Tom-Lambrecht-BioBy Thomas Lambrecht

When the New England Annual Conference passed a resolution at its recent gathering in defiance of the standards of the global United Methodist Church regarding ordination and homosexuality, a “question of law” was immediately requested.

When an annual or jurisdictional conference takes an action that appears contrary to the Book of Discipline, it can be challenged through a question of law requesting a ruling clarifying the legality of the action in question. It is first ruled on by a bishop and then reviewed by the Judicial Council. The bishop and the Judicial Council have the authority to overrule conference actions, and the Judicial Council’s ruling becomes the accepted understanding of church law.

In response to an “Action of Non-Conformity with the General Conference of The United Methodist Church” adopted by the New England Annual Conference on June 17, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar has ruled in a question of law that the resolution is “in violation of the Discipline.”

The resolution stated that “the New England Annual Conference will not conform or comply with provisions of the Discipline which discriminate against LGBTQIA persons.” In short, the conference rejected the global church’s sexual ethics, standards on ordination, and its teachings on marriage.

The New England resolution was the first of five annual conferences pledging non-conformity with United Methodist teaching and policy. The others were, Desert Southwest, California-Nevada, Pacific Northwest, and California-Pacific. The Western Jurisdiction also adopted a resolution nearly identical to the New England one, as well as a resolution calling upon local churches and annual conferences in the jurisdiction to “not [comply] with the Book of Discipline whenever it denies full inclusion of a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in the life, ministry and leadership of The United Methodist Church.” If the Judicial Council upholds Bishop Devadhar’s ruling, all the similar resolutions adopted by other conferences would also be null and void.

The New England resolution contained a provision that conference members would “not participate in or conduct judicial procedures related to the Discipline’s prohibitions against LGBTQIA persons” that was ruled to violate the Discipline. A provision to “realign [the conference’s] funding to reflect these commitments, using no reserve funds to pay for judicial procedures related to the Discipline’s prohibitions against LGBTQIA persons” was also ruled to be in violation of the Discipline.

The resolution called for the conference to offer the same benefits to clergy and employees in same-sex marriages as are available to heterosexual marriages and their families. Devadhar ruled that this provision was legal, since conference benefits are not covered in the Discipline. However, a brief filed by the Rev. Michael Pike, the person who asked the question of law that led to Devadhar’s ruling, argues that the “conference may not offer benefits that contradict United Methodist Church policy.” To offer such benefits would “in effect condone behavior that The United Methodist Church disapproves.”

Bishop Devadhar acknowledged that his ruling was “a painful one to make.” He explained that, “as a United Methodist Bishop, I cannot challenge what I believe to be an unjust law by approving an illegal law.” Although not supportive of United Methodist teaching on marriage and human sexuality, Devadhar acted with integrity in this instance. We wish all our bishops and clergy would exhibit similar integrity.

Northeastern Jurisdiction Resolution

A resolution initially titled, “Stop the Church Trials: A Moratorium by Bishops Within the Northeastern Jurisdiction,” was passed by the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference on July 14. The resolution was revised several times (including deleting the title), but ended by requesting “all CFA’s of the Annual Conferences of the jurisdiction to state that there are no funds available for initiating of investigations and trials based upon the sexual orientation or marital status of faithful United Methodists or involving clergy for conducting same-sex weddings.” The resolution passed by more than a two-thirds majority.

After the resolution was adopted, a question of law was raised. Bishop Mark Webb has ruled that the resolution “requests the CFAs and the annual conferences to violate Church law or, alternatively, discourages the enforcement of Church law. Either way, the Resolution would be null, void and of no effect.” In addition, Bishop Webb found that the “Resolution would also negate, ignore and violate … provisions in the Constitution,” making it unconstitutional.

Bishop Webb’s ruling will also be reviewed by the Judicial Council next April. If his ruling is affirmed, it would apply to any future resolutions attempting to negate or violate the Discipline in this way.

The Real Question

Given that these rulings are likely to be upheld by the Judicial Council, what does it mean that the resolutions of non-conformity will be ruled null and void? Will the annual conferences, bishops, and jurisdictional conferences that have publicly decided not to live within the bounds of the Discipline now suddenly acquiesce to follow Judicial Council rulings with which they disagree?

