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October 29 2010
In Re: Request for a Declaratory Decision from the Minnesota Annual Conference to determine if Article IV, ¶ 139 and ¶¶ 214-225 take precedence over Judicial Council Decision 1032
At the 2010 session, the Minnesota Annual Conference adopted a motion that the “Minnesota Annual Conference requests a Declaratory Decision from the Judicial Council to determine if Article IV, ¶ 139 and ¶¶ 214-225 take precedence over Judicial Council Decision 1032.”
The Judicial Council has consistently and repeatedly understood its jurisdiction in narrow and precise terms. See Decisions 29, 255, 301, 452, and Memorandum 1118. Under ¶ 2610 of the 2008 Discipline, annual conferences may petition the Judicial Council for declaratory decisions “on matters relating to the annual conferences or the work therein.” In the docketed item brought by the Minnesota Annual Conference, the issues concern membership in local churches, the global United Methodist connection, and the church universal. There is no clear evidence that the issues at stake involve “matters relating to annual conferences or the work therein.”
It has been the guiding principle of the Judicial Council to construe jurisdiction strictly and with restraint. See Decisions 255 and 535. Additionally, the Judicial Council ". . . emphasizes the obligation to construe strictly our limited authority to make declaratory decisions.” See Decision 29. As stated in Decision 1118, “[t]here is no showing from the record supplied that the request for a declaratory ruling was germane to annual conferences or the work therein, or that the request related to some action taken or to be taken by the annual conference session.” Since the requirements for membership in The United Methodist Church are in the exclusive purview of the General Conference, they can never be germane to annual conferences or the work therein.
The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction.
October 30, 2010
I continue to believe that Decision 1032 was wrongly decided. In addition to usurping the legislative authority of the General Conference, the decision ignored longstanding Judicial Council jurisprudence and precedent regarding to the assumption of jurisdiction. Decision 1032 sits atop an ideological fault line within our connection and my disagreement with its holding was made clear in my dissent.
Nevertheless, I do not look favorably upon continued requests for the Judicial Council to make new Church law. At this Judicial Council session, now five years after Decision 1032 was rendered, we have been asked in seven separate cases to review or reconsider Decision 1032 in some fashion. Efforts to nuance or explain away the meaning of Decision 1032 through conference policies, resolutions or sophistry do nothing to achieve the true goal of clarifying the issue of inclusive membership for the Church as a whole. The General Conference is the only body authorized and able to resolve the issue for the Church.
Although I vigorously dissented from the majority opinion in Decision 1032, I have grown weary of repeated requests for review, reconsideration, and retraction of the decision. The only sensible course available to those who wish for Church law to be different is to work within the Church’s structures to make it so. Annual Conferences and individual members of The United Methodist Church possess the power of petition and should use it whenever issues facing the Church require a full and fair debate. The Judicial Council is not an appropriate body to change Church law. The resolution in this case and others of similar ilk should be ushered through the legislative processes of the General Conference.
There is a larger principle is at stake. I will not do now the very thing I criticized then. It was wrong for the Judicial Council to legislate then and it would be wrong for the Judicial Council to legislate now. This issue cannot and should not be resolved by judicial fiat. The same thought and energy that annual conferences expend in adopting these tepidly symbolic resolutions should be directed in the future to the legislative processes of the 2012 General Conference and to subsequent sessions of the General Conference if necessary. Albert Einstein taught that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Annual Conferences planning to adopt resolutions requesting the Judicial Council to re-consider Decision 1032 should consider another course.
Jon R. Gray
October 30, 2010
Concur In Part and Dissent In Part
I wholeheartedly concur with my colleagues that the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council is narrow and that requests from annual conferences for declaratory decisions must be “on matters relating to the annual conferences or the work therein.” Furthermore, I concur that the requirements for membership in The United Methodist Church are in the exclusive purview of the General Conference, which I understand to mean that only General Conference can pass legislation amending or changing those requirements. However, the question of membership, and the issues of interpretation concerning membership are indeed germane to annual conferences and their work therein.
Having said that, I do believe that it is proper for the Judicial Council to refrain from providing interpretations of certain actions of General Conference when doing so would in essence constitute creating law. Such was the case in Decision 1032. That was, and continues to be, a case with which I strongly disagree.
However, the fallout from Decision 1032 and the lack of clarity that many people have pursuant to the 2008 General Conference’s amendment of ¶ 225, in my opinion constitutes a genuine need for an authoritative voice on the matter. It appears that there are many people that genuinely seek guidance. They want to know where church law currently stands. For example, given that Decision 1032 involved a case that specifically concerned a clergyperson’s refusal to admit a person into membership under ¶ 225 (transfer of membership) and that General Conference has subsequently amended that paragraph to mandate acceptance of said members, what does that do to the discussion in 1032 about ¶ 214 which was not the actual issue in the case upon which Decision 1032 was decided?
Many people are looking to this Council for help in their understanding of where the United Methodist Church’s law stands now in light of General Conference’s amendment of ¶ 225 after the issuance of Decision 1032. The General Conference amendment has a direct effect on the holding of Decision 1032, and it appears that people want clarity on specifically what that effect is on the holding.
I believe their questions to be sincere, especially given that during the oral arguments on these topics during the Fall Session of the Judicial Council, one of the presenters appeared to wholly misconstrue the meaning of Decision 1032 to mean that people who are homosexual may not be members of The United Methodist Church. If the leaders within our denomination are misinterpreting Decision 1032 in such a manner, then the issue begs to be addressed.
October 30, 2010
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