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Decision No. 1111

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April 23 2009
In Re: IN RE: Review of a Decision of Law by Bishop Beverly J. Shamana of the California-Nevada Annual Conference on Whether a Resolution Passed by the Annual Conference Related to Retired Clergy’s Willingness to Perform Same Gender Marriages or Holy Unions violates ¶ 2702.1 of 2004 Book of Discipline.

Digest of Case

The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed. The resolution as adopted is void and of no effect. An annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions.

Statement of Facts

During the 2008 regular session of the California Nevada Annual Conference, the members passed “Resolution 21” which states:

Background: In light of our state Supreme Court decision, same gender couples will be coming to our churches to have their weddings performed and blessed which is congruent with the pastoral role to which clergy are ordained. Many retired clergy members of our Annual Conference signed a covenant in 2005 which read, “The following 60 United Methodist retired clergy members of the California-Nevada Annual conference, in our covenant of solidarity and support of pastors in providing pastoral ministry to same gender couples, have offered and are offering to perform holy unions when called upon by active clergy members of the United Methodist Church. We urge our Bishop, Cabinet and active pastors to call upon us whenever needed; this includes pastors who do not believe in doing holy unions but wish to keep pastoral contact with parishioners who invite them to do such ceremonies. We must not deny ministerial services to anybody because of their sexual orientation. We will witness that United Methodists in California-Nevada Annual Conference do have Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors and we will not tolerate the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people from our ministry.” Some of our clergy will choose not to perform same gender marriages, for various reasons, but would like to keep a continued ministry with families and loved ones of same gender couples, and Retired clergy in our Conference are now available to perform the marriages as an aid to the congregation and pastor to enable them to keep a pastoral relationship between the United Methodist congregation and the couple. THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE CALIFORNIA-NEVADA ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH commends its retired clergy for offering continued ministry and will communicate to its congregations the availability of the following retired pastors to perform same gender marriages: [list of clergy members’ names omitted]
The resolution was passed by a majority vote of the annual conference. Immediately thereafter, a clergy member requested a ruling of law from the presiding bishop as follows:
I move that there be a ruling of law in regard to the passage of Item 21. Specifically, does this violate the provisions of the Book of Discipline regarding clergy not performing same sex marriages? Such action is a chargeable offense listed in paragraph 2702.1.
Bishop Beverly J. Shamana ruled:
While the Resolution (Item 21) is a commendable gesture to the congregations of the Conference in offering the pastoral counsel of a number of retired clergy to persons contemplating same gender marriage under the laws of California, it steps over a Disciplinary line when it commends these clergy to the congregations for the purpose of “performing same gender marriages or holy unions.” ¶2702.1 declares that performing such services is a chargeable offense. It is not within the power or prerogative of an annual conference to offer the services of its clergy to perform acts which the General Conference has declared to be chargeable offenses against the law of the United Methodist Church. Therefore, the Resolution (Item 21) is void and of no effect.
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2004 Book of Discipline.
Analysis And Rationale
An annual conference may not direct its conference office to disseminate formally an official conference communication advising its local churches of the availability of clergy who are willing and offering to disobey the Discipline by engaging in an act that is strictly prohibited by the Discipline, in this case the provisions of ¶ 341.6. Such official communications would be an endorsement by the annual conference of actions that are prohibited and constitute a chargeable offense under the Discipline. An annual conference may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions. See Decision 911. The resolution in this case is distinguishable from those addressed in Decisions 913, 1021, 1028, and 1044. Those annual conference resolutions were aspirational in nature and did not constitute an annual conference endorsement of conduct that was in direct violation of the Discipline. Until such time as the General Conference changes the provisions of ¶ 341.6, an annual conference may not formally disseminate an official conference communication advising its local churches of the availability of clergy who are willing to officiate in ceremonies that celebrate same gender unions.

Decision

The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed. The resolution as adopted is void and of no effect. An annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions. Ruben T. Reyes was absent. Jay Arthur Garrison, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.

DISSENTING OPINION
The resolution of the California-Nevada Annual Conference related to the willingness of some retired clergy to perform same gender marriages or holy unions does not prescribe or recommend a violation of The Book of Discipline; therefore, I do not see that it ignores, negates, or violates The Book of Discipline. F. Belton Joyner, Jr.

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