar year. The council ruled that this applies only to
church entities created by the General Conference.
The customary review of all bishops� decisions of law revealed an error in
the June session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. "Debate and a
vote on a proposed resolution was erroneously suspended when the presiding
bishop deferred ruling on a question of law until after adjournment of the
annual conference session," the council said. "The question of law was not
rendered moot by this erroneous action."
Bishop Elias Galvan was directed to answer by Feb. 1 the question asked, so
that the council could review his decision at its spring meeting. Council
members AsKew, Geis and Pickens dissented, saying that the bishop properly
declined to act until he had studied the topic and they did not think he
withdrew the resolution from consideration.
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