It is more likely that annual conferences, bishops, and jurisdictions will continue to ignore the parts of the Discipline that they disagree with, exacerbating the tensions and divisions within United Methodism. As Dr. Ted Campbell said recently at the World Methodist Conference, “When annual conferences declare that they will not follow the law of the church, I think that is in fact a division.”

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergy person and the Vice President of Good News.  


  1. SIMPLE ANSWER…………..Ask them to leave the UM Denomination!!

  2. Take them to COURT!

  3. In a secular organization, their votes would have resulted in their sure departure from said organization either voluntarily or involuntarily. But not in the UMC. Why not? Because we have a structure built on trust that has no real defense against defiance, and we have leaders who can follow their own agendas without consequence. Progressives are taking full advantage of this in order to achieve their objectives. Their immediate objective is de facto governance of the UMC on a regional basis since they do not have the votes to change the BOD. With this, they believe that if they can get the church to go along for now, they can eventually change the BOD for the whole church. The Wesleyan Covenant Association CANNOT allow this to happen.

  4. No person who violates the UMC discipline should be ordained, or placed in an office of leadership within the church. We need to embrace the individuals, but not their non-scriptural practices. It breaks my heart to hear of the Methodist Church going against it’s own long held and bible based beliefs just to satisfy those who refuse to call sin, SIN! God forgive our denomination.

  5. We are involved in a circular argument – or a do-loop – where we just keep chasing our selves. The law is unjust and we are trying to change it with a law that is illegal the bishop declares. Instead of coming to grips with the simple truth – the majority of delegates elected, attending, and voting at General Conferences for the last 40 plus years are not in favor of changing our Discipline. Instead of realizing the game is over they continue to engage in willful disobedience. It would be far more noble and honorable if they came to their senses and stopped. Now – the majority that has long supported the doctrine and Discipline will have to come to their senses and decide which act of disobedience may best be suited to continue to maintain the Church as defined. Will we opt for legal action in civil court? Refrain from paying apportionments? Initiate actions designed to take ownership of the local church from the annual conference? After all, if there is no money for church trials about human sexuality how can their be enough money for church trials about property? We are way down the rabbit hole on this one. Hopefully more bishops will lead the return to obedience to the Book of Discipline or else lead the way out for those who find our doctrines and Discipline unjust.

  6. Take heed, Biblical Methodists ! They have no intention of leaving. They would rather change the rules forcing you to either ‘accept’ graciously or leave your church & property…..think PCUSA where the liberal denomination made successful claim to the property of churches wishing to leave the denomination & no matter if 95% of the congregation voted to leave the denomination, the property remains with the denominational group. Of course, for a small disassociation ‘gift’ of thousands to over $1 million, the denomination ‘graciously’ allowed churches to leave the denomination & keep the property the congregation had paid for with their own blood, sweat & tears. Hopefully a split can be negotiated so that congregations & pastors wishing to leave, can do so & retain their property & pastors pensions.. However, if that is not possible, difficult decisions will have to be made for the sake of faithfulness to the scripture……what God says, not what men & women ‘feel’.

  7. You left out that some of the acts of non-conformity included proceeding with their own anti-Israel divestment plans and joining the RCRC. The progressive agenda includes more than sexuality.

    There is a faction of UMC progressives that keep stirring the pot on the sexuality question keeping things at a boiling point, making it impossible to have a rational conversation. They have me wondering what the next rodeo will be like when they get a new burr under their saddle. I really would prefer a spiritual revival over schism, but how? They are absolutely not open to the validity of any other view points. But yet they are the first to say that the UMC is a Big Tent that has room for everybody.

    My most recent image that describes unity within the UMC: cats with their tails tied together.

  8. The churches within these conferences should be expelled, the conferences should be expelled and any funding from the UMC cut off. Let them start their own denomination with a different name. They no longer wish to be Methodist, but something other than Methodist. At this point, an excising must take place. If Church leadership fails to uphold the laws of the church, we are no longer a denomination, joined in our beliefs. Either excise those that violate the church’s rules or watch millions of law abiding, conservative Methodists leave the church. We are past the point of reconciliation.

