Skip Navigation

Judicial Council Decisions Search


Decision No. 1021

Back to Search

October 28 2005
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Related to the Adoption of a Petition Entitled “Affirming Our Unity Amongst Diversity Of Opinion.”

Digest of Case

The decision of law of Bishop Edward W. Paup is reversed to the extent that it held that the questions of law propounded asked questions of theological or doctrinal interpretation. The decision of law is affirmed to the extent that it holds that the petition “Affirming Our Unity In The Midst Of Diversity” is a historical statement, without prescriptive force, which does not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline, including the Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

Statement of Facts

On June 17, 2005, the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference adopted a petition entitled, “Affirming Our Unity Amongst Diversity Of Opinion.” The petition, as adopted, read as follows:

Resolved: That the Pacific [sic] Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church confess and proclaim that diversity of opinion on important matters of faith and practice have always characterized the Christian community. Because it is a living body of believers, gathered together by God from many diverse segments of the human community, unanimity of belief, opinion, and practice has never been characteristic of the Church. Therefore, the present difference of opinion among faithful Christians regarding sexual orientation and practice, which continue to divide the church deeply, should neither surprise nor dismay; nor should they be covered over with false claims of consensus or unanimity. To the contrary, such conflict must be embraced with courage and perseverance as all together continue to seek to discern God’s will. We uphold the present controversy as evidence that God is not finished in sculpting us to be God’s people, and we stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that neither belief nor practice can separate us from the love of God. In that confidence, we pledge to continue to be in respectful dialogue with those with whom we disagree, to explore the sources of our differences, to honor the sacred worth of all persons, and to tell the truth about our divisions.
Following the adoption of the petition, a clergy member of the Annual Conference submitted the following two questions of law in writing to the presiding bishop in the regular business of the session:
1. Is the Pacific NW Annual Conference empowered to “confess and proclaim” diversity on important matters of faith and practice in the [sic] United Methodist Church? 2. Is this petition compatible with our Doctrinal Standards and other paragraphs in the Discipline with regard to homosexual behavior, including, but not limited to, ¶ 2702 Chargeable offenses of immorality, practices declared by the [sic] United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the [sic] United Methodist Church, and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of the [sic] United Methodist Church?
On July 15, 2005, Bishop Edward W. Paup, the presiding bishop of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, issued his decision of law on the two questions. The decision of law stated:
1. The request was properly made in writing under the provisions of Par. 2609.6, The 2004 Book of Discipline. 2. The two questions raised are questions of theological interpretation. The Judicial Council has ruled in Decisions 59 and 243 that “The [sic] Judicial Council was not set up as an interpreter of doctrine but as an interpreter of law from the strictly legal viewpoint.” In Decision 243 it is stated further, “The Judicial Council . . . judges the General Conference the only body competent to make such an interpretation.” That is, doctrinal interpretation is not a matter of law; therefore, it is not appropriate as a “decision of law” (2609.6) which bishops are called upon to make. It is, therefore, my ruling based on Judicial Council Decisions 59 and 243, that theological interpretations are not “decisions of law” under Par. 2609.6, and are outside the scope of legal decisions a bishop is required to make under that paragraph. 3. Even in the event the two questions were considered to be “questions of law”, [sic] there is a further obstacle to considering Question #1, which reads: “Is the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference empowered to ‘confess and proclaim’ diversity on important matters of faith and practice in The United Methodist Church?” The sentence in the resolution to which this question refers states something substantially different: “Resolved, that the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church confess and proclaim that diversity of opinion on important matters of faith and practice have always characterized the Christian community.” The statement in the resolution is an historical statement about the Christian Church, while the wording of Question #1 states that the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference is now proclaiming diversity of opinion on important matters of faith and practice. Therefore, since Question #1 asks a question not raised in the resolution, it is moot and hypothetical and I decline to rule on it. 4. Even if my rulings in point 2 and 3 above were held to be incorrect, and the resolution were to be considered on its merits, there appears to be no basis for finding it to be in violation of the Constitution or The Book of Discipline. The resolution is essentially an echo of the “Unity Resolution” adopted by a 95% favorable vote at the 2004 General Conference. It takes the position that there have been and continue to be differences of opinion in the Church on important matters of faith and practice. Further, that acknowledging such differences is healthy and a sign that God is at work among us. It states that neither belief nor practices can separate us from the love of God – but, no claim is made that there are not beliefs and practices which may subject a person to the judicial process of The Book of Discipline. The resolution ends with a call for respectful dialogue among persons of differing opinions and viewpoints. Therefore, my ruling in response to Questions #1 and #2 would be: There is nothing in Resolution #1-10 which violates the Doctrinal Standards and General Rules or the Constitution, and nothing in the Resolution is incompatible with the various provisions of The Book of Discipline cited in Question #2.
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2004 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The decision of law is affirmed in part and reversed in part. An annual conference may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions. Resolutions are official expressions of the annual conference and are valid until they are specifically rescinded, amended, or superseded by action of the annual conference. Decisions 886 and 911. In Decision 913, the Judicial Council affirmed a bishop’s decision of law holding that an annual conference resolution did not conflict with the Discipline when it affirmed and supported a resolution of the Western Jurisdictional Conference which stated:
Valuing the voice of those who disagree we will continue to be in dialogue as we journey together in creative tension. We will continue to be in ministry with all God’s children and celebrate the gifts diversity brings.
The decision of law correctly states that questions of theological or doctrinal interpretation are not matters of law. However, it is a question of law whether an action of an annual conference has legally negated, ignored or violated provisions of the Discipline. The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference cannot, by resolution or otherwise, legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline. Thus, the request for a decision of law here posed questions of law, not questions of theological or doctrinal interpretation. The decision of law to the contrary is reversed. The petition adopted by the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference does not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline, including the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. The decision of law is affirmed to the extent that it holds that the petition in question is a historical statement which does not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline, including the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. The petition has no prescriptive force.
Decision
The decision of law of Bishop Edward W. Paup is reversed to the extent that it held that the questions of law propounded asked questions of theological or doctrinal interpretation. The decision of law is affirmed to the extent that it holds that the petition “Affirming Our Unity In The Midst Of Diversity” is a historical statement, without prescriptive force, which does not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline, including the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. October 29, 2005 Shamwange P. Kyungu was absent.

Back to Search