Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 702
October 29 1993
In Re: 1) Meaning, Application, and Effect of Par. 4 of the Constitution inRelation to Pars. 71(f), 402.2, 436 and 2623.1(b), Including Questions of Constitutionality. (2) Status of a Person Approved by the Annual Conference Clergy Session As a Clergy Member But Who is Considered Under Paragraph 402.2 to Be Ineligible for Appointment by the Bishop. (3) Legality of Clergy Session Action to Continue as Probationary Member a Person Understood to be a Self-avowed Practicing Homosexual. (4) Eligibility of a Person Considered to be a Self-avowed Practicing Homosexual to Become an Ordained Elder, to Receive an Appointment, Continue on Leave of Absence, or Continue to Hold Probationary Membership and Deacon's Orders.
Digest of Case
The Annual Conference must make any determination which would effect a change in ministerial standing. The prohibition of an appointment must be exercised in compliance with the rights of all persons who are in full membership. In order to do that, the words "status" and "self-avowed practicing homosexual" must be defined by either the General Conference or the various Annual Conferences. The decision of the bishop is overruled and these matters are remanded to the Oregon- Idaho Annual Conference and to the General Conference for further action. If Jeanne Knepper is continued on leave of absence, it is without penalty, prejudice, or counting toward the eight-year limitation until such time as the General Conference acts. Should the bishop decide to appoint Jeanne Knepper, it is without penalty or prejudice. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Pars. 2616 and 2613 of the 1992 Discipline.
Statement of Facts
The 1992 General Conference of The United Methodist Church approved an amendment to Par. 4 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church by adding the underscored words: Inclusiveness of the Church.-The United Methodist Church is a part of the Church Universal, which is one Body in Christ. Therefore all persons, without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend worship services, to participate in its programs, and, when they take the appropriate vows, to be admitted into its membership in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, nation origin, status, or economic condition. At a clergy session of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, the Board of Ordained Ministry listed Jeanne Knepper to come off leave of absence (she was a probationary member). They offered the following motion in part: We believe Jeanne Knepper is what the General Conference describes in the Book of Discipline as a "self-avowed, practicing homosexual." We believe, also that she is called of God to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church; we find that she has the qualifications, training, gifts and graces appropriate thereto. Our consciences are captive to the Word of God. We believe that in such a conflict we should obey God rather than human authority, as have our forebears in the faith (see Acts 5:29). We therefore recommend that she be continued in Probationary membership. Here we stand; we can do no other; so help us God. There were three clergy sessions of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference which resulted in the above four cases. The presiding bishop was asked the question: I ask you to rule on whether the clergy session of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference on June 9, 1993, was appropriate in voting to sustain a motion from the Board of Ordained Ministry which said they understood a person to be what the Discipline calls a "self-avowed practicing homosexual," (Par. 402.2), and that trying to be faithful to the Word of God rather than human authority, citing Acts 5:29, they recommended that this person be continued on probationary membership, or whether the clergy session violated the Discipline by their motion. Bishop Dew responded with this answer: Inasmuch as the Board of Ordained Ministry has voted to recommend her continuation as a probationary member according to the authority given to it under Paragraph 413, and inasmuch as the clergy members in full connection have voted in favor of continuation and in the absence of charges against her and in the absence of any other action by the clergy session, she continues to be a probationary member. The presiding bishop was also asked for a decision of law as follows: Since the Board of Ordained Ministry has determined Jeanne Knepper to be a "self-avowed practicing homosexual," and the 1993 clergy session sustained that motion, can she become an ordained elder in the United Methodist church, be appointed to serve a United Methodist church, continue on leave of absence, maintain her deacon's ordination, or continue her probationary membership in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. She is in contradiction of Par. 402.2 of the 1992 Book of Discipline, which states that persons set apart by the Church for the specialized ministry of Word, Sacrament and Order are "required to maintain the highest standards represented by the practice of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness." It further states that "Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." The bishop responded: 1. Inasmuch as Jeanne Knepper is not being recommended for ordination as an elder in this session, this question is not before us, while it is recognizable that 402.2 does preclude that action were it to have been recommended. 2. I have already indicated that I would not appoint her because 402.2 prevents me from granting her an appointment. 