  9. Paul Scarborough, I’m with you, but what we UM clergy must do is to convince those “law abiding, conservative Methodists” not to leave. We must patiently, and actively, wait. We traditionalists are a GROWING majority at General Conference. What we need to do is to continue placing petitions before GC enforcing Biblical standards, and requiring our bishops to do the same. If a large number of UM’s in the Western and Northeastern Jurisdictions elect to leave when those Biblical standards are, once again, upheld, then that will be a shame, and we can be sufficiently grace-filled to allow some to keep their property, but then, we must allow THEM to leave, not leave ourselves.

  10. Either follow the Book of Discipline or suffer the consequences. This is nothing more than the Satans of the world pushing to destroy the Churches and Family Unit.

  11. The wishful thinkers keep talking about expulsions, as though these are snap judgments easily executed. The real options are much more difficult to accomplish. Good News keeps reporting on complaints that are dismissed. The determination to defy General Conference is led by brilliant and crafty clergy who have no intention of ever backing down or departing the fight. These clergy executives are folk heroes of a type. Even well-branded evangelicals find them slippery, protean, and tough to deal with. They exert influence and sway far exceeding the numbers they represent. If the Judicial Council fails to nullify these illegal decisions, there will be no judicial or legislative remedies forthcoming, ever.

  12. It seems that the way things are going, some just want to do away with the Discipline and do what they want want. If the bishops aren’t going to obey the Discipline, why should the rest of us? Their action seems to negate the authority of the Discipline.

  13. Randy is right. The majority should NOT even be thinking of leaving. The majority must stop any “third ways”, any “local options” and REFORM the structure of the church at the upcoming special General Conference in order to address those who refuse to abide by the BOD and refuse to leave. If expulsion is the only option remaining, then it must be added to the BOD as a legislative process and exercised as the last resort. The Wesleyan Covenant Association must NOT allow the progressives to intimidate their way forward any longer. The WCA cannot accept anything less than the present position of the UMC on marriage, ordination, and human sexuality. There is no reason to compromise these positions away. PLEASE STAND FIRM WCA!

  14. Some folk are not thinking logically about what is faced. Since the West and its allies already refuse to abide by General Conference policies, why would they acquiesce to special conference reforms? How would such novel reforms be enforced in the West, New England, and elsewhere? These rebel strongholds are corporate entities in command of their own assets. Who has any power to interfere? As Buddy Holly said, “That’ll be the day…”

  15. Read Jude in the Bible and then whatever real believers are left leave the Church. This is what happens when you tear pages out to suit mans tradtion

  16. With Council of Bishops being so divided, God only knows. I know in the Detroit Annual Conference they are looking at a “Big Tent” option and I’m willing to say that most of the Council of Bishop’s is too.

  17. Yes that about sums our current position right now.

  18. Yes A “big tent”option would cover those who believe the Bible, those who do not believe the Bible, and anything and everything in between. The entire Book of Discipline would have to be rewritten, including all of our doctrines of faith and theological positions, or we would have to adopt two opposing Books of Discipline thus giving local conferences a choice. It would be like adopting a second constitution for our country with the states and localities deciding which constitution to follow. Unfortunately, the church is already moving in a bigger tent direction via de facto local governance, an approach that progressives envision for the short term. At the very least, this whole thing is a Scriptural divide, a theological divide as has already been pointed out by many. Even the new bishop elected in the Western Jurisdiction correctly and surprisingly pointed this out herself. How will this new commission deal with that fundamental reality?

  19. It is becoming more apparent by the day that progressives in the church WILL NOT accept anything less their complete agenda, starting locally (de facto) and aiming church wide. This sort of “big tent” approach would only intensify the divide into an ugly brawl and drag it out over a more painful period of time. Ultimately complete chaos would reign. A house divided against itself cannot stand. It would be the perfect storm to finish off the North American UMC. As these conferences declare thieir independence from the UMC, a fair plan must be devised and adopted by the called special General Conference to grant them their independence voluntarily or involuntarily in order to save the Global United Methodist Church.

  20. They will not abide by Biblical Christianity. They are in the wrong denomination. They must leave our denomination at once and find a denomination that is in line with their beliefs like the Metropolitian Church..

  21. Rev. Stratton, given that the gospels have no reference to homosexuality but a very clear expression by Jesus regarding divorce, are you prepared to preside over second marriages? I’m not trolling here, just a life-long Methodist trying to understand the theology of this community I happened upon.

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