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Decision No. 984

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April 28 2004
In Re: IN RE: Declaratory Decision Regarding the Meaning, Application or Effect of 304.3 and 2702.1(b) of the 2000 Discipline.

Digest of Case

Paragraph 304.3 of the 2000 Discipline is a declaration of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense under 2702.1(b) of the 2000 Discipline.

Statement of Facts

On motion of a delegate from the Arkansas Annual Conference, the 2004 General Conference requested a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the following questions: 1. Does the statement in 304.3 [of the 2000 Discipline] constitute a declaration by The United Methodist Church that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching? 2. If the answer to 1) is yes, does 2702.1(b) [of the 2000 Discipline], “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,” incorporate that declaration into United Methodist Church law by reference? Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under 2610 of the 2000 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Paragraph 304.3 of the 2000 Discipline provides that: While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. 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. As stated in Decision 886, the Discipline is “the law of the Church which regulates every phase of the life and work of the Church.” Paragraph 304.3 is unambiguous in its assertion that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Though the statement, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” is preceded by the word “since,” the inclusion of the word “since” as a conjunction introducing the phrase does not diminish the import of the statement which follows the conjunction. Quite the contrary, its usage connotes an emphatic declaration. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (Micra, Inc., 1996, 1998) defines “since” as meaning “seeing that, because, considering – formerly followed by that.” A “declaration” is defined as “the act of publicly announcing; explicit asserting; . . . proclamation. . . .” Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (Micra, Inc., 1996, 1998). In every sense of the word “declaration,” the statement contained in 304.3 that the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” is a public announcement, an explicit assertion and a proclamation. Paragraph 304.3 has been a declaration of The United Methodist Church, without modification, since it was originally added to the Discipline by the 1984 General Conference as 402.2 of the 1984 Discipline. See Decision 544. Only the General Conference has the authority to speak for The United Methodist Church. Paragraph 509 of the Discipline states, “[n]o person, no paper, no organization, has the authority to speak officially for The United Methodist Church, this right having been reserved exclusively to the General Conference under the Constitution.” In Decision 980, the Judicial Council stated that the The United Methodist Church, in the Discipline, has declared the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching. We reaffirm our previous decision in this regard and hold that the statement in 304.3 that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” is a declaration by The United Methodist Church. Paragraph 2702.1 of the 2000 Discipline provides: A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference ( 365), local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may choose a trial when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in 2702.4) with one or more of the following offenses: . . . (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings. . . . The language contained in 2702.1(b) was first enacted by the 1980 General Conference, four years before the language contained in 304.3 was adopted. As noted above, the only entity which can make a declaration on behalf of The United Methodist Church is the General Conference. When the General Conference enacts legislation which is codified in the Discipline, the General Conference speaks for The United Methodist Church. See Decision 886 (“The Discipline is the law of the Church which regulates every phase of the life and work of the Church.”). When the language contained in 304.3 was adopted in 1984, the language contained in 2702.1(b) was in existence. In determining what constitutes a chargeable offense under 2702.1(b) of the Discipline, one must look to the pronouncements of the General Conference codified in the Discipline. The statement in Paragraph 304.3 that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” is such a pronouncement. Therefore, the practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense under 2702.1(b) as a practice declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.

Decision

Paragraph 304.3 of the 2000 Discipline is a declaration of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense under 2702.1(b) of the 2000 Discipline.

Dissenting Opinion Decision 984 We dissent from the majority decision. It is our opinion that the statement, the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian Teaching, does not rise to the status of church law. We contend that the statement, found under “Qualifications for Ordination” in 304.3, references 161G, Human Sexuality of the Social Principles. The 2000 General Conference clarified the nature and meaning of the Social Principles in at least two significant ways. First, it illuminated the church’s understanding that the Social Principles are not church law. (That statement is part of the Preface to the Social Principles. The clarification was included in the Preface to the Social Principles but not printed in The 2000 Book of Discipline. It appears in the Errata Sheet of omissions and mistakes for The 2000 Discipline.) Second, the 2000 General Conference clarified the meaning of 304.1 on qualifications for ordination by adding the Doctrinal Standards to the list of items enumerated in 304. (See the DCA of the 2000 General Conference minority report to Calendar Item 1544 which added this language to 304, clergy must “be accountable to the United Methodist Church, accept its doctrinal standards and discipline and authority.” The General Conference adopted this wording when Calendar item 1544 was presented to the General Conference.) The same calendar item affirmed, “the Social Principles are principles rather than law…(h)istorically the Social Principles have been a teaching document.” (The General Conference voted 467 yes and 435 no, DCA 2000 General Conference vol. 4, p. 2468). Par. 161G, referenced by 304.3, does state that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. This assertion, however, does not have the force of church law. Par.304.3, standing alone, is inconclusive and does not represent a definitive declarative statement by the General Conference. The same is true of the General Conference inclusion of the Doctrinal Standards within 304.1. When considering any part of 304 in relation to the provisions of 2702.1 (b), we must also consider all nine enumerated provisions of 304.1. Most of the nine enumerated qualifications (a-i) of 304.1 are not stated in language that makes a candidate accountable for specific actions, as does the provision of 304.3. However by inserting the Doctrinal Standards into point 1 of 304 it becomes possible to question a candidate about specific pronouncements within the Doctrinal Standards. Surely such questioning would be of equal importance to questions about sexual orientation. For example, under 103, Article XVI of the Doctrinal Standards we have incorporated the Confession of Faith from the Evangelical United Brethren Church which is titled Civil Government. It states: We believe war and bloodshed are contrary to the gospel and spirit of Christ. We believe it is the duty of Christian citizens to give moral strength and purpose to their respective governments through sober, righteous and godly living. If the process for chargeable offenses is to include specific questions about actions and behaviors there is no reason to assume that one characteristic, for example sexual orientation, should be examined while others such as opposing war are not considered. That war and bloodshed are contrary to the provision falls within the applicable standards that we expect our clergy to follow under the provisions of 304. If we do not make Doctrinal Statements, such as disavowing war, a chargeable offense how can we justify selecting another specific question? We find the statement that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian Teaching in 304.3 does not constitute church law and does not equitably place anyone under the applicable provisions for Chargeable Offenses under 2702.1(b) Larry Pickens Sally Brown Geis Dissenting Opinion Decision 984 I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion in this case. I do not believe that Par. 304.3 is an unequivocal declaration that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. I must also confess that I made an error in concurring with Decision 980. More research and prayerful consideration have convinced me that I never should have concurred in saying that The United Methodist Church has made a declaration in Par. 304.3 that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Additionally, I do not believe the Judicial Council had the right under our enumerated powers in the Discipline to tell any group of persons that they should abstain from being a member of a Committee on Investigation or a trial court pool. Any such abstention is an individual decision. The Judicial Council itself has always refused to let any person or group dictate to it when a member should abstain from taking part in a decision, indicating that such a decision was a personal one to be made by each individual. Sally Curtis AsKew

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