In a decision released today, the Judicial Council ruled by an 8-1 margin that “Petitions to the special session of the General Conference 2019 may be filed by any organization, clergy member and lay member of the United Methodist Church as long as the business proposed to be transacted in such petition is in harmony with the purpose stated in the call.”
This means that any member or organization in the church may file a petition with a proposal for resolving the church’s impasse over the definition of marriage and the practice of homosexuality. Such petitions will need to be received by the petitions secretary in the proper format by July 8, 2018. They will then be translated and published in the Advance edition of the Daily Christian Advocate for the delegates to use at General Conference.
The Judicial Council further ruled that “It is the obligation of the General Conference to determine, in the first instance, through its committees, officers and presiders, acting in accordance with The Discipline and the rules and procedures of the General Conference, whether any such petition is ‘in harmony.’” The Council did not tell the General Conference how to make that decision, leaving it up to the General Conference and its committee structure to determine the process for deciding which petitions are in harmony with the purpose of the called special General Conference.
The significance of this ruling is that the petition process is open to all, and alternative proposals for resolving our impasse over the definition of marriage and the practice of homosexuality will be allowed. If a Traditionalist Plan with legislation is not included in the bishops’ report, it can still be submitted separately through this process. This ensures that a plan that evangelicals can support will be considered by the delegates at General Conference.
We applaud the Judicial Council for a well-reasoned decision that will allow the full participation of all the church through its legislative process to arrive at a faithful way forward. Please continue in prayer for the delegates, bishops, and all those involved in submitting petitions.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. He is also a member of the Commission on a Way Forward.