3. She has been on leave of absence and although this is not her request, it is still within the possibility because she could be placed on leave of absence by other action as the Discipline allows. 4. Maintain her deacon's ordination-Jeanne Knepper was ordained a deacon previously and in the absence of any charges or actions by full members in clergy session, she continues to be a deacon. 5. And inasmuch as the Board of Ordained Ministry has voted to recommend her continuation as a probationary member according to the authority given to it under paragraph 413, and inasmuch as the clergy members in full connection have voted in favor of continuation, she continues to be a probationary member. These two decisions of law are before us. In essence the minister cannot be appointed to serve a pastorate but continues on leave of absence and continues as a deacon on probationary membership. Subsequent to those rulings, two declaratory decisions were asked of this body. The first of these states: Does Division I, Article IV of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church establish that the ordained ministry of the church shall be open to all persons, regardless of status or class? Are homosexual persons a status or class of persons? Is Para. 2623.b, with its reference to Para. 71.f, in violation of Division I, Article IV of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church? If Para. 2623.g, with its reference to Para. 71.f, is in violation of the Constitution, does the requirement of the bishop to appoint clergy in good standing in para. 436 take precedence over the provisions of Para. 402.2 not to appoint homosexuals to serve in the United Methodist Church? The second states: Because Jeanne Knepper has been evaluated as being a minister in good standing by the Board of Ordained Ministry and clergy session of our Annual Conference (per Para. 436 of the Book of Discipline) and because Bishop Dew is unable to appoint her, according to 402.2 in the Book of Discipline, we seek a Judicial Council declaratory decision regarding her appropriate status as a clergy member within the life of our Annual Conference. These questions go to the status of Jeanne Knepper in light of an apparent conflict between Pars. 402.2 and 436. The question asks which paragraph takes precedence over the other. It also asks if The United Methodist Church by adopting the first quoted amendment to its Constitution opens the door to the ordained ministry for homosexual people as a class or status of people. These paragraphs state: 402.2 While such persons set apart by the Church for the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards represented by the practice of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness. Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church. 436. General provisions.-All clergy members who are in good standing in an Annual Conference shall receive annually an appointment by the bishop unless they are granted a sabbatical leave, a disability leave, or are on leave of absence or retired. In addition to the ordained ministers, persons who have been granted a license as local pastors and who have been approved by vote of the clergy members in full connection may be appointed as pastors in charge under certain conditions which are specified in Articles 406-408. All clergy members and licensed local pastors to be appointed shall assume a lifestyle consistent with Christian teaching as set forth in the Social Principles. An oral hearing on the two petitions for declaratory decisions was held in Atlanta, Georgia on October 28, 1993. Keith Boyette spoke in opposition to the action of the Annual Conference. Speaking in support of the action were Alice Knotts and Jeanne Knepper. ANALYSIS We would first analyze the meaning of the word "status" as defined in the Constitutional Amendment. In our Decision 544, this body faced the question which, in effect, was a precursor to this issue and we said: . . . While each Annual Conference is a door through which one may enter the ministry of the entire church, the Annual Conference cannot reduce nor avoid stipulations established by the General Conference which must be met by the church's ministry everywhere. An Annual Conference might set specific qualifications for its ministerial members, but does not have the authority to legislate in contradiction to a General Conference mandate or requirement. Judicial Council Decisions 313, 318, 325, and 513 speak to the authority of the General Conference, under Par. 15 of the Constitution, to establish standards, conditions, and qualifications for admission to the ministry. In Decision 536, we held that that "An Annual Conference may not subtract from the disciplinary requirements for conference membership, but it may under certain circumstances adopt additional requirements not in conflict with disciplinary provisions or their spirit or intent. This was again underscored in Decision 542 at the May, 1984 General Conference. "Under Paragraph 37 of the Constitution, however, it is the Annual Conference, as the basic body of the church, that decides whether those standards have been met." The phrase "or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church" is related to the powers and duties of the episcopacy. In this there may be a conflict between the prohibition of appointment and the rights of a minister in good standing in the conference to receive an appointment. There is a process in the Discipline by which ministers are suspended or removed from membership in annual conferences. It would be necessary to follow the correct procedure before the bishop could refuse to appoint. Because the legislation lacks specific definition regarding avowal and practice of homosexuality, and because of Methodism's long-standing and continuing principle that ministerial members of an Annual Conference shall receive an annual appointment (Par. 422, 1984 Discipline), care must be taken in applying Par. 402.2 to follow due process, protecting the rights of ministerial members. The Annual Conference must make any determination which would effect a change in ministerial standing. A concurring opinion was filed stating: Par. 15.14 provides: The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: . . . 