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Decision No. 844

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October 29 1998
In Re: Appeal of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference Relating to the Applicability of ¶ 304.5 of the 1996 Discipline to Diaconal Ministers Making Transition to Permanent Deacons.

Digest of Case

The Judicial Council has continually upheld the principle that General Conference legislation shall not exempt candidates for ordained ministry from the connectional qualifications adopted by the General Conference under authority of the Constitution in ¶ 15. Therefore, a diaconal minister who is a candidate to be ordained a deacon in The United Methodist Church must meet the minimum requirements set forth in ¶ 304 of the 1996 Discipline. A candidate for ordination to the Order of Deacon who is a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" may not, according to ¶ 304.3, be ordained in The United Methodist Church. Bishop Joseph C. Sprague's ruling is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

During a retreat of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, one interview team, following the transitional provisions contained in Par. 365.3 of the 1996 Discipline, recommended that three consecrated diaconal ministers be ordained deacons in full connection. The interview team made this recommendation knowing that one of the candidates had openly acknowledged to the team that he was a practicing homosexual who was living in a covenant relationship with another gay man. The team made this recommendation believing that Par. 304 of the 1996 Discipline did not apply to consecrated diaconal ministers seeking ordination as deacons in The United Methodist Church. The Board of Ordained Ministry, during its plenary session, voted to include all three candidates on its recommended list. The chairperson of the board declared that one of the candidates was improperly before the board for consideration since the candidate had indicated, by his own witness and verbal declaration, that he was a self-avowed practicing homosexual. The chairperson based his ruling on ¶ 304.3 and 304.5 of the 1996 Discipline. No one from the board contested his ruling. However, a motion was made and passed to refer his ruling to the bishop for a ruling of law. The bishop subsequently ruled that ¶ 304 in its entirety is applicable for consecrated diaconal ministers seeking transfer of their credentials to be ordained as deacons in full connection. On May 20, 1998, the clergy session of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference voted to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the bishop’s ruling. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under provisions of ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The basic issue in this case is whether ¶ 304 in the 1996 Discipline setting forth minimum requirements for ordination applies to consecrated diaconal ministers who are seeking ordination as deacons in The United Methodist Church. Some members of the Board of Ordained Ministry in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference contended that the provisions of ¶ 304, and in particular the provisions of ¶ 304.3 dealing with self-avowed practicing homosexuals, were not applicable to this candidate because no reference to ¶ 304 is contained in ¶ 365.3. The 1996 General Conference made significant changes in the ordering of ministry in The United Methodist Church. The Order of Deacon is no longer considered a transitional step on the way to pursuing Elder’s Orders. The ministry study which was adopted at the 1996 General Conference provided for two ordained orders within The United Methodist Church, the Order of Deacon and the Order of Elder. Both are ordained orders of The United Methodist Church and therefore subject to the Qualifications for Ordination which are set forth in ¶ 304. It is helpful to note that these qualifications are "minimum requirements only" (¶ 304.5, 1996 Discipline) for those seeking entry into the ordained ministry. Par. 304 makes no distinction between ordination as an elder and ordination as a deacon. A search of the proceedings of the 1996 General Conference which relate to the presentation of the ministry study and the legislation to implement it, reveals no debate as to any divergence from the position that ¶ 304 applies to all members and perspective members of the ordained ministry, regardless of whether they are pursuing the Order of Deacon or the Order of Elder (Daily Christian Advocate, 1996 General Conference, pp. 693-710). The intent of the General Conference to maintain the position of prior General Conferences in relation to prohibiting the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" was clearly expressed in its adoption of the proscription against the ordination of homosexuals contained in ¶ 304.3. Those who contend that the failure of ¶ 365 to specifically reference ¶ 304 makes the qualification stated in 304 null and void for any diaconal minister in good standing who seeks ordination as a deacon is without foundation. It might have been helpful for the General Conference to reference ¶ 304 in ¶ 365.3, but its failure to do so does not mean that the qualifications and requirements listed in ¶ 304 do not apply. Par. 365.3 is not a paragraph setting forth the qualifications for the Order of Deacon; it is an administrative paragraph intended to clarify the procedures for diaconal ministers in good standing to become ordained deacons if they so choose. The qualifications for diaconal ministers are substantially different from the qualifications for the Order of Deacon. They do not contain the prohibition on the inclusion of self-avowed practicing homosexuals because that prohibition applies to ordination, not consecration. It is clear that ¶ 304 establishes the minimum qualifications and requirements for Ordained Ministry while ¶ 365 only offers a procedure whereby diaconal ministers in good standing may seek to qualify to be ordained a deacon. The Judicial Council has continually upheld the principle that General Conference legislation shall not exempt candidates for ministry from the connectional qualifications adopted by the General Conference under authority of the Constitution in ¶ 15. Therefore, a diaconal minister who is a candidate to be ordained a deacon in The United Methodist Church must meet the minimum requirements set forth in ¶ 304 of the 1996 Discipline.

Decision

The Judicial Council has continually upheld the principle that General Conference legislation shall not exempt candidates for ordained ministry from the connectional qualifications adopted by the General Conference under authority of the Constitution in ¶ 15. Therefore, a diaconal minister who is a candidate to be ordained a deacon in The United Methodist Church must meet the minimum requirements set forth in ¶ 304 of the 1996 Discipline. A candidate for ordination to the Order of Deacon who is a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" may not, according to ¶ 304.3, be ordained in The United Methodist Church. Bishop Joseph C. Sprague’s ruling is affirmed.

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