Editor’s Note: Overshadowed by its significant ruling regarding the consecration of an openly lesbian bishop, the Judicial Council did issue other important decisions. Below, the Rev. Walter Fenton reviews one of them and the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht addresses two others.
By Walter Fenton
Without any dissenting opinions, the Council affirmed Bishop Mark J. Webb’s decision to rule a resolution passed by the delegates of Northeastern Jurisdiction to be “null, void and of no effect.”
The resolution, presented at the jurisdiction’s July 2016 meeting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, called on the region’s bishops to refuse to hear complaints, initiate investigations, or conduct church trials for pastors who preside at same sex services or who self-avow as openly gay clergypersons. The resolution was initially ruled out of order because it called on bishops to violate the church’s Book of Discipline.
In an attempt to salvage it, the Rev. Gere Reist, the former secretary of the denominations’ General Conference, offered the following amendment: that the ten annual conferences in the jurisdiction should instruct their separate councils on finance and administration (CFA) to “state that there are no funds available for initiating and processing of complaints and 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.”
It was one of the more cynical amendments we have heard proposed in order to skirt church law. Clearly neither Reist nor any other delegate had consulted with the CFAs to determine whether such a statement were true or not. But the progressive majority marveled and rejoiced at Reist’s clever amendment. And even Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who was presiding at the time, congratulated him for a maneuver that would apparently allow the bishops to rule the resolution in order.
A delegate from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference did have a comment and a question: “I have trouble with this amendment,” he said. “Aren’t we essentially asking people to lie?”
Some delegates were sobered by the observation, but ultimately 96 out of 160 decided the ends justified the means; asking people to lie in the interest of the LGBTQ+ agenda seemed fine with them.
At a later session a delegate asked for a decision of law regarding the resolution’s legitimacy. Since Webb was then the presiding bishop, it fell to him to issue a ruling within 30 days. (All decisions of law by a bishop are subject to the Judicial Council’s review.)
In a stinging rebuke, Webb found the whole resolution to be out of order. He noted that it ran afoul of prior Judicial
Council rulings, would violate the Discipline’s instructions regarding funds for church counsel and trials, and worst of all, violated the church’s constitution.
In its decision upholding Webb’s ruling the Council wrote, “[jurisdictional conferences] may not pass resolutions that encourage a violation of Church law or discourage the enforcement of Church law. The Untitled Resolution adopted by the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference is contrary to the Constitution and The Discipline and, therefore, null and void. The bishop’s Decision of Law is affirmed.”
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.