14. to secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status. While, arguably, to be homosexual is to be within a protected "status" under Par. 15.14, we do not read Par. 402.2 to be directed toward that characteristic. It does not per se bar homosexual persons from the ordained ministry of The United Methodist Church. Rather Par. 402.2 is directed toward those persons who are "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," which is an entirely different matter. We further note that the decision in this matter does not attempt to define the term "self-avowed practicing homosexual" nor does it limit the judgment to be exercised by an annual conference as to its understanding of the term and its application of the term in a specific case. Decision 544 significantly governs any decision about all of these issues for the Council. In regard to the definition of the word "status" in the Constitutional Amendment, the following observations must be made in the light of its legislative history: 1. There is no evidence that the word "status" was intended to include the clergy status of a self-avowed practicing homosexual. 2. There is no evidence in the legislative history that the word "status" does not include the clergy status of a self-avowed practicing homosexual. 3. It is obvious that if the normal definition of "status" is used, it would be all-inclusive. 4. The word "status" is not defined either in the legislative process or in the Discipline. By the same token, the term "self-avowed practicing homosexual" is not defined. The concurring opinion, as well as the body of Decision 544, was written as warnings to the General Conference and to the Annual Conferences that there must be a definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual." Likewise, it is obvious that there must be a definition of "status" if it is to be applied to this situation. There is no evidence before the Judicial Council that the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference has ever defined "self-avowed practicing homosexual." Nor have we ever been provided any evidence that the minister involved is a self-avowed practicing homosexual. The only thing we are provided is that the Oregon-Idaho Conference Board of Ordained Ministry "believes" she is. This does not fulfill the obligation outlined by Decision 544 that care must be taken to follow due process. We are not provided any evidence as to why the Board of Ordained Ministry so "believes." If there were a definition and Jeanne Knepper fell within that definition, then the ruling of the bishop would be correct. We have no evidence that those two elements are present in this case. The Judicial Council is not an evidentiary body. Jeanne Knepper could make a statement to us in open session that she was a self-avowed practicing homosexual and we could not regard it. Therefore, the decision of the presiding bishop is reversed and the matter is remanded to the Oregon-Idaho Conference for further action. As indicated above, the wording of the concurring opinion is clearly a warning. It may well be said that we are not addressing the issue. That is correct. It is not the task of the Judicial Council to legislate the meaning of words passed by the General Conference. It is clear that either the General Conference or the Annual Conferences must define for their own use, the words "self-avowed practicing homosexual." It might be observed that the latter may not be very successful unless there is a considerable degree of uniformity. Likewise, it is obvious that the term "status" needs to be defined. At this point we do not know whether the Constitution Amendment passed. Status must be defined in any event. We are aware, and can be nothing more than aware, that similar cases out of similar situations have been ruled on or acted upon by the various Annual Conferences. We know this is a volatile, sensitive subject. Therefore, we would say even more explicitly it is the obligation of the General Conference to define these terms or the obligation of the various Annual Conferences to define these terms.
The Annual Conference must make any determination which would effect a change in ministerial standing. The prohibition of an appointment must be exercised in compliance with the rights of all persons who are in full membership. In order to do that, the words "status" and "self-avowed practicing homosexual" must be defined by either the General Conference or the various Annual Conferences. The decision of the bishop is overruled and these matters are remanded to the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and to the General Conference for further action. If Jeanne Knepper is continued on leave of absence, it is without penalty, prejudice, or counting toward the eight-year limitation until such time as the General Conference acts. Should the bishop decide to appoint Jeanne Knepper, it is without penalty or prejudice.